Thursday, January 22, 2009

Trial By Fire

High school is closer to the core of the American experience than anything else I can think of. - Kurt Vonnegut

Lately, thanks to MySpace's plain sister, Facebook, I've become re-acquainted with some of the people I went to high school with.

Some people loved their high school days. I did not. School itself, I kind of liked. I liked learning, I still do. I test well, so I even enjoyed that aspect of my education. High school should have been a blast for me. Except for....the kids I went to school with.

To be fair, I did have friends, and I had problems with very few people on an individual level. But there's a pack mentality that rules adolescence, and it will not tolerate much individuality.

This is not unique to kids, of course, but high school is such a small world, and everything is so emotionally charged there. It's a hormone-fueled, angst-ridden microcosm of society. It's the test track for the real world.

The experiences of high school inform a person's character throughout their life, even if their only lasting effect is a desire to get as far away from the battleground of lockers and textbooks as humanly possible, literally and/or figuratively. My own adolescent encounters weren't particularly enjoyable, but the life lessons I learned in that place and time have stayed with me.

Lessons like love is painful, acceptance requires compliance, and individuality requires sacrifice.

It's easier to quantify these lessons from the safe distance of long years and with the buffer of the self-actualizing occurrences of my 20's and 30's between my now-self and my then-self. I see the happy exceptions to those rules, and know my own worth enough to value the pain and sacrifice as worthy acquisitions in their own right.

The most painful experience of my high school years was also the most profoundly empowering event of my entire life.

I had a girlfriend in high school, Bridgette. My infatuation with her was as complete and unguarded as only a first love can be. Our relationship was of course, mostly sexual. (I only mention that because it is essential to the story. I'll try to keep it PG-13, I promise)

Well, we tried to keep our liaisons secret. No one had to tell us we wouldn't be accepted as a couple. And of course, we got caught in a compromising position. By her mother.

Her mother was not exactly overjoyed. She kicked me out of her house and forbade her daughter to see me again. Heh. Wanna guess what kind of effect that had?

Anyway, we got better at sneaking around. Until, one time at band camp...someone wasn't asleep when she should have been, and being a teenager, she of course, told everyone. You can probably imagine how horrible the next couple of days were for us.

The Amish couldn't have done a better job of shunning us. We were the punchline to every joke, the object of every smirk. The whispering, giggling and outright derision was non-stop. It was the teenager's Inferno. So, not fun.

We took it until I snapped. I turned on our friends like a rabid dog. I was so furious at their failure to say anything, do anything at all to help us, even to indicate in the slightest way that they were aware of our plight. I'd never, ever gone off like that before. I think they were a little shocked by my naked rage. (Seems kind of ironic now, doesn't it?)

But, it worked. Faced with their cowardice, they rallied. And things got better. At least they did for me. I guess it wasn't the same for Bridgette.

I've always thought it was the experience that made me and broke her. Our relationship was never the same. She'd publicly date guys, and show up at my bedroom window late at night. It was a long, painful end for us. She cheated and lied and caused me no end of pain. Until finally, one of her unwitting beards shoved a gun in my face. I woke up the next morning and realized I was finally over her.

But now that I sit here telling this story, for the first time it occurs to me that I may have hurt her just as much. When I attacked our friends that night, I wasn't thinking of her at all. I was so angry all I could do was lash out. I don't even know where she was when it happened. I wasn't rational enough to bring her with me to present a united front. When I turned on them, I turned my back on her. So, wherever you are Bridgette, I apologize for that. For the rest of you, I digress.

The point of the story is that I found my personal power during what seemed, at the time, to be a terrible adversity. And I think that's a big part of how I came to be the person that I am.

This post is dedicated to my little sister Paige, because she's there now.

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