The Best Years of Your Life

Posted on | May 22, 2018 | 1 Comment

When I was younger, everyone told me High School was the best years of life. At the time, I would scoff and tell them that if these were the best years, NO THANK YOU to the rest of my life. But I think that high school can only truly be appreciated by us middle aged folk who look back on it with our rose-colored bifocals, glossing over the angst and turmoil and focusing on the laughter and the late night dancing and the unexplainable love of Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine” complete with foot stomping. (Sidebar: I literally can’t hear that song without picturing myself on Ocean Drive at Myrtle Beach with a circle of friends and maybe a little alcohol… sorry Mom.)

I wasn’t one of those people who kept in touch with my high school friends. I see on Facebook that many people did, and they host get-togethers and know each other’s significant others and children. I watch as their lives continue to seamlessly slide in and out of their high school world and sometimes I find myself jealous that they still have people around them who see them as unlined, unmarked teenagers. And sometimes I find myself wondering how they do it; how they managed to maintain a friendship for so long, through so many different variations of themselves. But maybe not everyone does that, I guess.

Me? I find I’ve changed so many times throughout my life that I’m not sure my high school self would recognize all of the “me” that I’ve been. Certainly my high school friends wouldn’t. I’ve sort of tried out all the different shades of Karen throughout my life, but as I look at myself now, I find I’m closer to the me I was in High School than to any other me I’ve ever been. And maybe that’s what they meant, all those years ago… the person you are in your early years of high school is so much closer to the real you… so much more in tune with who you are meant to be… than you ever would have been comfortable with at the time. Did I have fun in college? Oh yes. Did I enjoy my time after college? Absolutely. Law School? A BLAST. Parenthood? So fun. But did I enjoy high school?

Not so much.

But as I look back on it, I think it was because I wanted so desperately to be all the different people I became throughout my life. I wasn’t content with just being “boring old reddish haired, pleasantly forgettable, emotional, sensitive Karen.” I wanted to be brighter, louder, more vibrant. And so I became that for a time. I let myself be all the different sorts of Karen there were out there to be and now, at forty, I realize that boring old reddish haired, pleasantly forgettable, emotional, sensitive Karen is absolutely who I want to be. So NOW and only now can I look back at High School and realize that the people who knew and loved me then, were the people who knew and loved ME… before the attempted finesse. Before the alcohol and cigarettes. Before partying into the wee hours of the morning. Before I discovered that being boring was my flavor of awesome.

Looking back at her now, I can see that high school me was pretty awesome. She cared a little too much about what people thought and a little too little about her health, but she loved big and she was open-minded and she believed she had something amazing to offer this world. She wrote from the heart. She spoke from the heart. She was, quite often, severely misunderstood especially by her own mind, and she was, I’m sure, severely mocked for her inability to see people as they truly were… only as how she believed they could be.

And she hated all of that about herself.  But all of the bits and pieces of myself that were so jumbled and confusing at 16 have ironed and pressed themselves into someone I now embrace. I’d love nothing more than to go back to tenth grade, sit on the outskirts of the circle of girls unpacking their lunch bags in front of the G Building and hug the one with the bag full of pre-counted carrots. I’d like to squeeze her perfectly normal sized body and tell her she’s wonderful. I’d like to tell her that high school girls can be mean, but they weren’t always being as mean as she imagined in her mind. I’d like to let her know that it doesn’t matter that no one in high school found her beautiful… she was beautiful anyway.

She wouldn’t have believed me. She was too busy believing what she wanted to believe… that if she lost weight some boy would like her. That if she smoked cigarettes, no one would know she felt like a fraud every day. That if she wasn’t invited to this or that girl’s party, she wasn’t “cool.” She wouldn’t have believed that one day the things she hated about herself would be the things that made her the most loveable. It’s hard to believe that at 16.

I wouldn’t say that High School years were the best years of my life. I couldn’t say that, not as a parent. But looking back, I have a new-found appreciation for the people who loved me then. The friends who rolled their eyes at me and folded slips of notebook paper notes into tiny hearts and squares. The friend who skipped creative writing to sit at Yum Yum hot dogs and eat lemon ice cream with me. The friend who drove around and around and around town on a Friday night, listening to music and singing their hearts out alongside me. The friend I shoved out of a sailboat at summer camp. The friend who taught me how to use a tampon so I could go swimming at her house. The friend who sat at a playground and cried with me when one of our teachers died. The friends who danced to Shag music with me on a moonlit night in the middle of a road in New Irving Park.

Those were my people then. They are, deep down, still my people. Even though I don’t see them every day. Even though I’m terrible at keeping in touch. Even though maybe, some of us have lost sight of who we were then because of all the people we have been in the meantime.

It was so very hard to be different at 15 or 17. I’m sure it still is hard to be different in high school.

But man is it special at 40.



One Response to “The Best Years of Your Life”

  1. Santa Claus
    May 23rd, 2018 @ 3:18 pm

    Enjoying reading your stories, as you evolve. Brava! Never thought I’d make it to 40, myself. Yet, here I am in my 70’s. Blessings, Santa :-)}

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