Thursday, August 11, 2011

I have a crush on U.

I basically got this note twice in one year.
In the last winter of junior high, my parents expressed their wish that I attend a private high school in order to prioritize and maximize my chances of attending an exclusive university. My mom touted the college acceptance statistics of preparatory schools in the area and sent me for admission testing, interviews and tours. She also started pulling me out of school to send me on exploratory overnights with daughters of her friends at local colleges and universities, hoping that I would get a feel of the campus and the gravitas of college life; what I discovered was that you could have ANY CEREAL YOU WANTED for breakfast, and no one stopped you from being on the MUDs at 3 in the morning, allowing my half-elf half-human to launch psionic assaults on evil creatures and level up four times before dawn.

By spring, I’d narrowed it down to two schools – the exclusive, Episcopalian Breck School and De La Salle, a Catholic high school on an island. I knew that Breck was the smart choice - I had no interest in Catholicism, a strict uniform policy, and a mandatory religion class. Breck had an extremely strong program, was close to my house, and had several acquaintances from elementary school, assuring my transition to a new school smoother than usual.

Unfortunately, I had no interest in attending private school. I didn’t want to leave my friends, was confident in my public high school to provide a great education, and was probably a bit terrified of having to actually work at doing well. Instead of communicating these very valid concerns to my parents, I hurled myself toward the school where I knew would end in my failure, because that’s the kind of self-destruction I excel at.

In my admission interview at De La Salle, they asked me what denomination of Christianity I most identified with, and I said I was an Atheist. They asked what my favorite Bible verse was, and my response went something like this: “The one where they eat babies. You know, because of the famine.” (This is true. 2 Kings. Look it up.) They then asked me what I’d taken away from this particular verse, and I’m pretty sure I said something along the lines of “Always eat someone else’s baby first.”

The acceptance letter came three weeks later.

So we bought the uniforms, I got my first metro bus pass to go to school, we paid tuition. My first week was a blur of August heat and disorientation; I was terrified of being stopped in the hall by an upperclassman and ordered to sing the school song or recite the school’s mission statement, failure of which would result in detention. My 8th period math class was held at the top of a tower, where I was held prisoner by algebra and an angry, bitter nun who liked to start class by wordlessly pacing around the room for a few minutes before returning to the front. She’d stand up there, dressed in all black despite the heat – and would gravely announce in a low voice: “Three of you are in uniform violation. Detention awaits.” Seriously. I could practically see the wheels in her head, churning out malice. As she moved forward with her lesson, we’d spend the rest of the afternoon wondering which of us were to be written up; the suspense was torture as we all continued to wilt, our uniforms wrinkling, our brows sweating.

I had a hard time making friends. Most of the other kids already knew each other from their private, Catholic middle and elementary schools. Almost all of the Catholic schools in Minneapolis fed into De La Salle – particularly the schools where the student body was predominately Black. This was also new to me – even though I’m half Black, I’d attended schools with a very small Black population, and the culture seemed foreign to me. I felt guilty and awkward about this, particularly when my mom asked me why I didn’t really have any Black friends – and I didn’t have a response. My family had attended a Black Methodist church while I growing up, where I fell in love with gospel music and hats, but I’d never felt a connection to anything else there. We stopped going around 4th or 5th grade, so I never entered a confirmation class or a youth group, or found anywhere else I’d have made friends. We didn’t live near my grandparents, aunts or cousins, so they weren’t a big part of my universe, and as a result “Black culture” wasn’t a big part of my life.

I was also in the very beginning of my disordered eating habits; I’d become a vegetarian over the summer and refused to buy food from the cafeteria – instead I brought my own raw cabbage and sunflower seed sandwiches with butter. This weirdness didn’t really endear me to the rest of the kids at lunch time, so I took to eating alone and reading. Eventually, I made friends with a kid named Harrison*, whose parents were psychiatrists; we’d spend hours on the phone discussing our mutual strangeness and all of the things we observed about our fellow students; I’ve been hyper observant most of my life, and Harrison was taught from birth to put meaning and weight to everyone’s words and actions, so we had a pretty complete picture of what everyone else was doing, and how separate we were from it. One night he asked me if I liked him, and I said sure; we were friends, right? He pressed the issue, and I realized he was asking if I like-liked him. I went quiet, and I heard him breathing shallowly into the phone. It was the last time we talked.

That movie deal comment is a whole other blog post worth of material.

Three weeks into the school year, I knew I’d had enough. For all its preparatory laudation, I wasn’t challenged. My classmates were more concerned with makeup, boys, and Homecoming, and I longed for familiarity and wearing jeans to school. My parents asked me to give it more time, and I did – but only about two months. By late October I was miserable, and ready to flee. I re-enrolled in public school, and when I told my classmates at De La Salle I was leaving, I was unprepared by the attention I received. I was passed the above card with everyone’s best wishes, most of them saying things like “too bad we didn’t get to know each other” and “I’ll miss you” and “it was nice knowing you”. One of the boys in my English group, Matt*, wrote me this other note, telling me he had a crush on me:
I have a crush on U. 

He passed me this note as he left our last class, and I never saw him again; I’m not quite sure why I didn’t call or write, and I doubt he had my info. Maybe I was afraid of being friends with someone who liked me, as I’d been with Harrison, or trying for my first relationship. Maybe I was too wrapped up in getting caught up academically and socially at my public school. Maybe I didn’t want anything to do with my time at De La Salle.

I doubt I’ll ever really know what I was thinking then, but only part of me wishes I did; a few years ago I even burned all of my journal entries from around that time, so only these letters remain. Many of the choices I made were painfully irresponsible and self-destructive; I did everything I could to set myself up for failure, time and time again. I know hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but I know I was cognisant of the consequences of bad choices, and I still made them. I still felt trapped. The only theory I have is that even now, my inability to communicate negative emotions and thoughts constructively trips me up, and so I was probably completely unable to do so back then.
Thankfully, we grow up, we talk things out, we try new things, we learn. I went to good high school, I went to a good university; I am at peace with these aspects of my education, and joyful about all the things I’ve accomplished.

That nun, though. I hope she got what she deserved.

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