I went to my ten-year high school reunion on Saturday. It was an odd feeling. The cafeteria was different, but immediately I was taken back to awful french fries, loud talking, grace coming over a sound system from the mid-80s at best, teachers yelling, and books dropping. There was always the sound of books dropping.
I remember in my freshman year, my first full Tuesday was September 11, 2001. They made an announcement during homeroom that something had happened in New York, but didn’t say anything else. Classes continued as normal. My second period was English. In the middle of the lesson, the television turned on. The picture was fuzzy, with two dark rectangles against a lighter background. And then one of the rectangles sank out of frame. It was then that we were told the scope of what was happening. We were to be dismissed at noon. It was only ten-thirty. In that ninety minutes, stories spread about what was happening: stolen planes, stealth bombings, attempted assassinations. It was a dark time, but also an important lesson in mass hysteria.
I remember how comfortingly insular it was. Even though I was painfully shy, I never felt out of place there, even in the beginning. It felt comfortable.
I remember in sophomore year, some upperclass girls filled a condom with fruit punch and Skittles and tossed it at someone, hoping it would burst like a water balloon. It didn’t, which speaks well of the condom company. It ended up getting thrown around to the sounds of shrieking laughter, until my theology teacher picked it up off the floor, threw it away, and gave a stern glare to all of us who dared to laugh.
I remember that we drew dicks everywhere. For an all-girls Catholic school, we drew a lot of dicks.
I remember in my junior year, my friend Cait and I would lie to the study hall moderator that we had homework or a project to work on, and if we could please use the large table in the hall so we don’t disturb the other girls. We would open books, and just goof off the entire period. Study hall was across from the trigonometry classroom, and occasionally the teacher would poke his head out and see what we were doing. Once, Cait had spent half the period drawing snowmen with the circle templates we were given for trig class. As she sat there awkwardly, the teacher just shrugged and said, “I’m glad they’re getting used.”
(Fun addendum: the one time the moderator came out to check on us, I was working on a huge French project, and had enlisted Cait to help color it in. Moderator was delighted at our hard work, and never bothered us again.)
I remember always finding a place to sleep: study hall, homeroom, a bathroom stall, bolt upright in theology. One year, there was a tiny alcove next to my locker. I spent a lunch period napping there. I nearly always got caught, because I was never that slick. It never stopped me from trying again, though, which I thought spoke of my perseverance. No one else ever saw it that way.
I remember in my senior year, I lied. I told everyone I couldn’t wait to graduate. Admittedly, a small part of me wanted to be done with high school, because I was certain that was the cause of my torment. And yet, it was a known entity, and I didn’t want to leave it. I wanted to freeze time, to stay in those last moments. To figure out who I was within the safety of school. I was already scared of what was happening in my own head. To have to deal with the outside world as well? The thought terrified me, cripplingly so.
I remember standing outside of the church, waiting to process in for our baccalaureate mass. The last time we would all be together as Hallahan students. I knew I should feel sad, but instead, I just felt hollow. My bubble of safety had popped. Now what do I do?
I remember years later, meeting new people and telling them stories from high school: discovering a closet full of gold cups, sneezebangs, throwing projects together six hours before they were due.
It’s funny what things stick with us. What our brain deems worthy of holding on to. Those walls, those girls, those teachers, they all became a part of me. We became a part of each other. It may have taken ten years for me to realize it, but we are bonded for life by blue and white. By Mickey Mouse and colored shoelaces, fountain jumps and secret lives of bees.
The sisters I never had.