Why High School Was Hell (For Me, Anyway)

The other day I wrote a letter to my 16-year-old self. That letter got a LOT more response and attention than I ever intended. I kinda thought it was just a nice catharsis, and somehow it resonated with a great many of you. Thank you for your notes and emails.

But some others of you, especially those who know me, emailed to ask why exactly I felt that time of my life was so hellish. They remembered me being a happy, carefree guy in high school who seemingly didn't give a shit about almost anything, taking every opportunity to have as much fun with my friends as I could and generally getting along with everyone.

You're right. That's pretty much how it was in high school. I attribute that to the fact that I was 6' 3" and over 200lbs the day I entered high school and wasn't afraid to pop a smartass in the face if they pushed me around. All I wanted in high school was to be left alone and get through it.

Now before high school, I was pretty much bullied every single day of my life. The reasons are varied, but the bottom line is that I spent every single day of my life being told why I didn't belong, and then beat up for it. By the time I finally stood up for myself in 8th grade, it had become painfully clear -- I was not one of you, and I never would be.

And that's where high school became a different kind of hell for me than it probably was for others, but for a lot of the same reasons.

I wasn't part of any crowd. I knew kids in every clique that I got along with, but I never really had a set I belonged to. I was bored by all of the material I was being taught. There wasn't much being discussed in class that I didn't already know from reading the entire textbook the first week and a half of class. I spent as much time as I could trying my best to not get in the way, but it got really difficult after I'd drawn comic book characters or D&D maps on every piece of notebook paper I had in my notebooks.

And in the classes where the teacher absolutely demanded attention, I became a horrible dick. I felt like, if I was passing your tests and not making a peep while you taught, what the fuck did you care if I just sat there and drew? Why did I have to put my eyes on you and stare at you obliviously like everyone else in class, especially when I couldn't care less what was coming out of your mouth?

So I made a point of becoming the bane of this type of teachers' existence. And this didn't sit well with the smart kids, who were trying their best to get their AP credits so they could have a great career later on in life. And while I was sorry it was so hard for them to pay attention, I didn't quite get why they cared. So they got to skip a fucking class in college. Big deal.

By the time high school rolled around, I'd already gotten over the fact that I wasn't allowed to care about English or Math or Social Studies for longer than an hour at a time. It didn't matter if I really got into Fahrenheit 451 and wanted to read it longer than the reading period allowed. God forbid something capture and hold a child's interest and get them excited about continuing through it! NO! Bell rings, you quit caring. You will work your shift on your appointed job. You will switch to the next appointed job when the bell tells you to.

Fuck that fucking bell. And fuck the people running it. This is what I was thinking at age fourteen, folks. I was so angry that my life centered around an hourly chime which forced me to fracture my ability to concentrate on one thing I found important or interesting.

And while it didn't bother me at the time, I came to realize just how disgusting it was that the entire day revolved around lunch period for me. I would get to school and count down the minutes until I could see my friends at lunch, and then count down the minutes until I got to get the hell out. And in the years since, I've discussed it with hundreds of others for whom it was the same. No wonder we have issues with food as adults in this country. We've spent at least 12 years of our lives equating time to eat with time to get away and relax and be with our social groups. Food is your escape.

Gym class is meant to encourage exercise in youth. Instead, it places all the maladjusted children in a locker room during the greatest time of physical metamorphosis, embarrasses us, then expects us to get sweaty and tired in the midst of trying to look cool and be hip the rest of the school day. No wonder so many adults hate exercise.

And here I am, at age 34, and I've not been in a corporate job for six years now. And even though I can come and go as I please; I don't clock in anywhere for anyone and I have absolute dominion over my own schedule and freedom, I still, for some reason, look forward to Fridays. And Sundays always have that sense of fleeting; like my time to myself is always up. It actually makes me ill when I realize why that is -- because I spent so damn long being indoctrinated to feel that way.

So yes, high school was hell for me, but not for the same reasons most outcasts and geeks and dweebs will say it was. I was an outcast; I was a geek and a dweeb. But no one would come slap my tray out of my hands while I was walking to the lunch table or push me into a locker or trip me in the hall. I was a football player and a wrestler and I would have crunched their faces with my oversized hands.

But there was hardly a moment when I wasn't reminded by every single social group and every teacher save two (my art teacher, Mrs. Daughtry, whom to this day I love and respect, and a full-blood Scot named Mr. Calquhoun, who was a Rhodes scholar that taught calculus because he was disgusted with the school's curriculum in English) that I not only didn't belong, but I wasn't even wanted. There wasn't a minute that passed during that time that I didn't long to be somewhere else.

And what no one ever realized: they weren't ostracizing me by that point. I was casting THEM out.

I wore the wrong clothes in their opinion, but that's because I bought shit I liked because I had to work for my own money to buy my own clothes. I was working for cash under the table since I was 13 years old because that's the only way we could afford stuff like clothes. When you spend your own money on stuff, even as a kid, you suddenly quit giving a shit what's fashionable and instead buy what you want.

I didn't have time to care about homework, and it didn't matter -- I somehow graduated high school with a B average having only done exactly ONE homework assignment, which was painting a window at Kroger for Christmas my Junior year. And if that alone isn't a testament to what a joke the entire experience was, I don't know what is.

I didn't watch the shows anyone else watched. I hated their music. I hated their movies. I hated their books (those of them who actually read books they weren't forced to read). I hung around a small group of five people  I found value in (one of them being my sister) and didn't give a shit what caste they belonged to. I don't know how many people tried to be in our little friend group, because we didn't hold auditions. You made the cut right away or you were dead to us.

And yes, midway through my high school career at age 16, I came to a moment where I realized that I'd spent the first half of my life up until then being picked on and abused and the second half wondering what the point of it all was. I wanted out. I couldn't stomach another two years of getting up at 5AM to do morning workouts for a sport I hated and only played to make my father happy, then going to classes I got nothing out of with teachers who hated my guts and kids who had no idea how to relate to me, then going and wasting hours at a time on football, only to leave and work the three or 4 hours left in the day to earn a bit of money to get clothes no one liked.

So yes, for those of you who knew me then: it was hell. Because if I'd had it my way, I would have been doing something -- ANYTHING -- else that mattered. Instead, I had to waste four years of my life doing shit I hated around people who didn't even come close to understanding me.

Am I bitter? Not anymore. Don't mistake writing all this out with obsessing over it. I'm over it, and in a lot of ways, thankful for the experience.