Stuck in High School

You know that involuntary sneer and widening of the eyes and gentle backward incline of the head that allows you to look down your nose that overcomes you whenever you run into someone who relishes his or her high school years even though it’s been 10+ years past? I’m that guy. An old boss told so many high school quarterback stories that I’m surprised I don’t have abs of steel from how many times I flexed my core to keep from retching. Yet, I’m also the other guy who relishes his high school years! I just have the good social sense not to blather on about old teenage victories.

I’ve only come to this realization recently. Even though it’s always been there in the back of my head, I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this fact to myself and I think it’s all Taylor Swift’s fault.

Just so those that know me don’t think I’ve lost my mind or that I’ve been a closet softie this entire time, let me just state that I have my cynical takes on these songs just like the next hard-hearted realist. Swift’s Love Story goes to show how imbecilic teenage love is when these semi-formed people are modeling their romantic lives after Romeo & Juliet. Seriously, did you not pay attention during freshman English? You do realize that Romeo & Juliet killed themselves at the end, right? And let’s not leave out You Belong with Me, which is the anthem of every overweight and misshapen girl that’s never been kissed. “You wanna know why he can’t see that he belongs with you? It’s because the cheer captain he’s with is ten times hotter than you and probably puts out. All he needs you for is to unload the excrement that comes from shallow relationships. Once the raw sewage tank is empty he can go back for more crazy sex. You are his ugly enabler.”

Despite my pitiless excoriation of these songs, I pump up the volume whenever they’re on the radio! Oh yes! I love them! They remind me of those times in high school when these songs would have meant the world to me. I have a very special connection with teenage romance and Romeo & Juliet. I can recall experiencing a love that was worth defying family, sacrificing friends and dueling rival suitors over. Even if someone would have been able to definitively prove that the romance would end disastrously for me I wouldn’t have cared. It did end poorly for me, which is one of the reasons I’m the heartless person I am today and now that I’m on this side of knowing, I do care; but I still stand by my previous statement. At that age, I would have gladly stepped onto that bear trap of love. If you knew the girl, you’d probably understand. She was bear trap worthy.

I also completely understand the frustration emoted in Swift’s You Belong with Me. There I was – an intelligent teenage boy with several talents, endless prospects and a sense for romance second to none – yet completely unattractive. I was so blissfully unaware of my own physical grotesquery, like a Sunday driver who doesn’t realize the car has a giant blind spot until a collision with reality happens.  Instead, I just meandered in a constant state of confusion and frustration as I’d stay up late and talk to different girls on the phone and listen to their complaints about their respective romantic interests. Admittedly, I wasn’t attracted to all of these girls, but the thought crossed my mind that it must be nice to have someone in your life to complain about you to their friends. I didn’t even have that and I was a great guy all around! I had direction. I was precocious. Strangers would marvel at how young I was and how far I would go. And THAT’S why I hold my high school years in such high regard. Not because of some intrinsic value enjoyed solely by high school, but because it was the last time I was impressive beyond the average person.

I was ahead of the game. When college students watched my Shakespearean theater performances, they would take me aside and congratulate me as being the only actor on stage who knew what he was saying. I was fearless in speech competitions when rivals would quake and stutter. I never worked fast food. My first job was with the Public Defender’s Office of Riverside County. It wasn’t until well after high school that I became a server and schlepped food to the masses, which is my point entirely: After high school I became ordinary. Worse yet, I was acutely aware of how ordinary I was almost instantly.

I graduated in ’97. Here’s an excerpt of my personal writing in ’99:

I have let everyone down.  My mother, my friends, everyone who ever thought that I might amount to something.  I was thumbing through my senior yearbook the other night and I was reading all those hopeful comments about my future and I thought about how short I fell from those predictions.  And you know, it really gets to me.  And the reason it bothers me so much is because no matter how high everyone’s expectations were for me, they could never ever come close to my own.  And what the Hell am I doing with myself?  I’m pissing my life away playing pool.  And I’m not even that good.

All of this is to explain – mainly to myself – why early September always invokes a certain amount of nostalgia. I can still feel the giddiness of preparing for school – buying supplies, finding my classes, scoping out classmates. The other day I found a folded piece of college-rule lined paper in my pants and I could barely make out foreign handwriting on the other side of one of the folds. For a moment, I felt the familiar teenage hope of it being a secret love letter surreptitiously slipped into my pocket. When I discovered what it was, I felt the other familiar teenage feeling of disappointment when the paper turned out to be something mundane like math notes.

So where does this realization leave me? Stunted. All that’s left is to accept my place as yet another faceless man-child floating in a morass of overgrown children. At least I’ll always have Taylor Swift to whisk me away to better times.

On the other hand, maybe I like this time of the year simply because it’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl season at Olive Garden. If I had just thought about that earlier, I could have saved myself a lot of blogging tonight.