The summer moved along and I felt the weight of another school year encroaching on my ever more slothful summer. I’d get anxious every August, as I knew that fateful Labor Day was right around the corner. I always hated Labor Day because it was the sentinel of school. I couldn’t enjoy the day off because it felt like it was prolonging inevitable misery. I didn’t want to go back. The academic pressure, the social pressure, the getting up before noon pressure was all too much. The misery train was chugging down the tracks and blowing its horn ever louder as it neared. I would get so worked up about the upcoming arrival of school that I would lose 10 pounds at the end of summer just worrying about it.
Anticipating my senior year of high school made matters even worse. The senior year of high school is incredibly important both in substance and symbolism. There are certain benchmarks occurring in the senior year that everyone must meet in order to become a real live person. There was homecoming. There was prom. That darned Sadie Hawkins thing I did not understand. Who the heck was Sadie Hawkins? Sounded kind of hick to me. And of course there was graduation. That’s pressure I tell you – pressure. It was pressure and I didn’t want any of it. To some people these were exciting events that would result in lifelong memories. To me they were an academic and social house of horrors meant to expose and parade my inadequacies and demonstrate to people that without a doubt, I didn’t what the hell I was doing. When other people longed to shine, I just wanted to disappear.
Life is hard when you see your shortcomings through a magnifying glass and your strengths through binoculars, only backwards. Perceptions get all messed up. How does a reasonably smart, decent looking, athletic, morally sound, relatively humorous and generally nice guy see himself as inadequate? Actually, the older I got, the worse it got. My adolescent life was hard not because I was dealt a bad hand, but rather because I knew that if anyone ever figured out who I really was they would find that I was a monster. I was an unworthy, undesirable, and surprisingly scary thing. I deeply wanted other people to discover that I was good, but feared they would discover that I was a fraud, that I was a social malignancy.
My longing to disappear was thwarted by the reality that I had no place to disappear to. I could not run away from home. Running away is hard work. If you’ve ever tried it, you know. Plus, where do run-aways go? I didn’t know any of that. On top of that, my idea of running away well included a comfortable place where I could nap all I wanted, eat pizza all the time, never do any work, and everyone there liked me a lot. There may have been a hammock somewhere in that run-away fantasy. When I realized I didn’t have the strength to run away, I considered becoming invisible. It would be great. I could roam around the school hallways, but no one would know. I could go into the girls’ locker room and finally satisfy all of this built up curiosity. I could just have things because no one would know I was taking them. I could listen in on conversations, go home with anyone I wanted, and how fun would it be to drive a car while being invisible? But pulling off the “going invisible strategy” required more science classes than I had taken. Earth science and chemistry were a little light on the practice of invisibility. Beyond those two ideas, I had nothing. My two best ideas were currently impossible.
Once again this year, like every year before it, there was no way to avoid school. I was standing on the train tracks waiting for the school train to run me over. I was worrying, losing weight, sleeping poorly, eating badly, and just waiting. School was inevitable. Or was it?