I doubt very much I’m the first person to think this about my past, but if you had told me in grade school and high school what might become of some of my classmates, I wouldn’t have believed it. Teenage pregnancies, suicides, prison, heart disease, deaths, divorces, alcoholism, and romantic pairings I’d have never considered. And this is just the stuff I happen to know about. When I think about old classmates, even if I know them in present day, I still imagine kids. And these sorts of things don’t happen to kids.
In high school, I had a few part-time jobs. Typically, one was in the local mall, at a new men’s clothing store. My job was on the floor and seemed to mostly be tidying up stock. They had big tables stacked with sweaters and I folded them to keep the display attractive. My co-workers, which were plentiful, were a varied group. The first week, I was folding sweaters with an older man who started before I did. While discussing the job, he told me, “They hire everyone who walks through the door.” On hearing that, I felt a bit less special for having snagged the job. They DID seem to have an excess of “sweater folders.”
There was an air of disorganization about the management of the place. Although the store was very new, it wasn’t getting the kind of attention to detail you might expect. I remember a man and a woman who were supposed to be running the business, mostly being in a back office. In fact, I was shocked to see fellow employees boldly stealing from the store! The layout was poorly set up with a row of check-out counters up at the store’s front, where it opened onto the mall corridor. I witnessed cashiers letting their friends come through their checkout lane, put a bunch of clothes in a bag and hand it over with no money exchanged (this was before the days cameras were everywhere, especially stores prone to theft). Once I saw a young guy pull an expensive leather jacket off the rack, put it on, and walk right by his friends the cashiers and out the door!
This was just what I happened to see. Now I have to imagine much more occurred. Geez, I wonder if there was any cash left in the till at the end of the shift. These employees were not being clever or covert, obvious by the fact I saw them being so brazen. I was not naive and I was already aware life wasn’t fair, but I still thought it odd that they took such big chances. Those employees were scumbags in my estimation after that and I steered clear but I didn’t tell the bosses. It’s been too long for me to remember exactly why I didn’t, but I do know I felt no rapport with the latter. Maybe I thought they were in on it?
Right away the store started letting employees go. I’d only been there a short while when one day I came in and I overheard one of the management people saying that “tall girl” shouldn’t have come in today. Apparently, they’d meant to send me, whatever my name was, packing. And so they did. It burned plenty that they let me go and kept the thieves – oh yes, they were still there – but I said nothing. I expect I thought they all deserved each other at that point.
I had to return to the store a couple weeks later to get my check (I don’t know why it wasn’t mailed). On handing me the check, the manager guy asked if I’d found “another job.” I answered with a decidedly cold, “No.” I was pissed how they’d treated me. I sensed a possibility he was going to offer that I come back to their store, but I wasn’t about to give him an opening to do so.
I think I was lost in high school. Make no mistake, I enjoyed myself, but went from being a big fish (grade-wise) in a small pond in grammar school to being an average, B student in a large suburban high school. I really did not distinguish myself in any way save for being a friend to certain movers and shakers. Not for gain, but because I liked them. (I turned things around later, when I would put myself through college and graduate Summa Cum Laude – oh yeah I did – but that was years down the line.)
I spent my first 8 grades in parochial school, where I think far too much time was spent on listening to stories of people getting crucified or eaten by lions, and of course attending church and going through various rituals, which could have been better spent on oh, I don’t know, preparing us for the future. That said, the English/Reading curriculum was pretty good (yay Phonics!).
Here’s where things went wrong. A fancy, new public high school had opened in the town. It had been long promised and in fact my older siblings were expected to attend had it been built sooner. It was a “tech” school which, in my family simply brought on jeers about shop class and making birdhouses or whatever traditionally gets made in such classes. So far as I knew, nobody even bothered to look into it. Well, shockingly (not!) my family members were wrong, because the school turned out to be a Science and Tech school. Gee, that’s a little different, isn’t it? Bird houses my foot. It welcomed the brightest kids in the county who tested in for admission as well as the local contingent of kids – aka the townies (not that anyone called them that; “burn-outs” and “heads” got more play) – who would be there because the law required them to be. Knowing nothing of the test or admissions process to be in the Science & Tech program, I was automatically in the latter group.
Once at the school, things went okay (it was great to not wear a uniform, and they had a GORGEOUS auditorium with cushy red seats that I could not believe, and even an elevator we were not supposed to use; I always liked elevators), but admittedly, for the most part I was more interested in my new-found social life than academics. I was very distracted to be among hundreds of students and I enjoyed a level of popularity that was utterly foreign to my experience.
Surrounded by a lot of brilliant kids though, I was easily overlooked by teachers and administrators. Nobody was guiding or directing me, at home or at school. I don’t know who those guidance counselors on TV shows or in movies are, addressing students by name and chatting with them about their lives, concerns, and college plans. Ha, ha! My guidance counselor’s favorite phrase, for the most mundane class scheduling concerns (which were all that was ever discussed), was “I’m afraid I can’t help you young lady.” My older sister, who was also assigned to him – students got their counselor by last-name alphabetical groupings – heard the same useless spiel (she wrote a caption with him saying that in my yearbook). I’m sure he had no idea who I was and had I walked away from his desk and returned five minutes later, he’d likely have considered me a new person. Toad.
I understood the basic plan: pass your classes, pass your grade level, and get to be a Senior. I didn’t think much, or at least not realistically beyond that (I wanted to go to the U of Miami to major in Creative Writing but my parents weren’t going to help me and it eventually became clear it cost far more than I had). My inattention to the future showed. While my very bright friends – who said I ought to be in their curriculum and in retrospect I agree – took Advanced Placement classes and spent an entire YEAR on a project in a class called “Research Practicum” (the name alone intimidated the hell out of me moreover the concept of spending a year on something was unfathomable), I fooled around. I don’t mean I was lazy; I worked part time jobs during the school year and full time in summers, but I also had my share, and perhaps a few other people’s shares, of fun. (I was making up for lost time, but unfortunately NOT at the most opportune phase of life.)
The school, in my experience, did very little so far as preparing me or my ilk, i.e., those of us in the Comprehensive (general) curriculum, for anything beyond high school. They DID offer a class called “Single Living”, which got me all excited, but it filled up and I was assigned to “Child Development” instead, where we played with 4 and 5 year olds and made little lesson plans for them. The kids were mostly very sweet and the teacher thought I was very good with them (hint, hint, think career), but dagnabbit, I wasn’t thinking about careers or raising children; I wanted Single Living!
There was one, albeit kind of token, thing the school did for our supposed future. And I’m little embarrassed to tell you, but since we’ve come this far and you need to trust me, I will spill. “College Day” was held at the county community college. Students had the day, or most of it, off from school to attend the event. I knew they had brochures and such and I’m guessing college reps but I’m a little fuzzy on that because after making a quite brief appearance, I took off to ride around in a car with friends, people who, like me, were NOT on the school’s smart-kid fast track. We blew the remainder of the day playing around. It is notable in my mind as being the only time in my life I rode in a car that hit 100mph, which it did on the highway. The driver, who was my boy-interest at the time, turned around, still flying at top speed mind you, to shake the hands of his buddies in the back seat. By that, I was – and still am – shocked. Oh yes. This is how I spent College Day.