I see it now like an island I once saw off the deck of a friends house. "Is that an island?" I asked, not sure if I should trust what I thought I was seeing. Then I felt stupid for asking, because, of course, if it were an island, I would have surely seen it before and it wouldn't have just appeared, from nothingness and floated to the surface far out in the waters of the Pacific. It turned out that it was indeed an island and that I simply hadn't noticed it before. That or something had obscured my view of it, the weather, the glare of the sun. Regardless, it existed. It had been there all along, just like my life twenty years ago did. A solid mass of something, floating just far enough out in my memory to make me squint and try and remember if what I'm recalling is real or just something I think I remember. After all, two years of one's life is only a sliver of the whole, nothing that should really amount to much, but it has.
There's a confidence you have when you're sixteen, similar to that of a preschool age child. I can do it by myself, I don't need your help kind of attitude. I'm convinced that it's a necessary stage. That without the bold determination, the veil of forced certitude, we would never experience failure, never venture past the shallow end of the pool. I was no different. I didn't want to stand out. I wanted to blend in. I was just unsure as to how I should go about it, but I figured I would adapt to my new surroundings, just as soon as I figured out where that would be.
We (my parents and I) looked at three schools altogether. The first, a Catholic school, smelled like metal lockers and tile floors. The school admissions felt my education up to this point had been unsatisfactory and I would not meet the standards of my current grade level there. I had never really had to worry about academics before and this completely threw a cog into the equation. Coming from a small town where grade level equals your status, I could not see how it could possibly be in my interest to sacrifice a year of my life for a better education. This would just not do, socially.
The second school was all too familiar. I remember it as brown. Dusty and brown with a more than camplike feel to it. I had been to camp. It was ok, I guess, but I didn't think I could ever feel clean here. Yes, these were my concerns at the time, cleanliness and social stature, even though I would know not a soul. You would think I would have been concerned over, more important things, like the academic offerings, the overall culture of the school or the college preparedness it had to offer, but these things were about as relevant to my sixteen year old mind as an IRA or balanced diet. Quite simply, as long as it was the place I had imagined, the boarding school that existed on Facts of Life and in my mind, I could deal with all the other issues that might come along. At sixteen, image is everything...even in your own mind's eye.
to be continued...