On my way to work each day I pass by multiple schools, first an elementary school followed by two high schools. I barely even notice them over the course of the summer. They just sit there, barren, waiting for their next round of fearful victims. Then, August rolls around and day by day the parking lots start to fill, until finally mid-month, the lots are packed and the small youth cities are populated again.
Each year it brings to mind what it was like, and growing revelations of who I was and who I thought I was. I’m sure just about everyone faces the school version of themselves when reminded of being back, especially high school. It is an interesting, pivotal time, that is completely overblown when you are in it.
I will preface by saying I had it good. I was athletic, smart and had a good family and core group of friends. My high school time was split in two, two years in Vacaville, California where I had spent all sixteen years of my life to that point and my final two years in Silverdale, Washington, about an hour outside of Seattle. Moving in the middle of high school was both a blessing and a curse, depending your point of view. But I am sure that will become more apparent as I reminisce and dissect the past.
Over the years (now seventeen plus years removed. Wow…saying that is crazy), as I have become more removed from school and the trappings that come with it, such as cliques and stereotypes, I have learned both how I seemed and how different it was from who I really was, or at least, who I felt I was. Now, that’s not to say that I was totally misunderstood and want everyone to reassess how they saw me. Truth is, I can only really reflect on myself with a kind of odd admiration, and stupidity that one can only do looking from the outside in. Almost like watching some kid play Little League baseball on TV now and thinking, “I was so much better than that kid when I was twelve”, when in fact I probably wasn’t nearly as good as I think I was, and i am totally disregarding who that kid is, now. Except, in my reflection, I am both kids.
Which brings me to sports. I was a baseball and basketball player, the fast, skinny kid that never had to overcome an awkward growth spurt or outside distractions such as issues at home, injuries or challenges at school that slowed me down. I was lucky. Baseball was definitely my forte, though admittedly, I enjoyed basketball more. I loved baseball, but for guys my age, we all wanted to be like Mike before anything else, some of us just realized we couldn’t be him sooner than others. It wasnt until my sophomore year until I had the realization, so at that point baseball really became my athletic passion. And I was good.
However, I didn’t really know how good I was, or to what extent, until I was much older. At the time, sure I knew I could play, but I was much more concerned with not failing than I was with being great. Sports was my ‘in’, it was my pass to feeling accepted and getting attention. It always was, from the time I was I sixth grade to the time I graduated, and I thank the thing up in the sky that I could run faster, throw further, or shoot better than the next kid. It’s stupid when you think about it, that any of those things are a measure of a kid, but it is the way of our world. Probably more now than then. It was my aim to just uphold that edge as long as I could before I had to rely on the kid, or man, that lived within the skin. And I worked hard for that.
A little bit of the kid behind the sports started to trickle out after I had moved to Washington. It had to. I didn’t know if I would make the teams there. Even though I had played varsity baseball as a sophomore in Vacaville, I wasn’t sure I was good enough to make the baseball team there, nevermind basketball, where I had just played junior varsity. I had to learn how to make friends, something I had always had in Vacaville, and learn a new social construct without the crutch of sports to fall back on. Although I did end up making the teams, the fear of not succeeding was enough to open my eyes to just how hard it was to have to rely solely on who you are to make friends. Those first couple months in Washington were very quiet. And low and behold, where would I make two of my best friends? At basketball tryouts.
To those of you that didn’t have sports to fall back on, I commend you. I was probably a bit more emotionally immature than I even realized because of the social safety net sports gave me.
While sports gave me a little bit of a blanket, it was more of a distraction in the way of others, and myself, in getting to know me. Though I projected confidence on the field, or in the classroom, or maybe even around people, it was often just on the surface. I didn’t feel like I was as interesting or cool as maybe the sports made me seem. Maybe that is completely off, but I think a lot of times I was trying to live up to a persona, like a character, more than who I actually was because I didn’t want to disappoint. I was shy, and boring without my sports cover. And that contradiction probably came off as arrogant or conceited; head held high and kind of steering away from being social doesn’t exactly project warmth.
It was probably most obvious around girls. Around guys it was easy to blend in, heck, most every conversation seemed to somehow orbit around superficial stuff that didn’t require much in the way of personal insight. But girls are different and for me, they were very intimidating until I was almost through high school (who am I kidding, women can still be very intimidating). So if you were a girl who knew me back in the day and I came off a bit cold, I apologize. I probably liked you or thought highly of you. I thought I needed sports or art to impress you, and without them I was normal, which no one really is, but it is a dreaded thing to think of yourself as.
As I have been stewing over how to wind this rant out, I learned of my favorite elementary school teacher’s passing, Mr.Bloom. It is funny, but hearing of this, while so sad, has brought a warmth and comfort to me. All these old names and faces have come out of the woodwork to say what he meant to their lives, and posting old pictures of fifth and sixth grade, and it has reminded me how great life was, and should be. I am sitting here, rambling about the bs of expectations and misperceptions and how I was, like probably everyone, not quite who I presented myself to be, but isn’t that life? Working through all the good and terrible things we do to try to fit in, and feel special or just normal. I was who I was and hopefully it was good to most, and not bad to many. Seeing old pictures and remembering myself as a kid, it brings a smile to my face and an appreciation for what I had, and have.
All things said and done, life is good. True, I am not a millionaire (yet), didn’t play professional sports, and don’t have any art at the MOMA, but I have an amazing partner to share my life with, a great family (despite the distance and quirky nature), and a core group of friends that I know I can count on. So I guess whatever I was or am, can’t be all bad, but it is an ongoing process.