Life After High School (And Other Close Calls)

Friday, September 9, 2011


Sometimes, I’m surprised we made it out alive.  In actuality, I suppose some of us didn’t, but most of those in my immediate awareness did.  More or less.

They say angels watch over children, that it’s the only way they make it to adulthood, being as accident prone and ignorant as they inherently are.  But I think the same can be said about people when they hit 18 and on into their twenties, that age of letting-go and being a big kid… so big that your parents are no longer responsible for you and whatever choices you make from here on out are for keeps.  It’s a miracle any of us makes it to our thirties. 

I have been reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances from days gone by (let’s hear it for social networking), and the stories and memories this drudges up are clean and crisp as if they  happened just last week, not 10+ years ago.  It’s the years after high school, the dangerous times, when everyone still acts like teenagers, with all the drama and emotional instability but without the checks and balances of school hallways and parents and teachers and curfews.  There were good times and moments that sparkled with all the glory and importance of destiny.  This was who we were, this was where we were meant to be, with these friends, in this moment, the whole world, the planets, the cosmos laid before us to pick and choose our direction.  And then the other memories creep in.  The “where are they now” moments when someone asks about a certain friend.  “Hey, do you ever still talk to…?”  And the sinking feeling you get.  They don’t know, you think.  And there you are, having to explain the whole gruesome mess that you thought you’d left behind, thinking it had decomposed by now into something useful.  But, no.  These memories aren’t biodegradable.  They hang around, like so much polystyrene in the landfill of your mind.  And now, in theirs. 

He was a great friend, you muse, backstabbing at times, sure, but all in all the boy had promise.  He was funny, warm, caring when it suited him, charismatic beyond measure.  Everybody loved him.  But then, after that long string of girlfriends and working shit job after shit job, always downplaying his brilliance, always running from anything that smelled even remotely like responsibility (oh but it didn’t show right away – he seemed responsible enough… he talked a damned good game… hell, even showed up the rest of us slackers), that last girl had a child – his child.  And he ran, like a startled rabbit.  And then he came back.  And there was another child.  And he ran again.  And, as far as I know, he’s been running ever since.  He sleeps on park benches and under overpasses and at the random acquaintance’s house, from what I hear.  And it hurts the heart, because when he was around, he made you feel alive.  He made everyone feel that way.  Like you were your own supernova, and he could see it, too. 

Who, M.?  Oh yea, I remember how she was the girl everyone wanted.  She was fun, pretty, utterly approachable, one of the guys, and all of their fantasies.  She wanted to be a model, or a journalist, or volunteer for the Peace Corps.  But, I don’t know, things went wrong for her.  Something snapped.  I don’t know what.  But at this point she’s slept with nearly every guy we know and now has kids… four of them.  She has custody of two.  The others were taken away when she couldn’t pass her drug test.  I know.  We don’t talk much anymore.  But she was something, wasn’t she?  I just don’t get what went wrong…

These were our twenties, as I said.  A time full of lights and music and endless nights and drugs that got progressively heavier and more destructive.  The stupid shit we did… the way we loved each other and hurt each other and abandoned each other and stuck together.  We were these crazy “children of the night” who split most of our waking hours between night clubs and all-night diners.  “All roads lead to Denny’s.”  Another memory.  *sob* 

In the daytime, we worked menial jobs in food service or retail or torturous call centers (those were the worst – I did my time at one of those and became nearly petrified from boredom).  We hung out at coffee shops and each other’s apartments or houses and talked about life and love and philosophy and books and great, inspiring concepts.  We talked about the end of the world (Y2K was a hot topic then) and how we’d survive if society collapsed.  We made our plans.  And our camping trips.  And our coffee talk.  We dreamed.  And then we donned our dramatic makeup, our go go Gothic black clothes, and went dancing. 

A lot of us baled, in our own way, before we got sucked too deep.  You could say we “grew up,” whatever that means.  We got married, had kids (not necessarily in that order), settled down.  Some went to college and made something of themselves.  Some didn’t, but got “day jobs,” and we get by, always hoping to make something more of our lives.  Something creative.  (I feel like some poor schlob at a support group mix-up, “Hi, I blog and write fiction that nobody reads but me.  In the daytime I shuffle paper and wish I was anywhere but there.  What’s your gig?”)  Some moved out of town, and are presumably better for it.  Some burned out or burned bridges or both, and now rarely show their faces.  They’re outcasts, as these things go, but I’m sure someone misses them.  People can be shitty.  It’s the nature of things.

So I wonder that most of us survived.  Some, I know, eke out a day-by-day existence, but if that’s the best we can do, at least we’re doing that.  And some have been amazingly successful.  But I wonder what dreams and aspirations may still lurk in the hearts of the fallen – the ones who disappeared, leaving rumors in their wake of “drug overdose” or “junkie” or “arrested for something…” and the ones who became true bottom feeders, their current whereabouts more well known, but rarely pondered.  
We burned like stars then, and I think some of us just burned too hot and too fast, disintegrating under our own brilliance.  It hurts to find those memories again.  Not because they are all so painful, but because most of them are beautiful.  And you wonder, not only how did we survive, but how did we lose track of all that light.