The facebook photo that started it all posted by the friend behind the camera in this case. That's me at the back at about 13.
Those years of my schooling were a bit unusual because I attended a fundamental Baptist school during that time. A school that forbade much of what we consider normal coming-of-age stuff. Like, for instance, rock-n-roll. Short skirts. Dancing (think Footloose without the breakthrough). Also there was no saying of bad words. Like, for instance, "Gosh".
Ran across this one in the yearbook and it barely scanned. I'm about 14 here. It's notable for two things (choir robe aside): first, there it is, my Dorothy Hamil 'do in all it's glory! I've often reminisced about it, but never realized or had forgotten that there was this photo evidence of it. Secondly? Those shoes. They were Mary Janes! They were wedges! They were Mary Jane wedges! I never tired of them. Still wish I had them, in fact.
Eventually, a series of circumstances would cause me to leave the school and the church all together. My last year there was my freshman year of high school. I made the decision not to go back during the summer. I entered the public school, for the first time since the third grade, as a sophomore wearing jeans to school for the first time ever.
Was the public school a shock for me? I have to say, not really. It was more like a relief. It was where I needed to be.
Synchronistically, I ran across my box of yearbooks while digging out Christmas decorations last week right around the time I started corresponding with these old friends. As I flipped through the pages and looked at the old pictures I was struck by how many people from that conservative place that signed my yearbooks called me "strange". A typical entry by a fellow classmate would read something like, To a strange person but a great cheerleader, keep God in your life! Or sometimes they would sign off with a bible verse citation. Apparently? Darn near everybody considered me "strange" as the word appears over and over written in careful school kid script and applied to me. At the time? This struck me as not the least bit, well, strange. Looking at it as an adult, however, I have to wonder...was I strange? Or was I a "normal" (if there is such a thing) kid in a strange place?
I suspect a little bit of both.
Ultimately, this lead to asking myself, maybe for the first time, am I a liberal because of that very close and prolonged encounter with narrow-mindedness? Or, was I by nature, a budding lefty predestined by nature to inevitably clash with that conservative lifestyle. The whole chicken or egg thing. I suppose I could have developed my philosophy completely aside from that experience. But it seems unlikely, doesn't it?
And anyway, it doesn't much matter how I got here. I'm here. That's the thing.
My twelfth birthday slumber party. Milk and cookies. I'm the wildly happy one with the mouth open smile.
But it was hard back then, very hard, to leave all the friends I'd had for so long and strike out, all alone, to a new (huge) school. Fourteen is not exactly the age one dreams of being a maverick loner. Fourteen is the age when your friends are...everything. It makes me think of the last lines in Stand by Me:
I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?