I didn’t know reminiscing about high school would be so painful for so many. I hadn’t realized I’d made everyone’s high school experience so miserable. I knew I screwed up everyone in my school, but I didn’t know the effect was nationwide and across time.

I’m sorry. It was all about me. (More)

High-Low School Part I – It Was All About Me

This week Morning Feature looks back at high school. Today we’ll explore some reminiscences, continuing the question “The best years of your life?” posed Tuesday by winterbanyan. Tomorrow we’ll consider the missing connections of high school. Saturday we’ll celebrate this year’s graduates and the hope they offer for our future.

But first a sincere apology. When I suggested this idea last week in the Campus Chatter at BPI Campus, I didn’t realize this would be such a sensitive topic for so many. I don’t want to scrape away at old wounds, so I’ll try to keep it as light as possible. That said:

It was my fault.

I know high school was miserable for you. You wanted me to like you, or at least for me to not be such a rhymes-with-itch. I didn’t realize how hard it was to live in the shadow cast by my wonderfulness. I was smarter than you, more talented, more attractive, cooler, more popular. I broke the curve on every test. I got away with anything. I was the class clown whose jokes were funny when yours weren’t. I was showered with accolades while you languished in obscurity.

That wasn’t high school as I remember it, but I later learned that was high school as some remembered me.

As I experienced it, everyone hated me in high school. And in my early 20s, studying psychology in night school while a Marine, I realized why. In high school I personified almost every personality disorder we covered in Abnormal Psych. Most especially, I’d been a narcissist. Oh, I wanted to “fit in,” but my definition of that was everyone else liking what I liked, wanting what I wanted, doing what I did. I was All About Me in high school, and thus everyone hating me was also … All About Me.

Then I grew up … a little.

That brilliant insight of my early 20s lasted about until my early 30s, when I ran into a couple of people from high school. It wasn’t at a reunion; I’ve never returned to those towns. Both encounters were “You look familiar, wow, small world huh?” moments. And both said the same thing:

“You were always so popular.”

The first time I laughed it off. Obviously he had me confused with someone who hadn’t been a narcissistic rhymes-with-itch. We reminisced for a bit, mostly about The Worst Pep Rally Ever.

Aside to high school principals: Don’t use Thermopylae as your historical example for how we’ll defeat Evil Archrival High in the Big Game. First, students like pep rallies because they aren’t classroom lectures. Second, the Greeks lost, as did we. Third, Mrs. Screech may have been a great cheerleader during the Harding administration, but that was before she mastered that nails-on-chalkboard voice.

I ignored his estimate of my high school years, but when I heard the same words again a year or so later from another classmate, I didn’t shrug it off. Instead I reminded her that everyone hated me in high school, and for good reason. She laughed. Then she stopped laughing. Her eyes widened. “You thought that too?”

It was my turn to laugh. She’d been a cheerleader, an honor student, and one of the lead sopranos in chorus. I didn’t remember ever seeing her alone. She always had friends. Friends? she asked. They weren’t really friends. They gossiped constantly. Some were always mad at others, and all of them were usually mad at her.

This challenged my 20-something insight on why high school was so awful for me … which was All About Me. She wasn’t me, but her description of high school was eerily familiar. It was time for a new thesis: some other people felt Just Like Me.

Then I grew up a little more….

That gem of wisdom lasted until my 40s, when the Springoffs reached high school. I watched my oh-so-wonderful children turn into … well … what I’d been in high school. More shockingly, all of their friends were like that too. Oh, they had brief moments of awareness that other human beings might, in fact, be real. But Narcissus would quickly sprinkle his magic dust onto whatever they were eating – he never had to wait long – and they’d return to being themselves.

I and my classmates had been, as the Springoffs and their classmates were, typical adolescents: narcissists craving acceptance from other narcissists. The subtext of an adolescent conversation is this:

I Talk: You should pay attention to the Important Things I’m saying.

You Talk: I’ll think about Important Things to say when you finish.

It’s an age where we’re standing so close to the mirror of experience that we see only tiny slices of others around the edges of ourselves. They can’t see much of us either, for the same reason. We knew our classmates had their noses to that mirror, but few of us realized we did too.

So again, I apologize. I didn’t notice how awful you felt about your pimples … because I was too busy counting my own.

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Happy Thursday!