High school. Those two words conjure up as many responses as there are people who read them.
Our high school years are pivotal. They are when we begin to define ourselves, testing the waters of responsibility and conviction, sometimes sinking, sometimes damn near drowning. Four years in which we make friendships, break friendships, find "true love" or turn into serial daters - trying people on and discarding them like yesterday's fashions.
We laugh, we learn, we experience embarrassments, triumphs, heartbreaks, disappointments, peer pressure, drama, joy, and pathos.
Oh, the pathos.
At no time in our lives do we so completely invest in our own emotions. Every high, every low, every look, every perceived slight, flirt, rebuff - we lived and died moment to moment, so convinced that our every breath was the center of the universe.
For some people, graduation could not come quick enough - so ready to be free of the hallway hierarchy and bullyshit. For others it was a scary, unwanted end to a great ride - meaning they would no longer rule the hallway hierarchy or be the dispensers of bullyshit.
But all people, regardless of where they ranked in the peer pecking order - cheerleader or jock, band geek or drama queen/king, valedictorian or stoner - managed to take something with them besides the diploma: Memories.
Memories than make us shudder (oh, the hair...); memories that make us smile (late night rehearsals, football games, first kisses); memories of the friends and teachers who endured the years with us, making them more bearable.
May will mark 30 years since I graduated high school. THIRTY. That is such a huge number, yet it seems to have gone by in a blink. So much has happened, so many life experiences lived. So many people who live in the vault of my own high school memories, who are pulled forward from time to time by an appearance on Facebook, a "housecleaning" dream where they pop in - certainly due to my brain's odd defragging process, and for me, many who have lived rather close to the surface for the past 8 years as my own daughters have moved through their high school experiences in which we have all had something in common.
My four years were anchored by a stage and a morphous, riotous blob of people dedicated to the words on the page, the breathing of life into them. Theater was my safe haven, full of like minded students whose personalities were far too big to be confined to the hallways and classrooms. We may not have worn the homecoming crowns or scored the winning touchdowns, but in our environment, we were cool.
Culley, Kendall, and Carson all gravitated to their high school's theater program, becoming a part of their own morphous blob of love, talent, genius, madness, acceptance.
I think that is what I remember the most about my group - the acceptance. Realizing I was safe. Safe to explore, spread my wings, take risks, fall on my face, or soar - and I did - ALL OF THOSE THINGS.
Those spectacular people have lived in my memory all these years, afforded real estate in my head and heart, space reserved for those who made an impact, stayed an impact.
My theater director, Carol Wharton, always having a prime spot.
She taught me to be brave, to be big, to be bold. Not just on the stage, but in my life. She nurtured, she pushed, she screamed, she coddled. And she forged, in the fires of her endless emotional furnace, students like me who went into the world stronger, more confident, less worried about what others think of us, and more concerned with what WE think of ourselves.
This morning I checked the mail and my heart smiled. There was an envelope from Carol. Totally unexpected, a complete mystery. I came home and opened not only the envelope but the floodgates on a tidal wave of memories.
Picture after picture of me in performances, at awards nights, just hanging out. Faces in the pictures pulled the faces from my own memories - Georgie, Carol, Shan, Aaron, Linda P., Stephanie, on and on.
Spoon River Anthology - I well remember completely losing my voice, missing school, yet still going on to perform (just behind my box was a Tupperware cup filled with whiskey and juice to continually burn the phlegm off my throat so I could do my characters)
LOVED this scene from Harvey - to this day still not sure what I am most proud of: My believable hysterics or the fact that I managed every night to remove those damned seamed panty hose and put them back on backwards. In twenty seconds. In the wings.
My fellow Thespian officers and Carol.
It was a gift. Not simply the Kodak moments in the envelope, but realizing that I, too, have been granted real estate in someone else's memories. That I was a place, a time, a person who was allowed to stay in the ether of someone else's dreams.
I cannot think of a higher compliment. Carol Wharton - THANK YOU and I LOVE YOU - always know that you, too, came and stayed, and you will live in my heart forever.