So in sixth grade I was at a private school but was asked to leave after the conclusion of that year because I was something of a disruption to the faith-based education. And then seventh and eighth grades were spent in middle school and nothing very interesting happened. And then, of course, I went on to high school, and that wasn’t all that interesting either.
High school was, for me, something to be got through so I could get on with life. I kept my head down and did my work. I suppose I had friends, or there were at least people who would say they were my friend, or at least admit they knew me . . . It’s strange. I understand people from a distance. I can make perfect sense of their interactions with one another. And I’m very self-aware, too, and know myself really well. But somehow when the equation includes others + me, I can never solve it. I have no clear idea of how my peers perceive me. And really, it’s never much mattered to me either way. With a handful of exceptions—that is, people I could not, or at least would rather not live without—I can take or leave them, so it doesn’t much matter whether they take or leave me. (Notice I said “peers.” My strongest bonds are with people older or younger than me.)
I was a good student. Won school medals in biology and journalism. I don’t even like biology, but it was easy for me. Well, and I did like genetics. DNA and the matrices of alleles were very interesting to me. I was good at chemistry, too, and often had fellow classmates come looking for me to help them understand it. Physics . . . I think I learned most of that from MacGyver, actually. What can I say? Science comes naturally to me.
I did a bit of debate and was told I should become a district attorney. I’m terrible when I get something in my jaws, and that’s why I gave it up; I didn’t like the feeling, the anger. So I stuck with journalism, with writing for the school paper and being editor of the yearbook. My journalism teacher was one of my great encouragers, and we even went to Star Trek conventions together. She gave me a book of inspirational quotes when I graduated and wrote that she knew I’d be a great writer one day.
A couple other teachers also had impact on me. Mr. Harvey, my geometry teacher. He was also the chess club sponsor. I’d sometimes hang back after class just to chat with him about his extensive travels. He’d lived in New Zealand. Mr. Harvey used to ask, after explaining something in class, “Clear as mud?” And I was the only one who ever laughed. I use that phrase now with my kids, but they totally don’t get it. Ever logical, my oldest son always says, “But mud isn’t clear.”
Then there was Dr. Robertson, the world history teacher. Spoke something like five languages. The only person to ever get my last name right on the first go. He lived around the corner from us, too, and I’d see him on weekends, sitting outside and sipping tea. Doc Robertson was not easy to get close to, but you couldn’t help but respect him. And I was very good at world history; it’s a subject that honestly interests me. So we had a sort of mutual respect, and that was nice.
And of course there was Mr. C. Had him two years running for English Lit and still sometimes get an occasional e-mail from him.
I would get to school one of two ways: If I was willing to get up early enough, my mother would drop me off. If I was feeling lazy, I had to walk. I didn’t mind except when it was hot and I’d end up sweaty. I remember one day I was walking in the rain and my classmate Topher pulled up in his truck and asked if I wanted a ride. I was so stunned, I could only shake my head. I don’t know why I said no; Topher was a great guy, though we seldom had any contact. I feel bad now because I can see that he must have felt rejected. In my senior yearbook he wrote something like, “And now you even talk to me sometimes.” Sorry, Topher, if my painful shyness came across as my being a bitch.
When I would go into school really early, I would sit in the cafeteria and one by one others would come and sit with me. Each would open up and tell me all these things that were wrong in their lives, and I would just listen, like some kind of therapist. “I hate my mom because . . .” or “My girlfriend is making me crazy with . . .” They all seemed to know and trust I wouldn’t tell anyone else. Every now and then I’d ask a question or offer a suggestion. One person would finish, get up and go get breakfast, and then someone else would shuffle into the vacant chair. I was Lucy Van Pelt! Only nicer, I hope. They almost always bought me doughnuts as payment.
One good friend was an artist, and he was having a difficult time because he came from a very driven Asian family that insisted he should become an engineer. He once made me a beautifully illustrated collection of famous quotes about love, though to this day I don’t know if it meant anything or if he was trying to make me feel good. And I’ll never be able to ask him because he committed suicide a few years after we graduated. That really bothers me. I feel like I failed him somehow.
At least half of my friends were gay, but being that we lived in Texas (and not in the liberal Austin area), none of them were advertising. This worked out for all of us because people could assume I was one or the other’s girlfriend, and the guys knew I was never going to pressure them. And I got the biggest homecoming mum ever, so that was cool.
The guys I did actually date came mostly from the ranks of my church youth group; these were the boys of which my parents approved, and they were also the only ones brave enough to make moves. Charles I had to drop because he was too clingy. Greg—a college man! studying to become a pastor (Mom always did expect me to be a pastor’s wife)—I had no feelings for one way or another, and when he began to sense my apathy he gently “let me down.” Except I didn’t care because I was about to go away to college myself. And I knew I wouldn’t be carrying anything with me. The plan was to start fresh.