My wife informed me, as she and my sons loaded up the car for a Thanksgiving get-together in New Jersey, that my daughter would be returning with them this evening after the festivities. "It's her 10th high school reunion," my wife explained.
What?! How did that happen, some voice inside me asked. In some part of me -- as no doubt with a lot of parents -- children would always remain children ... sort of in the 5-8-year-old range, thigh-high and deeply committed to one Walt Disney adventure or another. But now, instead, my daughter is married and has been out of high school for 10 years.
All of which took me back to my own high school. High school -- a time of teetering and tottering on the edges of adult-dom and all the confusions that occasioned. I graduated in 1958 and was as confused as any high-schooler might be. Would I ever get laid ... a lot? It seemed improbable since I went to an all-boys school. And yet the population kept growing so perhaps there was hope even for such a confused individual as I.
Like any high school person, I had little or no perspective, no wider contrast or comparison. Everyone wore a jacket and tie where I went to school. We went to school because going to school was what high schoolers did. The first hint that I was going to a high school of note was when one student stood up in the middle of an English class, walked across the room, and punched another student with whom he was having an argument about the homework assignment under consideration. Actually punched him. Somehow I knew that was the mark of a good education and not just a teaching moment. Imagine being in a class where someone got that pissed off.
We studied Latin and French and had a Bible course tucked in in deference to the school's religious beginnings. Nothing heavy -- just a nod to the culture we lived in. Everyone was expected to go to college and when one kid decided to join the army, I was flabbergasted. There was "chapel" each morning before classes began. There was grace said before lunch. For fun, I took an after-class course in Italian. It was a time of the Beat Generation upsurge and when some of us tried to mimic the writing style of Kerouac or Corso or Ferlinghetti, the English teacher -- an exceptionally-tightly-wrapped homosexual was my guess -- slapped us down hard with lousy marks. He was one hell of a good teacher.
As a college sophomore, I once wrote a paper on the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, most of whose stuff I had read in high school. The teacher of the college class pissed me off so badly (teacher burnout, I think) that I made up most of the paper out of whole cloth ... the plays referred to were real, but the source material quotations and commentary AND publishing houses that published those analyses, were entirely fictitious. The paper was a quite ornate fuck-you. I was never quite sure if I was sad or happy that I got an A-minus on the paper.
In the high-school student body were people who would become Hollywood directors and bartenders and bankers and ... well, everything, I suppose. I was fortunate, but had no way of knowing it. I was too busy being confused and horny and a teenager and ... didn't someone have the answers that would still the confusing waves?
Of course they didn't, but I was just beginning to learn that faking it was the only option.
It seems impossibly long ago and far away. And now my daughter collects her own version of long ago and far away.
Confusion's not that bad.