Sunday, May 11, 2008
On the Run
Very early, the second semester of my freshman year in high school, I started taking French at the local university. It wasn't because I was brilliant or eager or seeking challenge; I was none of these things. It was because of the pattern the sun made at half past noon on the living room rug.
They gave you a hall pass, if you took university classes. It was a permanent hall pass, and every day, twenty or thirty minutes before the beginning of your class, you'd pull it out of your bag and clutch it like a talisman, just in case anyone was watching. Then you'd shoulder your backpack, find the nearest door, and emerge, blinking, into the noonday sun. Freshman year, a sophomore who'd just gotten her license drove us up to campus. Sophomore year, it was the mother of a friend who was taking Spanish. By junior year I was driving myself. I liked to time my classes for the lunch hour, or better yet, stagger them so that it was inconvenient, if not impossible, to make it back to the high school in between. By late senior year, I was attending high school only three hours a day.
I loved the anonymity of university classes, the way you could float through the semester in your own private bubble. Occasionally there were group projects, necessitating a trip to someone's beat-up, beer-stained apartment, but college students were more polite than their high school counterparts; they asked a few questions, then let you be. Back at school my friends ate their lunches huddled in the cavernous underground cafeteria. I ate mine at home, lying on the floor, watching the sunlight drag itself inch by happy inch across the rug.
This was high school, for me: a soft, grey sea I forgot even as I drifted through it. I kept my hands to myself in high school. I built no boats, burned no bridges, left no mark. Let me go, I begged high school, and I'll let you go, too.
One of us welshed. Yesterday was prom night in my hometown. I was out to dinner with my family when they started to trickle in: girls in stiff, sequined dresses and boys in suits (tuxes are passe). There were corsages, shawls, the obligatory kid in a fedora. The girls laughed too loudly. The boys' eyes slid up and down.
I was worse than the boys: I stared. I had drifted through prom like I drifted through everything else in high school: reluctantly, in something non-descript. Years out, I remember only snatches: the scent of floor wax, the prickle of cheap fabric against my skin, the crowning of a prom queen whose face I'd never seen. When it was over -the whole loud, endless muddle of it- I felt grimly satisfied. I'd come. I'd seen. I'd discharged my duty.
The trouble with bubbles is that they pop. In the restaurant, twenty impossibly young, improbably attired men and women settled into their chairs and took up their menus. One girl ground her heel into the carpet and shook off her boyfriend's arm. Another got her wineglass tangled in her corsage. I giggled. I snorted. Something in my gut clenched painfully. The high schoolers were happy, anguished, wildly self-absorbed. I was still heading for the door.