High school was an awful experience for me. I was bullied. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t like the way I looked. I had such a poor self-image, in retrospect I wonder if I didn’t suffer from a mild form of body dysmorphia. During the three years spent at Thomas Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Class of ’79) , my goal was to leave as small a footprint as possible.
I could provide an indexed list of traumatic experiences while attending high school, but I won’t. Instead, I will continue to push them down. Ignore them. Move on. Blot them out from my memory. I didn’t buy a yearbook. Didn’t attend graduation. Avoided group photos.
This grieved my parents, especially my father, who was a middle-school counselor and felt my love of school - or the lack thereof - was a reflection on him. Yet, he understood me enough not to confuse my dislike of our educational system with a dislike of being educated. I loved to learn. That's why I found high school so distressing. Many apparently didn’t. This love did not translate into academic accomplishment, as I insisted on learning on my own terms. I often embraced subjects not included in our high school curriculum.
Yet, I was involved. I did participate. I formed connections with teachers and a few classmates. My activities reflected core interests that would go on to define my trajectory in life - however muted by my insecurities at the time. Ironically, my love of theater would thrust me out of the shadows to stand – quite literally – center stage. Acting was a passion, as was music and all the fine arts – but I would have to wait until college before I found the confidence to embrace them as a career.
Now that I find myself leaving the orbit of middle age, I am flirting with opening the dark box of memories long suppressed. I believe you are never too old for self-discovery, especially when you make inner vows to forever shudder compartments of pain.
Social media, for all its faults, can force peering into the past. I find it ironic that the people I hoped would reach out and reconnect never did, but those I barely knew from high school often would.
Throwback Thursday is a fun concept. A day reserved for posting pictures of yourself
“back in the day.” Only now do I feel the sting of choosing to keep the lowest of profiles in my youth. There are so few pictures of me – as that was very much my intention at the time. I finally realized how unfounded my insecurities were, and how much I would come to appreciate the few images that preserved a small window into what once was.
As we age, vanity forces little lies we tell ourselves. We flail about, grasping for the last vestiges of our youth. We fool ourselves into believing the flame of animal magnetism we once possessed still burns – no matter how faintly.
Maybe this is what compelled me to find our class yearbook online. I am incredulous it actually includes pictures of me – though my name is not mentioned.
I share them here. I was a good-looking kid. Too bad I didn’t know it at the time.