High School Throwback: Melanie

It looks like mine will be the final installment in High School Throwback week.  I still haven’t gotten caught up in reading everyone else’s posts, but so far they look great, judging from the photos.  Unfortunately, I don’t have in my possession any high school photos, and I didn’t have time to ask around for some.  Perhaps my lack of old pictures indicates a major part of my personality, in that I’m always so focused on whatever it is I’m doing at the moment, or on doing whatever it is that I think will get me to a future goal, that I tend not to dwell in the past.  And as far as high school and my hometown roots are concerned, although those were generally happy days for me, I think a large part of me was eager to leave all of that behind and use college to redefine myself. 

I remember a lot of change from those days … the lines demarcating friendships were constantly moving and being redrawn for seemingly little or no reason at all.  I’m not implying that these changes were necessarily the result of arguments or conflicts of any kind, although they sometimes were.  Rather—and maybe this is just part of growing into adulthood—I observed over time that people would drift in and out of my life, in a way that appeared to be completely due to chance, and sometimes it felt that it mattered, profoundly, while at other times it seemed to not matter at all.  If that sounds vague, then what I mean is this:  from middle school (it was “junior high” back then) on, I began a pattern of making friends, losing friends, rekindling old friendships, making new friends, and then having people drift in and out and back again.  So by the time I graduated, I had no illusions that the same circles I frequented at that time (and there were many circles, rather than one singular clique) would hold together throughout the college years and beyond.  And I was right—life seemed to change almost completely in college, although when I relocated back to Connecticut for law school, I felt like I was plunked right back into at least some of those circles again.

chorus me

So, what was I like in high school?  I’m afraid this is going to be dreadfully boring, especially due to the relative lack of pictures to illustrate the point, but here I go:  I actually spent ninth grade at one of Southington’s junior high schools, DePaolo, and when I transitioned to Southington High School in 1994, the grade below me transitioned as well, because that was the year the junior highs became middle schools and SHS was transformed into a traditional 4-year high school.  The school was huge, with my graduating class numbering somewhere in the 400-500 range, much larger than my college graduation.  There was a new language arts wing when I started there, and I used to run laps in the halls after school along with the rest of the cross country and track teams.

Oh yeah, there are at least a few of the Working Moms on the Move group snickering at me right now, because in my adult life I am very exercise-averse (although more due to lack of time, not so much because I don’t enjoy it anymore, though admittedly that is one reason).  When I was technically a freshman (at the junior high school), a friend of mine (who sadly stopped talking to me in high school) convinced me to run track with her that spring.  So for at least 3-4 seasons that I recall, I ran track in the spring and cross country in the fall.  My times were not great, and I was definitely a distance runner and not a sprinter, but in the beginning, it was all about camaraderie and friendship, and not competitive.  That changed in the middle of my high school career when I developed exercise-induced asthma, I gained weight and filled out all these womanly curves I have today, and we got a new coach who only cared about winning.  Soooo, the following season, I switched to drama club, and although I wasn’t exactly a star, I loved singing and pretending I could act, so I had a lot of fun.

I’m not embarrassed of who I was in high school, but I do cringe when I recall how relatively juvenile I was, looking back.  I suppose everyone is juvenile at some point in their lives though—I mean, we were all teenagers once.  Let me take a moment here to say that I think it’s really fun that I was able to reconnect with so many Southington people after joining Facebook.  It’s weird, because I’m definitely not close to most of them, but we all seem to have a good time commenting on each other’s posts, saying how cute each other’s kids are, etc.  I talk to more people from my hometown online than I ever did in person, when we were all going to the same four walls and spending the day together Monday through Friday for the greater part of the year.  I find it absolutely amazing.

