Scranton Central High School—Reunion!
High school sucked. Let’s take a vote: how many of you agree with this statement? I would imagine, a good number of us would respond in the affirmative.
My high school suckiness had its own particular flavor. Didn’t we all have our own angst? My specific platform of separation and isolation was three-fold: first, I had a severe speech impediment. My stuttering made school life intolerable. The daily details of calling out one’s test scores alphabetically in history class, repeating Spanish vocabulary drills by going up and down the rows, reciting verses of poems in English class, all terrified me. I would excuse myself to the bathroom, sit on the toilet, and forcibly will the passage of time, praying with all effort that the teacher had passed my targeted spot. I had a bulls’ eye on my back, it felt. Opening my mouth shattered our 60’s credo—if you don’t speak of it, it doesn’t really exist.
My second platform of I AM NOT NOR WILL I EVER BE LIKE YOU was beyond-confusing. I wanted to kiss girls. Not girls I knew—oh, never. Just one girl. My forever and always love, Audrey Hepburn. I had a monogamous, deeply committed relationship with her for years, until Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, waved her blond, ironed hair at me one day across the television tube and stole me away from Audrey. Not an iota of possibility existed in the universe that women loving women might someday be an option. Hence I was mired in shame and aloneness. Nobody could ever find out—this was literally a life-threatening secret.
And the final platform of super-suckiness was family-based. My dad, the essence of connection and kindness for me, had his first heart attack when I was in fourth grade. He was an extraordinarily effective hypochondriac, actually having the capacity to manifest consistent injury and illness. Everything happened to him. Death was daily and imminent. The silent contract my family signed and lived out was… Today Daddy will die. Of course, the cosmic joke of all jokes, he lived to be 84.
So, I checked out. I lived in fantasy. By freshman year, 1962, I was gone, into the arms of Audrey, frolicking together in the Alps. Summers at Girl Scout camp infused me with possibility. The ten months in between, high school, locked me in frozen aloneness. But for camp and Gladys, I might not have made it.
And now, after decades of blessings and healing, therapy and recovery, yoga on and off the mat, living in an ashram, coming out and being legally married, writing books, and SO ON: I stand at my 50th high school reunion.
The room was noisy. It was dark. I stood on the edge of the crowd of milling people. Who was I here and now?
The experience was miraculous. Let me rephrase that. I was miraculous. I felt profoundly connected to myself. I stood, one with me. Some of the people interactions were moderately interesting, one or two were slightly touching. Most were neither, simply odd and emotionally neutral conversations with people wearing nametags whose names whispered an ancient, fuzzy familiarity to me.
In the midst of the popular kids and not so popular, all now frighteningly middle aged, I felt great; connected to myself, happy with my life, grounded in my body, good with my hair, pleased with my outfit, grateful for my cool-people’s boots. Dancing was fantastic. I had a great time—with myself.
Who would have thought that the gift here would have been me?
I survived. I thrived. I outlived the trauma and I continue to blossom. Why? How? One day at a time, I guess. The doorways back to myself are rich and wide and disguised as all the daily obstacles, annoyances and assholes that stand in front of me. I practice returning, again and again, to who I really am, just a middle-aged seeker, doing my best to show up.
If I could be carried through that level of separation and aloneness for all those years, carried through the decades of ensuing struggle, and still been given the life I have—why would I ever doubt the future? Surely the grace that has brought me out of Central High School and given me this glorious day, surely that grace will see me through.
May your forward-moving steps be blessed by the echo and strength of your yesterdays.
Dear Readers, did you check out during high school? What form did that take? How do you check back in today? Keep your emails rolling in.