Life After High School – More or Less

I sat there in the stifling arena, the august strains of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance (March #1, actually; they rarely tell you that, or that there are others. Everything musical – or almost – I learned from the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange…) played. And played. Over and over again, as 531 graduating seniors entered the Glastonbury High School gym. My niece was one of them, and that’s why I was there. In the same gym where 33 years before I had endured P & C and the intense summer heat while waiting for my short walk up the aisle to get my diploma.

33 years.

Holy shit.

I have not been back to GHS much since then. From the outside, it looks roughly the same. Inside, I’ve heard, it’s much different, much more splendid, as befits a town crawling with McMansions and an even larger group of professionals than the one that had begun making G-bury a favored bedroom town east of the river back in the 60s. (Of course, one must use the qualifying “east of the river,” since so many of the hoity toity types in the Hartford area still can’t imagine a reason to venture over to this side of the river.)

As I drove into the school last night, my mind flashed back to many moments from my high school days, few of them admirable, but all them seemingly normal for the era. The hours spent on “the field,” where hundreds of students daily, openly partook in certain, ah, recreational activities (and which once led to a 3-day suspension for your humble narrator – yes, the soundtrack LP is still on…), the near-bust on same said field during a dance, the embarrassment of trying to deliver a speech while running for the student council – a seat I definitely did not deserve, given my condition during most council activities.

There were good moment, though. Some. None of them involving academics, of course, but it was high school, for god’s sake. There were the hours playing setback; the articles I pseudonymously wrote for the school newspaper on music, marking the birth of my writing career; performances by Simon Magus, the band for which I was the roadie/driver/sound technician and horticultural specialist.

My god, is that really all I can remember of high school, actually in the school?

Yeah, pretty much.

OK, a generic graduation pic, but they're kinda all alike...

I did have one other memory last night, one tied to my graduation of 33 years ago. As most of my classmates prepared to go to the “sanctioned” party and I and my friends, the Derelicts, did not, I saw a girl I had known since middle school. For a few years, we had been close, part of a clique that spent many hours together in and out of school. I have fond, vivid memories of the two us of meeting at the town library after school, just hanging out and being silly. Maybe it was flirting, I don’t know. Then and now, I am not well schooled in what constitutes that fine art. But I do know, one afternoon the two of us sat along the stone wall by one wing of the library, under a huge old tree (if I were a better writer, with a command of detail and an arborist’s vocabulary, I could tell you the genus and species, and describe the texture of its centuries-old bark. But I am not). And we hugged. Not chest to chest. No, it was arms-around-the-waist, hips fairly close, torsos pulled back, so we could look each other fully in the face. And in that moment, I was very happy. In the glow of nostalgia I might even say it was one of the  best moments of that time, with nary a drug in sight.

Nothing ever came of those after-school trysts at the library. We were very different people, even if we had spent together many adolescent hours of laughing and listening to music and exploring the power of double entrendres. And those differences magnified as we went through high school, each drifting into different groups, different interests. But once in a while during those four years, if I saw her by herself in the cafeteria, I would stop by, say hello, chat a bit. I always liked her and respected her intelligence, which I sometimes thought she tried to obscure. And I thought it was very noble, very brave, of her to spend time with a certified freak in such public view.

She surprised me on graduation night, this one-time close friend and library hip-hugger, but now a mere acquaintance. As I prepared to leave the school for my party and she prepared to go inside, we stopped to talk. Maybe say goodbye forever. Who knew where we would end up? And after our few words, she shocked me. She gave me a hug, a real hug this time, and a kiss. Nothing passionate. But it meant a lot to me. And she said – or else  I merely conjured an enduring  memory of something that never happened at all – that it was too bad we hadn’t spent more time together.

Too bad indeed.

So, driving by that spot last night where we said our senior so-longs, all this flooded back. Along with other memories of those distant years. And then I entered the gym and sat through Elgar and all the speeches and the in-jokes only the seniors could appreciate, and I thought this:

If you are not the graduate or the parent of a graduate, graduation has got to be one of the most godawful wastes of one’s time.

So much talk about the four years just completed. So much talk of the great future to come. OK, I admit, OEC has left me a little cynical about many things. I guess sitting in that gym 33 years ago, I did see a great future ahead. A great life. Not cure-cancer or make-a-million great, but great on my terms, as I defined it. But now?

Well…

And it wasn’t just cynicism that bubbled up a bit to burn my throat. There was jealousy. I heard the academic accomplishments and extracurricular achievement of the top 3 students and I thought: Man. Not only did they do more than I could have ever imagined doing during high school (did I imagine much that did not entail partying, music, or some combination thereof?), they’ve already done more than I’ve done in the 33 years since. Except get divorced, of course. It’s a fair bet I had everyone one of them beat on that score.

I’m glad I saw my niece get her diploma. I’m glad she and her classmates have their whole lives in front of them. I hope they achieve all the dreams they have now and the ones yet to be imagined. I just wish – or wished in that wistful moment last night in the gym –  that I had used my four years better. Used my life better. And been a better flirt in those days outside the library.

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~ by mburgan on June 24, 2011.

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