For a very long time, I was unsure of who I was. Only in the past few years do I feel like I truly understand who I am. What I’m capable of, what my weaknesses are, my hopes and my dreams. My girlfriend often tells me that I think and talk too much about high school, but there’s a reason for that. I’m not that prom king or quarterback who wants to reclaim his glory days. No, the reason I love high school is because it was when I finally started to feel like I was becoming the man I would one day be, like I was finally starting to unravel the mysteries of who I was. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.
Elementary and middle school were not easy times for me. I remember that in kindergarten through third grade, I was mostly happy. I was nerdy and didn’t hang out with kids often outside of school, but I wasn’t bullied and I don’t recall any major psychological issues. But in fourth grade I started to suffer from severe anxiety.
I remember that a big chunk of the last two years of elementary school were consumed with fear. The two things that always gnawed at me in that time were dying and how God could exist while breaking every law of science. I could never completely get these thoughts and fears out of my head. Eventually, I was sent to a psychologist who helped me manage these psychoses.
When I started middle school, I didn’t have any crippling anxiety, but my years of relative social isolation in elementary school had made me even more awkward.
There’s more info from those years in my first real post. What a journey we’ve had together on this blog.
So through sixth grade I was very awkward and, as a result, lonely. I have to give the kids I went to school with credit, I was never really bullied. Considering how easy a target I was, this is pretty remarkable. So sixth grade wasn’t great, but seventh grade was truly awful.
This is when I had my second near-mental breakdown. I don’t remember having any real symptoms of OCD before this point, but for some reason I became extremely obsessive compulsive in that year. If I had to guess, I would say it was from all the pent up sadness and anger at myself for being so strange and lonely, combined with how insanely difficult seventh grade math was.
“Why are there letters in math?!” The exasperated cry of seventh-graders everywhere.
For whatever reason, I basically snapped that year. In our math class, we were told to write “every step of the equation.” This was the primary symptom of my OCD. I would spend hours every single night writing out the tiniest step of each problem in my homework. If it was a graph problem, I’d spend a half hour drawing different graphs for every single step. I would wake up at midnight, open my backpack, and go over every problem again to make sure not the slightest bit was missing.
After several months of this, I was taken to a psychiatrist who started me on Zoloft. It worked wonders on diminishing my OCD, but I still felt like a freak and so alone. I began to believe that I would never really fit in with anyone and forced myself to accept this. I told myself that I was better off alone, that I didn’t need other people, but deep down I knew that wasn’t true. My mantra became “Sometimes your greatest fears are your deepest desires.” I longed for companionship, but was terrified of the change that might bring and of being rejected.
So the rest of middle school passed. In ninth grade, I still felt all messed up inside. I wanted more than anything to be accepted as part of a group of friends, to grow up, to get a girlfriend. But all of those things still terrified me. This is when I started to really hate my archnemesis, Travis.
As in my previous post, no picture of Travis will be shown. We’ll also still call him Frank to avoid using his real name.
Frank was the person I simultaneously loathed and desperately wanted to be. He was a bit nerdy and wore glasses, yet he had tons of friends, the ladies loved him, and he was happy with himself. If I’d had more confidence, Frank was exactly the type of guy I could have been. I saw myself in him and hated that I wasn’t him. So I convicned myself that he was just a huge asshole. (To my credit, the couple of times I’ve hung out with him after high school and I was willing to give him another chance, I found out he actually WAS an asshole. So…point for Ryan.)
So we became arch-nemeses. I can’t remember who threw the first metaphorical punch, but we spent the next four years arguing and hating each other. It may sound kind of childish, but it actually got pretty serious. Near the end of ninth grade he stole the puppet I’d made for art class, so I chased him around a room and stabbed him in the back with a pencil.
There was blood on that thing. Like I said, I had issues back then.
Sorry about stabbing you, Frank. That one was honestly my bad.
Okay. So the summer after ninth grade I knew I was messed up. I barely had any friends, had an anger problem, was still taking medicine for OCD, and simultaneous loathed and desired opening myself up. This was the time when I started writing, and I as I said before in my previous post I think that helped a great deal. Over that summer I was able to work through a lot of my issues.
I’m still surprised at what came next. When tenth grade began, I told myself that things would change. I was sick of being this weird, lonely kid. So on the first day of school, I sat down with the rest of the guys from my class at lunch.
Just as a quick sidebar, this is one of the reasons I loved high school so much. Our 600-person class was split up into three educational levels – Academic at the bottom, College Prep in the middle, and Honors at the top. I was one of the Honors students, and there were only like 30 of us. So for the entire four years of high school, the 30 of us shared nearly all of our classes together. It really helped us feel like one giant family.
So back to the story. I sat at the lunch table with the dozen other guys in my class. They were pretty confused; I’d kept to myself all of the previous year. But they let me stay. At the end of that first day I was more proud of myself than I’d ever been. It was such a simple thing, but I’d finally taken the first step in trying to improve myself.
