Essay: Reflecting on High School DaysPHS, Peoria, Illinois (1988-1992)First posted in November, 2003
[ There's really no need for a disclaimer here, but I didn't take a single one of these photographs. The yearbook from which they were scanned is now in storage, or I'd dig it out and give proper attributions for each photograph. My apologies. ] I was talking to a friend of mine about costumes for singing; not at all an odd conversation given that she's a professional opera singer. I used to sing quite a bit, and was a member of several singing groups, including a barbershop quartet. I promised her that I would attempt to locate a photograph of what we'd worn as part of our babershop getup. I found it. Here it is for the sake of amusement:
And as I was looking for that photograph, I came across another photo of myself with the most amusing caption in the school yearbook. For those friends of mine who've expressed shock at the fact that I was a varsity letter winner way back when and not exclusively a French Club Geek (I mean, I was that too, but...)
No. No, I never lacked concentration. I just lacked, you know, talent. Heh. I think I played because there's a lovely feeling of using your entire body when you follow through on a proper shot, because it gave me an excuse to stay in good shape and be outside a few hours a day, but I was never very good at it. Sort of wish I'd kept up with it though, like so many other things in life. (For the record, I'm glad I don't spend an insane amount of money keeping hair this long permed anymore.) Actually, digging up that barbershop quartet photo for Stacey sort of sparked a big frenzy of scanning, uploading, and journal writing for me, because this might be one of the few retrospective posts about my life from those years, and because I should have kept a journal back then but didn't. And I'm not entirely proud of what I've written here, but I guess it wanted to be written, so... The reason that no journals exist from those years is a product, I believe, of two things: First, that I was always trying to grow up and never happy with who I was, despite a constant attempt to be everything. Secondly, procrastination and forgetfulness. So I'd write in a journal, get a few pages in, put off writing, then forget to write, then finally remember that the journal existed, but when I reread what I'd written a few weeks before I'd chastise myself for thinking such stupid, immature thoughts and begin again anew. Silly, really. Academics were a challenge, to be sure, but only because I was juggling fifteen other things on the side. It appears that the normal high school student in my yearbook has one line dedicated to them in the index, with one to five references listed. I, however, had an insane three lines by my name, with twenty pages listed. Wack. And among the more mundane things they reference, here's the interesting/fun/lessfun stuff:
A photo of me with the guys tennis team. I was their "manager." This title meant little, except that I had a sanctioned reason for hanging out at their practices and meets to check out the hotness without being conspicuous. Also, I got to work out with them and keep training. But I think it was mostly about the hotness.
Jets, which was the silly name of our physics club. What I find amusing about this photo is that (a) I was a member of the physics club, which very much confirms my early life as a young geek, (b) it makes me think of physics club member Anthony Michael Hall being "demented and sad, but social" in The Breakfast Club, and (c) in that looking back at this photo, there are only two truly geeky guys in there. The rest were all cool as well as geeky, and I think that was pretty neat. We were perhaps a bit demented and sad, but definitely social and fun, too. (And I'm the only female again... is there a pattern here?)
This is the editorial staff of The Opinion, our school newspaper. These are only the editors, not anywhere near the entire staff, and when I look at this photo as well as the general staff photo (not pictured here) and realize how many people were actually involved on that paper it's suddenly staggering to me, because I was the Editor-in-chief. At the beginning of that year I'd had a Co-editor-in-chief, a good friend of mine, Patricia McFarland, who decided it was ultimately too much work and wanted more time for studies and left me alone to fend for myself. The advisor offered to replace her, but I, in my typical controlling-perfectionistic-dammit-if-I-want-it-done-right-I'll-do-it-all-myself sort of way told them I'd rather manage the entire thing alone. I don't regret that. I did a decent job of keeping everyone on task, I'm proud of what we accomplished, despite so many nights and weekends spent at the school until two or three in the morning getting all the details to my satisfaction, but I didn't realize until just now how many freakin' people... Also, there was one guy on this staff with whom I had a totally crazy platonic relationship. We would constantly flirt, constantly get close to one another, occasionally act as if we were going to kiss quite passionately in front of everyone else on the staff, then, lips hovering millimeters apart, we'd shake our heads and say, "Nah..." and walk away from one another, which was a constant source of amusement for everyone else but, secretly, an occasionally horrible source of tension for me (and I'll let you pick out who you think it was...). **ahem** Moving along...
Hm. There's the academic excellence page. And yeah, I'm on it, sure. I was a member of the National Honor Society. I was a Sterling Merit Scholar. French Honors Society. Most importantly, I was one of only two women in the class of two hundred fifty named an Illinois State Scholar (that group is pictured here). That was little solace, however, because I wasn't in the top ten of the class. Okay, now let's step back and be logical and realize that being in the top ten would have meant that I would have possessed no social life and no outside projects and that it would have made me miserable. Let's realize that I took the hardest fucking classes I could get my hands on (more lit-intensive English classes, fifth year French, not-required sciences like physics and second-year biology), whereas some of the people in the top ten got their pretty little grade point averages through easier coursework. But that doesn't make it any easier for some sadistic reason. And let's take a moment to thank my parents. They never pushed me. If they had, I might well have gone insane. The pressure was always internal. Always.
And, finally, the activity that was my public crowning achievement and my personal internal battle and, in rereading what I've written here over and over, perhaps my weakest personality trait for that period of my life.
I began competing in speech events when I was a sophomore, and I did well. I out-competed seniors that first year, which made me totally not popular with certain people.
My best category was radio speaking, wherein I had twenty minutes to pull stories from the AP wire and construct a five minute news broadcast. As I worked on honing my speech patterns, training the accents out of my voice, working desperately towards near-perfect diction while reading on the fly, and getting my timing down to the exact second to hit five minutes on the dot every single time without fail, my ability to compete in this category became rather surreal. People would come up to me at speech meets that I'd never met before, from schools hundreds of miles away, just to say hello or to tell me they'd heard me speak, or to ask me for advice on something. It was quite insane, because, well, I was just me and doing the best I could do and wasn't really concerned with anyone else.
But then I got on this competitive streak. Senior year I placed first or second in every single tournament I attended. Small tourneys, big tourney, amazingly huge tournaments with over a hundred people competing against me. And it became addictive, I must admit. It was the same key people every week, and I kept coming out on top somehow. The end of that year came. Regionals, first place. Sectionals, first place. And then the state competition, final round, I knew I nailed it. Knew. And everyone who listened in on that round, even people who'd competed against me and despised me told me I'd nailed it.
And then Trevor won. I'd beat him every single god damn time before then. Every final round of every tournament we'd ever been in together. Every single one except the one that counted. And Jacqueline, who used to try to be the best for herself was suddenly shown that she'd changed, she'd let it get to her, she wasn't just competing with herself anymore. She was in it to prove something for some messed up reason. And she'd failed to pull it off, and that was painful.
Trevor was incredibly sweet. We actually were friends, despite the fact that the only reason we ever saw each other was to be better than the other one. He pulled me aside, he gave me the warmest hug. He gave me the flowers he'd received from someone for winning. He told me I was better than he was. I felt rather horrible for loathing him in that moment.
Rereading this, I'm not sure if the competitive nature of how I felt, and the fact that I can obviously still remember that feeling so intensely says good things about me or not. Probably not, I'm thinking. But it's how it was.