Fear and Loathing in Brecksville: Concerning Your High School Alma Mater
After a particularly harrowing visit back to my home town I sat down and wrote this piece. As I prepare to leave for New York City, Tuesday these words have been ringing in my mind. Below is "Fear and Loathing in Brecksville: Concerning Your Alma Mater" .
There’s a distinct chilling feeling that comes on when you return to your high school. You can almost hear the whispering voices of people you only see on Facebook now.The replacements have come.
The class photos of kids 4 years your junior line the walls, where yours used to be. A ghostly ere clouds the halls you used to run. The teachers, no doubt, have forgotten how to spell your complicated last name. All of this is abstract, the only concrete thing being a feeling of relief.
Thank God I’m gone.The anxiety is still there. The same people run the town. Not much has changed, except now we hang out in bars instead of pep rallies. Everyone Is the same brand of insecure. The gym is still a stomping ground for some and a nightmare for others. At 22 I have returned to watch my brother play basketball for one last time probably,as a move to New York or wherever looms overhead.
I’m just praying nobody asks me what I’m doing right now, or where I’m going. The only thing more annoying than the future is people asking about it. My reputation truly precedes me. I gave the graduation address for Christ sake. About 20 minutes in, i’m still safe from recognition. As Kanye West blares overhead I look around, wondering where the fuck the time went. It’s been nearly 8 years since my freshman year of high school. I’ve done a lot since exiting the provincial BBHHS. What the high school movies leave out is the hard work it takes to survive.
The truth regarding this place is that if you allow it to be your crowning achievement, that’s okay. But for those who want more, there’s always another shot at redemption whether people recognize you or not.The obnoxious flicker of fluorescent lights in the gym reminds me of a school dance. All awkward and heavy with disappointment. It is decorated with cheerleaders and two basketball teams now instead of streamers.
I wish I had more school spirit. Kids are wearing red and gold, the colors of the paint in the lanes. Letterman’s jackets litter the stands like cigarette butts outside a bar. I scan the crowd once more and realize I wore red by accident. Go figure. If I’ve learned anything from being here it’s that life is cyclical. You come to school, you go to school, and for 4 fleeting years you run the school. Then you leave, and go to college. You spend 4 years there and just like the new photos in the halls, you get replaced.
Some of the kids gathered in this gym for a basketball game look like they’re attending a funeral. I remember that feeling, the social anxiety, the varsity epidemic.The cliques are alive and the social circles are vibrating, but there’s a lot of behind the scenes work that goes unearthed.
The studying, the competition, the academic failure, and the relief of graduating in one piece are the casualties of media perception of high school. Not everyone is cute and funny, charming and athletically talented. Those who peak in high school are often forgotten by 22 and my presence is proof of the contrary.
Lots of us rode the bench in high school not caring whether our team won or not. It wasn’t a bad place. It wasn’t a good place. It just was. It is in the past.The giant Bee, a reminder that yes, you are in Brecksville, Ohio.
For me High School wasn’t all basketball games and Pom Poms, bud light and boyfriends. It was hard work, an almost insatiable lust for perfection and only one goal in mind…to get the fuck out.As I stood with my hand over my heart listening to a canned version of the National Anthem I was thankful that I had. High school did not define me and it never will.
Achievement aside, leaving high school is more of a mindset. You’ve gotta move on mentally, or everything you do will be compared to your ‘glory days’. I don’t believe in glory days. Each day can be one if you try hard enough.Everyone here looks so young, like five year olds in a playpen. When I was here I felt as old and tired as I do now, I guess experience varies per person.I turn to my mother sitting next to me and I ask, “Did I look that young when I was here?”She nodded, indicating that I might not have been as cool, or brooding as I thought.Inevitably kids will become old and bitter, they’ll grow out of their uniforms and they’ll take jobs , drugs, or fame.
I’m done with school entirely, and you know what? It feels great. Somewhere out in the world where people meet for the first time, you make a spot for yourself. You don’t replace anyone. You’re entirely original. The band kids and the jocks, the druggies and the academics, they all get a spot. And God Damn it, there’s one for me too.
On the way out I noticed that a collage of photographs from 2011 was still up near the cafeteria outside the gym. I scanned it, recognizing people I used to trust with my life, and others I saw as acquaintances. In the corner, was a picture of my golf team before the senior year pep rally. In a hoodie I’ve long since retired, I almost didn’t recognize myself.
Sure, there’s a resemblance, but that person in the picture does not exist anymore, and that’s okay.
Wherever your Alma Mater, and whatever your experience, one thing is clear: you don’t go there anymore. Leave it It in the past. The crowds in the gym may be roaring for someone else now, but somewhere else, somewhere better, they could roar for you, if you let them.