After reading “Why You Never Truly Leave High School” (published in NYMag last year but just making its rounds to my social circles), I’m left with a few mealy-mouthed feelings and an urge to tear open old scars and lick the new wounds. The article posits that the common experience in the average American high school is that of cruelty, shame, and humiliation, the overall effect of throwing a mass of strangers into a box as they struggle to create a baseless hierarchy for themselves. This description is not entirely disconnected from my own experience.
How a person handles, and is handled by, society when they are in this most impressionable moment in their adolescent life has profound implications on how they are to succeed or fail later in their life. I myself am trying to live down the shame and castigation of that era (I suspect quite a few of us are), reliving hurts by the pound and victories by the ounce in the physical and emotional violence of that caged society. Were I allowed to drop out and shove off on my own into a world populated with adults with metrics and rubrics anchored in reality, my experience would have been largely superior to the one I endured. High school is a cruel little world where judgments and stratifications are not based in any sort of reality. Your height, your weight, your clothing, your parent’s position, your attractiveness, your ability to handle others with authority — those have more to do with where you go in life than the lessons in the pages of those textbooks.
On an almost daily basis, I mentally look into the face of the bastards who had something to say about what I was, who I was, how I was dressed, which side of the tracks I lived on. Every day I hear their words in my soul. Spiteful words, rolled easily off the tongue like professionals. “I was just playing” removes none of the sting. Terrible words stuck into my mind like barbs at a time when I had no neurological facilities to pluck them out. Those words have become me. The damages, in my opinion, are permanent.
And here I sit at the age of 42, repeating the same tropes, reliving the same moments, attempting, day-in, day-out, to find the right acknowledgment to make me content. My life all these years is a struggle to place my tray at the right cafeteria table. Damage is deep, but with hope and a helping hand, damage can be undone. Mine is the fight to find contentment for myself.