I stepped into the entrance hall of my high school with some measure of trepidation. An odd, surreal, sense of familiarity and ultimate strangeness mingling just past the place I could grasp and hold it. The sensation that my long ago memories and my current self were about to collide was almost overwhelming. Still, I placed my hand on the door, swung it open, and walked in.
I was a train wreck in high school. Long before derailed by a history I keep on the secret side, and bruised by the bumps and jolts in my journey, I was no more ready to take the passage through those years than a newborn is ready to walk. What I didn’t know then, but am beginning to understand now, is that most of my fellow passengers felt the same way I did. Each of us off track yet hurtling full speed toward our future selves, having no concept of what that future ‘we’ would, or could, be. In those years, barely 15 to barely 18, day-to-day survival was my only focus. I had no sense of a marked plan or even a destination, but merely held on with white knuckle grasp to make it through the dark tunnels of growing up.
I attended high school in a posh area of Salt Lake City in the early 1980’s. There, at the beginning of a new decade attempting to define and separate itself as different from what came before, I stood, feebly attempting to understand who I was and what that meant anyway. Define me at that age? Impossible. Scared spitless and feeling remarkably out-of-place inside my own skin, the idea of fitting in or finding a niche was something which fully eluded my young self. I went to class (sometimes), I socialized in the corridors, I participated in activities–some of which I even loved, but more than anything, I just didn’t fit. And more importantly, didn’t know if I wanted to fit. But that last, mostly, because I didn’t know how to fit.
Surrounded by kids who truly seemed to have themselves together, I was in awe. So, I floated. From group to group, philosophy to philosophy, habit to habit in an attempt to try it all on, assess the comfort level and push through my misfitted self toward a sense of belonging. Somewhere; anywhere. The dominant religion of Utah has a strong cultural base and, without making this about that, it must be noted that the social nature of my high school was steeped in that religion. My actions for or against that organization had impact on how I meshed (or didn’t) with peers and how I felt about me. God guilt, I call it now. And it guided me then, or trapped me, depending upon perspective.
But, here I was in the hallway of my school, this place where I spent my days talking, laughing, crying, and angsting as I passed through years of growing up, uncertain what I was growing toward. Now inside the building, I grabbed my sister’s hand as we entered the auditorium and looked for a seat. We settled into a row and wiggled out of our coats, then followed protocol and set our mobile phones to silent. As I sat there, in a room which was exactly as it has always been everything–EVERYTHING–came rushing back. Suddenly, the very middle-aged me, was only 17 and back in high school. As I sat with my sister and a few old friends that evening I was caught up in the rush back in time moment. We whispered together, and giggled, and, yes, because it’s 25 years gone, we also texted as we sat side by side in those rickety padded theater chairs. The overriding sensation which carried me along that night was the distinct feeling that this was exactly where I belong. Surrounded by friends who knew me when, yet love me still, I had a place. I felt attached and grounded in that experience, most especially as after the whispers in the dark came the confessions over coffee that he felt out-of-place in high school, and she felt like she never belonged, and they felt like, well, like train cars hurtling toward destinations unplanned and unfathomable. Like me.
In that experience, I see something precious to hold. My train car is attached to others now and has traveled along many tracks. It’s (I’m) weathered, worn and marked by the journeys taken, but, and hang with the analogy here, the settling onto a track, and getting the groove set in wheels which would carry me forward, that all happened then. Way back then, at a time and a place where I was undefined and my plan to advance in my tracks indefinable. But it happened; in whispers, in tears, in laughs, and in grating angst. All of it prepping me to leave the station and ride forward, to this point, without looking back.
I would submit here that I still haven’t a clue where I am going, but that the lack of objective doesn’t mean lack of purpose. It also doesn’t mean that the jolts and bumps of the track don’t throw me and bruise me a bit. Though I might, however, wonder at the boredom of a smooth ride. What I don’t wonder, is just how I made it through the rubble. That, my friends, is by grace of my friends. Those folks whose trains ran alongside mine, whose chug and rhythm I can still hear in my ear. I came of age there, with them. At an age and stage of confusion and feeling lost in the vast train yard, I was carried along. It mattered for this train wreck of a girl to feel rescued from her own fear. Aware or not of what they were doing, my friends did that for me then, and do that for me still.
Here we are, now, each of us making good time on our own journey; none of us stuck or at a standstill, all of us marking our path in a purposeful way. I sense that the steady hum and repetitive clack-a-clack-a-clack of strong, well worn wheels which carries us, individually and collectively forward, will be with me a long time coming.