One of my fifth grader’s asked me if I liked high school the other day. She looked full of wonder and ready for adventures, and reminded me of myself a long time ago. Immediately, my mind flashed to the hallways that felt like they were a million years gone, but that I still knew like the back of my hand. There was an intersection affectionately dubbed the Four Corners in my high school. I still dream about it sometimes because it’s the first thing I think of when I think of that time in my life. It was at this infamous landmark that dreams came true and hearts were broken every day. It buzzed with the aliveness and heightened sensibilities that belong only to teenagers. The time in our lives where we exist in a unique and permanent state of equal parts tragedy, exhilaration, hope, and attitude. The Four Corners were the epicenter of my teen universe.
It was at the Four Corners that I sat on the floor with my best friends every morning waiting to see my high school boyfriend walk into school with a bounce in his step. Full of the confidence only a good looking 16-year-old boy has. His hair was long and would fall forward into his eyes. I would sit there full of nerves and love waiting for him to take his spot next to me. It was at that same spot that I would later find out that he kissed another girl who I didn’t like at all, and I would push him as hard as I could into one of the brick walls, as the corners absorbed the agony of my first break up. I listened to Alanis Morissette on repeat for the rest of the year and cried in the bathroom a lot.
I stood at the Four Corners the first time I fought for something I wanted for myself. I squared my shoulders and looked into the grown-up eyes of my 9th grade lit teacher and demanded to know why I wasn’t placed in AP english for my sophomore year. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life yet but I knew that was my strength. He told me it was because I skipped class, talked too much, didn’t pay attention, and didn’t care about the rules. He had a point. I made him and myself a promise and he placed me. I got a 4.0 in every AP english class for the rest of high school, and reserved my general apathy and undesirable behavior for every other class except journalism. I learned that when I wanted something for myself I had to prove it, and that sometimes good people stick their necks out for you. And that no one could ever make me care about math or chemistry, no matter how hard they tried.
The Four Corners was the first place I ever saw a real fight. I saw two of my friends and classmates turn into other people and go toe to toe while their fists connected with each other’s faces, and a crowd surrounded them. Girls cried and yelled for them to stop, and boys seemed to come awake and alive and want to see more. I learned that sometimes men and women can be fundamentally different, and that sometimes men got carried away with testosterone and adrenaline and became like animals on a National Geographic documentary.
You could stand at that spot and see the heartbeat of a high school. It knew everyone’s secrets and saw everyone’s story. The over-achievers buried in their books on their way to Princeton and Yale, the hippies passing through with glassy eyes and deep thoughts, the shy kids who kept their eyes glued to the floor and longed to be invisible. The jocks, the suck-ups, the partiers waiting for Friday.…everyone had a place and a role to play. It was an adolescent jungle of social order and angst. Teenagers are raw and unfiltered and are closely related to adult humans, but are without a doubt a slightly different species. More free that they will ever be again and more kept at the very same time.
I remember standing there on the last day of my senior year terrified and thrilled that it was over. Ready to run out the doors, and ready to sit down and stay forever. High school was safe and funny and full of people that felt like home. It was bonfires, football games, hoodies, and cheap beer with old friends. It was long drives in the country with loud music and good company. It was laughing until you cried and finding out what you liked. Since not all, or any of this can or should be conveyed to a 10 year old, I just told that hopeful 5th grader the other day that, yes I liked high school, and I bet she would too. She smiled and looked relieved and happy and innocent, pacified by the ordinary answer to her simple question, having no idea at all what it gave me to think about.