Away

Tomorrow will be three years since I graduated from high school.

Older folks laugh at me saying that three years is nothing in the scheme of life. My life as a public school, 8 am to 3 pm, quiet, shy, introverted, student is far behind me as summer camp.

Moving away from my hometown, was both a feeling of both freedom and independence, but it was also a feeling of wanting to stay behind, and take the easy way out of the life that still lays ahead of me.

He looks at me blankly. There’s just me, him. Us.
The next morning I leave at 8:00 am. Driving through town, I see my memories plainly.  There I am in the cafeteria, not satisfied with the small, designated portions of food served on my Styrofoam plate, asking for seconds. There I am during gym class, afraid of being picked last because of my physical appearance, and those big, faded pink glasses that dominate my face. There I am falling in love by the bike rack. There I am slowly realizing that my bike has gone missing from that same rack, stolen while I stayed behind in class, helping the teacher put up the classroom chairs. There I am calling my father from the steps of the library. There I am, half listening to my speech teacher when she tells me I need to start attending class more regularly, and disregard the fear I have for public speaking.

If I had known how much I would miss these sensations I might have experienced them differently, recognized their shabby glamour, respected the ticking clock that defined the entire experience. I would have put aside my resentment, dropped my defenses. I might have a basic understanding of European history or economics. More abstractly, I might feel I had truly been somewhere, open and porous and hungry to learn regardless of everything. Because being a student is an enviable identity and one I can only reclaim by attending community college late in life for a bookmaking class or something.
I’ve always had a talent for recognizing when I am in a moment worth being nostalgic for. When I was little, my mother would come home from work, her hair cool from the wind, her perfume almost gone, her lips faded red, and she would coo at me: “You’re still awake! Hiii.” And I’d think how beautiful she was and how I always wanted to remember her stepping out of the elevator in her pea-green wool coat, 27 years old, just like that. Sixteen, lying on the dock at night with my camp boyfriend, taking tiny sips from the bottle of beer. But high school was so essentially repulsive to me, so characterized by a desire to be done.

I didn’t drink in the essence of the classroom. I didn’t take legible notes or dance all night. I thought I would marry my boyfriend and grow old and sick of him. I thought I would keep my friends, and we’d make different, new memories. None of that happened. Better things happened.

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