I wish I had been a stronger person in high school.
It was a bad time in my life. I didn’t have any friends when I started (perfect example of how truly awful young girls can be), my family was broken up by the end of it, and throughout I had no self-esteem. As I sit here leafing through the pages of my year book, I don’t feel the pain that I went through then – though memories of my first kiss and first heart-break stir – but I feel regret.
The picture of my friend reminds me. In a photography class dark room one day in the ninth grade, I found myself with my former best friend. No one else was around. It was the opportunity I’d waited on for months: my chance to ask my best friend why she abandoned me, and why she’d taken others with her. I still remember how scared I felt. I ran the conversation over in my head. I felt panic rush through me. I wanted to know. I needed to know. But I developed my photos in silence instead. And then I went on to my next class. I wish I had asked that question instead of being tormented by it for years.
The picture of a boy- older than me, that I’d never spoken to but knew of- reminds me. On the city bus one day after school, I sat with friends, talking, giggling, about what was surely stupid stuff. A teenager got on. He was fat – quite fat – but that was all I knew of him. My friend puffed out her face to mimic him. We laughed. It was cruel, though I’m pretty sure the fat boy didn’t see it. But another boy, one sitting directly across from us did. He was disappointed. He told us we were awful. My regret is not being childish and mean (I have much bigger regrets for that category). My regret is that I wasn’t ever brave enough to be that boy. To tell people when they were jerks. To love myself enough that I didn’t need to judge other people to feel better. I still admire that boy on the bus.
The picture of Tanya reminds me. Tanya, I hope you read this and remember that day in the twelfth grade when I was an idiot. The school board changed the length of our school day by something like 12 minutes a day in order to add two full days of classes to the end of the year. We didn’t like that. And our teacher encouraged us to do something about it. Protest! Stand up for what you believe in! (though she prefaced it with “I’m not telling you to do anything. Don’t get me in trouble.”) I thought this was a stupid idea. I can’t remember the details or why I thought this, but I definitely thought this. And then some girls – girls who had previously rejected me – invited me to join their planning efforts. And suddenly things didn’t feel so stupid. I was so desperate to be accepted by these girls that I abandoned all logic and jumped on the bandwagon. In class the next day, Tanya turned to me and said “I thought you weren’t going to the protest.” Whether she meant for it to or not, I felt ashamed in that moment. I felt like my cover had been blown and all that was left was desperation. I wish I knew then that bandwagons are lame.
My picture reminds me. It reminds me to love myself now because I didn’t love myself then.
Most of the pictures in the year book don’t spark regret. They really don’t mean anything at all to me. I barely knew anyone. I don’t show up in the pictures because I didn’t really participate in high school life. I was too busy feeling small, I guess. Sometimes I think about the prospect of a high school reunion and wonder if I would go. What would it mean? Would it feel good? Bad? Or maybe nothing at all. The farther away I get from those years, the less they seem to matter.
I guess the real question is am I better now? If I died tomorrow, would I still regret the way I’ve acted in my life? I don’t think so (if you don’t count the times when I’m still a total doofus and say the completely wrong thing) but it’s probably still a work in progress.