Columnist for Friday, 3/23 - Cindy

A Really Bad High

The following is a column written for my high school newspaper in 1993. I graduated in 1987, but was contacted about writing one of a series of columns by alumni, reminiscing about high school and how it had shaped our futures. After submitting it, the decision of whether or not to publish it became a bit of highly localized controversy. It was eventually put up to a vote by the staff of the school paper. It lost by a single vote.


So I'm slogging away at my part time job in the data mines of Silicon Valley, one window opened to a database I'm purposefully sabotaging to extend my employment as a temp worker, another opened to a chat group where, under the pseudonym "Cindy Dutra", I'm busy flirting with a group of drunken college students at a party in Italy. All of a sudden, there's a flash on my screen. It's E-mail from Mom telling me to call my former high school English teacher about an alumni article for the school paper. Ah, the Internet.

I used to drop by the school all the time, but since some of the students who were 6th graders when I graduated now have nipple rings and are dating my friends, stopping by seems rather pointless. But I figure that there are still a handful of "trouble" kids, drinking behind the gym and developing a finely tuned contempt for life. And I want to reassure them of something they already know.

High school was complete and utter hell. I hated every second of it, and anyone who says they're the best years of your life should be used for medical experiments. The good times were like the holes between the bars of a cage, and the bad times could have made mustard gas taste like a cool spring breeze.

If I sound like a bitter old crank bitching about my high school years, rest assured that this is a pale approximation of the bitterness I felt when I was 15. I spent half my time staring at the sky hoping for a spaceship to come rescue me, and the other half in the bathroom with a razor to my wrists trying to think of a better reason to live than "Ow. This hurts."

It was the 80's. Suicide was hip, Ronald Reagan was president, and every young republican with a heartbeat was grinning from ear to ear. The only two genuine cultural advancements of the decade were clove cigarettes and Madonna wanna-be's, and I wasn't terribly successful getting my hands on either.

I was less than lucky in love, partly because I was a victim of "obsessive crush" syndrome (A quick bit of advice, kids: you know that special someone you think you'll die without? You won't.), and partly because next to my best friend, the obligatory dark and moody class rebel, I was a poor concession prize.

I was seventeen by the first time I'd kissed a girl. When he was fifteen, my best friend had sex in a supply closet next to the school kitchen, five feet away from a girl scout troupe baking cookies. Most of my social life consisted of befriending his girlfriends and consoling his ex-girlfriends. He was eventually expelled (and subsequently forcibly removed by a testosterone-enhanced PE staff) after telling the Principal, at his 27th why-don't-you-ever-show-up-before-noon probation meeting, "Listen, I'd rather not discuss my life with people for whom I have no respect whatsoever." At last report, he was alive and well and happier than any Honors Grad I know.

The strangest thing about high school was its odd mix of authority figures. Some wanted you to think for yourself, and saw rules as something to be fallen back on when people were being unreasonable. Others, given the chance to either save a drowning child or lecture a chronic gum chewer, would blink exactly twice before whipping open their thesauri to "responsibility", "community", and "respect". I still want to know why the latter group always made up the administrators and disciplinarians.

The pressure was always turned up way too high. The "if you don't turn in this vocabulary assignment you will end up in the gutter" attitude permeated every corner of that school. There were a couple of times I'd been up all night trying to convince my heroin-addicted cousin not to chug down a bottle of valium-- yet I was still expected to come to class at 8:15 AM with a story including the words "ubiquitous", "luminosity", and "textile".

"Your problem," I was always told. "Is that you have to set priorities!" Thank you, Ms. Jorjorian, for filling me in on this crucial aspect of the meaning of life.

I used to drink a lot in high school. Even between classes on a bad day. I thought I was a teenage alcoholic, also smoking pot when I could and taking every prescription pain pill I could steal. Oddly, when I went off to college, my substance abuse pretty much cleared up. I now figure that I didn't have a problem, I just legitimately needed a drink a lot of the time.

No, high school was not a complete waste of time. Yes, I learned some useful things. Yes, I miss some of my friends from back then. And if you gave me a little truth serum I'd have to admit that it helped forge the person I am today. But I could say the same things if it were a POW camp in 'Nam. Best thing I can say about high school? It only lasted four years.

But it sure as hell felt like more.


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