As I said above, I loved singing, and music was very important for me as a teenager.  The picture of my head up there is actually from a shot of a bunch of us rehearsing before a chorus recital, probably from junior or senior year.  The other girls in the class aren’t featured here because I didn’t want to put them on the blog without their permission, and I didn’t have time to reach out to them first.  I mention this because I want to tell you that  a lot of those girls were amazing singers!  I like to think that I was pretty good too, although I didn’t end up pursuing a career in music like some of them did.  I had a bit of performance anxiety that I didn’t overcome until later in life—and now it’s probably too late for me to be performing anywhere anyway.  Oh well.  I pursued the practical career of law instead, and while I’m not sure I would have done much differently, I always admired the girls I knew (there were maybe like 3 guys who could sing) who went on to follow their dreams.

Some of my favorite memories involved a group of us who would regularly drive down to New Haven or New London on the weekends, or sometimes up to Providence or Northampton, and hit up these little venues where third-wave ska and punk revival bands would play in dirty, smoke-filled rooms with bad lighting and kids standing around trying to look cooler than each other, myself included.  By the late ‘90s, this kind of music was starting to become folded into Top 40 pop radio, and I remember that we were all so angry about that.  Why?  I guess it had something to do with feeling like we had this subculture all to our own, and suddenly the big record companies had moved in and pulled that out from under us.  First world problems!  But that identity was really important to us.  When you’re a kid, you’re looking to define yourself in a world that sends you thousands of messages about who you should be every day, and I think when something threatens to take that definition away from you by simply co-opting it into the mainstream, it’s normal to push back on that.

The other bloggers on here have talked about the various groups they fit into or did not fit into, or about how their friendships seemed to defy these unspoken rules about who belonged where.  I remember thinking that I was more of the latter—I don’t remember having a clique of my own, but I felt like I could hang out with a lot of kids and be accepted almost anywhere:  the geeks, the drama kids, the goths, the hardcore kids, the metal kids, the hippies.  It was such a change from junior high, which was relatively rough, but not all that bad, all things considered.  I remember feeling left out of certain groups in junior high, and worrying about whether certain girls liked me or not … come to find out, much later in life, that some of them were worrying about the same thing!  That’s kids for you.  I hope my girls don’t go through the same drama, but I have the feeling this is just part of being a teenager.

Not sure if this was me in 8th or 9th grade.  I'm sort of in the middle there, with two of my three sisters, my nephew, cousin and two of my nieces (one more came later!).
Not sure if this was me in 8th or 9th grade. I’m sort of in the middle there, with two of my three sisters, my nephew, cousin and two of my nieces (one more came later!).

What was going on in the world from about 1993-1997?  I couldn’t tell you, because I was a self-obsessed teen and the world revolved around me, haha.  Just kidding.  I remember hearing about the deaths of Frank Zappa, Kurt Cobain and Jerry Garcia—all completely different kinds of musicians, but loved by many teens of the ‘90s.  I remember popular music’s transition from grunge to alternative, the latter of which always confused me, since “alternative” was what was playing on the major radio stations.  I remember thinking Green Day was punk rock until I was corrected by my then-boyfriend (see above re: weekend trips to watch bands play).

I didn’t drink or do drugs of any kind in high school.  There was even a movement called “straightedge” going on for a while there, and I remember wanting to be part of that.  I think it never really caught on for me, though, because I was confused about whether it required veganism and abstaining from sexual activity on top of not using substances of any kind.

One thing I recall, in part because of the Supreme Court case going on in the background right now, is that a couple friends of mine started this thing called a Gay-Straight Alliance at our high school.  Back in the ‘90s, this was a new kind of student activity organization that sought to create a safe space for gay kids to come out of the closet, and for their straight allies to show their support for them.  A lot of teenagers probably wouldn’t believe it today, but in our conservative little town, this was a big freaking deal at the time.  This was a time when the insults “fag” and “dyke” were still thrown around casually in the hall, with little intervention by staff and not enough students brave enough to speak up and say it was wrong.  I mean, I know this still happens today, but I do believe that it is becoming less acceptable, and that there exists a good kind of peer pressure where kids today look down on homophobia and are more willing to call it out.  By the time my younger sister graduated a few years later, the climate had improved significantly.  With marriage equality now visible on the horizon, I am enjoying being on the right side of history.

