“As a grown woman, did you find it hard to convey the psyche of high school girls?” – at today’s book club via FaceTime.
I choked up giving my answer.
In Forte, Sami is included in the “in crowd” when she magically becomes a stellar athlete and makes the volleyball team.
FORTE IN CROWD, cast list
Carolyn once thought to be a romantic rival for Sami’s crush, she’s honest and caring.
Maddie the Uber popular chick, clearly the leader — setting trends and standards for the group’s collective behavior.
Thalia her biggest fan, her spaniel, the follower. Plain vanilla.
Shaunie the pretty, helpful one — gently showing Sami the ropes. Her mom runs the carpool.
Jess the bully — ruthless in her pursuit of getting Sami to push the boundaries.
Sami the newbie — tries to distinguish right from wrong when neither path is clear. Doesn’t know who to trust. Even herself, at times.
I recently moved back to my hometown after over twenty years of being away. Suddenly, I’m running into high school acquaintances at school pickup and grocery checkout, farmer’s market and ice cream queues. Seeing these people I grew up with but still don’t know very well is a strange phenomenon. And makes me consider who I might be to them.
High school is no walk in the park for anyone. Even those who are lucky enough to be in the “in crowd” (that would be me), were entangled in confusing high school politics.
For example (true story): a “good” friend ridiculed me in the cafeteria to such an extent, I hid in the nurse’s office crying my eyes out for the entire next period. That’s just one example. And I was one of the lucky ones.
My bestie since kindergarten and I were talking about all this recently. I took in a deep breath and told her: “We were the team.”
She knew what I meant. She read the book. “No, we weren’t.”
“Yes, I think we were.” But what I should’ve said was: “Well, I think I was.”
Each of my team characters is a part of me as a young girl. As well-liked as I may have been, I know I didn’t always make it easy for some. Perhaps, albeit subtlety, I left others out. At the time, I thought I was nice to everyone. I know with everything in me that I didn’t mean to be mean — ever. But I would put money on the fact that I made some people feel bad, just by being who I was.
Not easy to admit.
This post will piss some people off, maybe. Some will vehemently disagree. “We loved high school!”
Let me be clear: I like who I am. I’m proud of the person I am. It will shock those who know me to learn I was actually really shy as a young girl. My childhood was a blessing in countless ways, and has shaped who I am today. We are all, as grown individuals, a collection of our experiences. We can’t choose to keep only the good ones.
When the time comes, I only hope I can help my sons navigate high school in a healthy way. As I say to them in my acknowledgments: Let (Forte) give you insight into the complex behaviors of teenage girls. Remember to be kind to them in high school.
*Update: March 25, 2016*
Writing this post unleashed some tough memories that have been keeping me up the past few nights. This morning, my husband challenged my idea that we are a collection of our experiences. He believes that experiences are finite and don’t define who we are. We talked about the Looking Glass Self — the social psychological concept that claims we define ourselves as others see us.
“How much pressure would we put on ourselves if that were true?” he said.
Some of us hold onto our negative pasts so tightly, it holds us back from moving forward. The consequences are detrimental. Clinging to the past won’t allow us to achieve our full potential, or follow our dreams, or simply believe in ourselves.
I have always been the person I am today. The person I’m proud of. I refuse to be crippled by hurtful memories or how I might think others perceive me — now or back then. I’ve always had it in me to be the wife, mother, daughter, sister that I am today.
The next time I run into someone from high school, instead of getting sucked into a time warp back to 1991, I will show that person who I am today. Maybe we’ll become friends. Maybe not. But I will be true to myself.