On the third day of school, one of my classmates did something that touched me in a really unexpected way. I was walking past the lunch table I’d sat at for the past two days to go to the little snack cart. Jason, a great guy who would become one of my best friends in high school and a man I still admire, saw me walking past. He turned around and said, “Fortier, we saved you a seat.”
I know it sounds really lame, but I still get choked up when I think of this. I’d spent so many years feeling wrong inside, telling myself that I didn’t belong with other people and didn’t need them. I’d finally worked up the strength to try to change that, but I figured it would be a long and arduous journey. But after just three days, one of the cool kids told me I was in.
As thanks, Jason would lead our rag-tag army of students against the terrorists who invaded our school in Spaghetti Time, the insane short story I wrote senior year.
So this is where the good memories began. Don’t get me wrong, I was still had a lot of issues to work through. I was terrified of talking to girls, would go through episodes where I was convinced my friends couldn’t really like me, and had problems sticking up for myself. But I was making progress, and for the first time in over five years I was happy.
I loved the next three years. Every day I’d go to school, sit with my friends, chat while filling out a worksheet, work on a project together, talk about our favorite movies at lunch, and play Xbox Live with them all night. So I don’t miss high school because I was the most popular kid or went out with a new cheerleader every week. I miss it because it was the start of who I am now, and it’s when I got to hang out with some of the best friends I’d ever make. I’ll always love those guys.
Except for you, Frank. You’re just…eh.
With all of that being said, however, I shouldn’t leave you all thinking my high school was perfect. While I loved my time there and most of the people in it, the actual school itself was completely and utterly insane.
Remember how I said before that the honors students made up about 30 out of 600 kids in my class? That meant that there were about 570 others who didn’t find school the enlightening experience we did. Yeah, my friends and I might talk too much and get distracted easy, but were also all smart and realized how important school was. Most of those other people didn’t.
My friends and I were mostly isolated from these kids; the 30 of us shared all of our core classes (math, science, etc.). The only time we ever really interacted with the rest of the school was at lunch, gym class, and maybe one elective a day. Even then we usually ended up with each other. But that was enough to let us realize how absolutely nuts our school was.
WHS, where you never knew if you were going to make it home.
Here’s just some of the stuff we had to deal with over four years:
- Our 9th grade history teacher was caught having a romantic relationship with a 15 year-old student on Facebook.
- Our 11th grade history teacher was caught soliciting a prostitute.
- Our 12th grade history teacher was fired for pinning a student against a wall with a desk.
- A substitute teacher who was fired for smoking pot taught our parenting class to leave a baby alone in the house and how to assassinate the president.
- LL Cool J came to our school for a pep rally. He left early because a female student molested him.
This would probably be the most random thing I’d ever seen in high school if it wasn’t for those break-dancers bursting into English class one time.
- We were on CNN when a dozen fights broke out after a pep rally.
- In English class senior year there was another massive fight which resulted in over 15 cop cars swarming to the school.
- Over twenty students were arrested after school in a jay-walking sting.
- My friend Matt threw open the door to health class and shouted, “Mike just tried to stab me with a hunting knife!” Mike was his best friend.
- When the school officer couldn’t control four unruly girls at lunch, he sent off a mace bomb in the cafeteria which sent dozens of students to the nurse.
- By senior year the violence had gotten so bad at our school that when a girl in my class asked to use the bathroom, the teacher made her wait until the school police officer could come and escort here there.
- I really want to harp on this one here. We were a school of 2,000 students with one police officer. I never understood how that one officer was expected to escort every student individually to the bathroom.
The scariest experience I ever had in high school, though, was the second bomb threat we had senior year. My friend and I had gone out to the parking lot with our teacher to help her get stuff from her car for class. We were coming back inside when we saw three cops milling in the lounge with the principal. This was more officers than normal, but we shrugged it off. About twenty seconds later, we heard this over the intercom.
“Students, please go back to your classrooms.”
No big deal, my friend and I figured. Ten seconds later the principal got back on the intercom. “Students, please go to the nearest available classroom. It doesn’t have to be yours, just get inside.”
So that was a little more odd. We picked up our pace and headed into the library, which was were our class was working on a project. We’d just made it in when the principal came on again. “Students, no need to panic, but get inside a classroom and stay there. Everything is fine.”
What little shred of sanity we had left was shattered when five second later the principal popped on for the last time and hurriedly shouted, “Everyone get out of the school now!”
Luckily it was just a bomb threat that turned out to be nothing. But after that last announcement, when our teacher ran ahead of us and urged us all to move quickly but quietly through the halls, that was the only time I ever figured there might be a shooter or something in our school.
So, to sum everything up, high school was great. It was where I started to become the man I now am, it’s where I started out with my lovely girlfriend Louise, and it was never ever boring.
I don’t feel like I can wrap this post up in a super meaningful way or with some cool writing trick, so I’ll just give you all a picture of me looking super lame in high school.
Call it even?