There were bad things that happened too.  I remember students dying, one who would have graduated with me, who was killed by a drunk driver, and another in a younger class, who committed suicide.  I still remember these tragedies, and how they shook a little community.  Every time I hear about teenagers, children, dying, my mind rockets back to that place.  No matter how many deaths happen, when it’s a young person it always still shakes me to the core.  I remember contemplating death, the mystery of life, religion, and atheism quite a bit, as I still do today.

A major subject of political debate at the high school, and in the town in general, arose from the filing of the Sheff v. O’Neill race discrimination litigation, which eventually led to the creation of Connecticut’s magnet school and open choice system.  Today, sadly, students living in Hartford and the state’s other major urban areas are still at an extreme disadvantage educationally, when compared with their neighboring suburban counterparts.

Another significant memory I have from the ‘90s is of zines and riot grrrl culture.  I would like to say that I was a part of that, but me, a riot grrrl?  Nah, no way.  I was the timid groupie in the back of the club, not the chick with the shaved head and combat boots trying to smash the patriarchy.  It wasn’t until college that my feminist proclivities really started to blossom.  I did try to start a zine though, in those early days way before the internet took hold and everyone and their grandmother had a blog.  For you young’ins out there, a zine was a home-made magazine that you drew yourself and reproduced with a copier and some staples, that usually featured your own art, poetry, political essays, and whatever other message your teenaged self wanted to send to the world.  The idea seems so quaint now, but it was thrilling to read a little zine you picked up from “underground” (like from someone you met at a show where one of those obscure little punk bands were playing), and it was even more fun to create your own.  I know everyone says this about their own generation, but that whole culture was a unique part of that decade that I don’t think can be replicated in this modern world of Facebook and Twitter.  As for the socially liberal political backdrop of this subculture, I remember internalizing it and, although I had no idea back then how little I actually understood of the greater world, I made it a point to tell everyone I encountered exactly how I felt about just about everything.  That annoying girl who always had something snarky to say in history class?  Yeah, that was me!

There is a lot more I could say, but I think I’ve bored you enough.  A final thought to come full circle back to the parenting aspect, since this is a mommy blog, after all:  I had zero thoughts about motherhood back when I was in high school.  I kind of, sort of knew that I would probably have kids someday, but I had no idea when (like at 40?) and did not feel the maternal pull until I was well into my 20s.  My major life goal throughout high school:  get into college, become an amazing SOMETHING and just have a great life trying to change the world.  That something, whatever I thought it was back then, did not involve having children.  I’m not sure if I’m changing the world at this point, but I know having kids has changed me, in a good way.   I’m hoping that my kids’ teenage years will instill in them some of the same great experiences that I believe helped shape me and got me to where I am today—which, looking around, is not at all a bad place.


6 thoughts on “High School Throwback: Melanie

  1. Great getting to learn so much about you Melanie, you are a wonderfully interesting Mama! I would have loved to have been in high school in CT during the first days of the Sheff case…we will have to talk in more depth about it sometime.


    1. Thanks Sarah! I shouldn’t have used the word “filing” in my post, which incorrectly implies that I was in high school back when the case was actually filed. I just checked and it looks like it was filed in 1989, but the decisions weren’t issued until the mid-90s, with the Supreme Court ruling in 1996, the year before I graduated. I remember talking about it in my politics & government class, and kids making comments about “bussing in students from Hartford with their drugs.”


  2. So, as it turns out, in the caption to the family photo above, I am way off … that was me the summer of my graduation in 1997! I look way younger than 18, to me anyway. Hat tip to my sister Marissa for pointing that out.


  3. That was fun to read. So many memories! Is it weird that I totally forgot you were in Drama Club? By the way, I still don’t understand Sheff v. O’Neill. You need to explain it to me sometime over a cup of coffee/tea! 🙂


  4. Wow, Melanie ~ I sure learned a lot of fun stuff about you! (And isn’t it so interesting how FB can make better friend now than they were in the past? I’m sure a lot of people are noticing that). Love you, Dear Sister.


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