“We could love and not be suckers. We could dream and not be losers. It was such a beautiful time. Everything was possible because we didn’t know anything yet.” Hilary Winston
I remember sitting on the grass listening to a classmate, Nancy Rasmusson, sing Ventura Highway, while playing the guitar at our final school assembly for junior high. I was thirteen years old, on the cusp of adolescence, and I’ll admit to you, I was under the erroneous illusion that I was rather hip? The evidence was compelling, I had taken a puff off one cigarette, almost choked to death, but I believe it counted, besides I could be cool without Virginia Slims, I had bell bottom pants, days of the week underwear, and a Bic lighter that my parents didn’t know about.
I know, I know, cool on steroids.
Life was simple, innocent in many ways, but the feeling I remember most acutely was this sense of excitement for all that was about to unfold? I was going to high school next year, Dad had agreed to let me go to my first dance, it was my graduation dance from junior high. I almost fainted when Paul, or was it Ben, some really popular guy asked me to slow dance. I borrowed a Gunny Sack dress from my sister and she was going to be annoyed with the new sweat stains on her prized garment, oh well, after the dance we parted ways, ended up at different high schools, and if memory serves we never saw each other again, but whatever his name was, we’ll always have that dance.
At this point in time I conceded I might not be able to marry Donny Osmond (although a tiny part of me held on to that dream), I planned on bleaching my hair during the summer with Sun-In (a hydrogen peroxide spray), and I’d saved up enough babysitting money to buy those platform sandals that were the epitome of fashion in the 70’s. Of course they made me tower over everyone, as if I wasn’t awkward enough, and truth be told they would be the source of an embarrassing fall in the years to come, but I was obsessed with the idea of being trendy.
The summer went better than expected, I started my period which was a huge relief, because now I had something to fill out my training bra. I met this sweet boy at a baseball game and we hung out for the rest of the summer, he introduced me to the Beach Boys, and I had my first kiss. I was more than ready to tackle high school or so I thought?
My Mom was not one to drive us anywhere, she was a product of her time, “why would I drive you when you have a perfectly functional bike?” It was the first day of high school. Really? Nancy got a ride from one of her friends, she was secretly mortified we’d be once again attending the same school, this had not happened since the fourth grade, and although I’d made vast improvements in my general demeanor, they were not up to her lofty standards.
My sister’s reputation for being well-mannered and kind was her crowning glory, I on the other hand was known for my slightly unruly, out of control, and disruptive behavior. Second borns, like vampires, we can lose control with little or no provocation. I learned long ago, when etiquette fails, trust your instincts.
My Dad was forced to drive me to school on the first day as Mom stayed defiantly in her pajamas and robe all morning with curlers in her hair. Mortifying. I thought, that poor woman, pull yourself together. Little did I know the minute we left the house, she donned a swanky tennis outfit, grabbed her Wilson racket, and was on the courts competing with all the other stay-at-home Moms. They’d grab a quick lunch after practice, before racing home to catch the latest episode of As The World Turns, just as we were walking in the door from school.
I thought she never left the house until I was like in college?
Dad took me to school in his old Ford truck, it was white, with roll down windows, which I asked him to shut so my hair wouldn’t be blown to smithereens. As he pulled into the circular drive of Del Mar High School, easing up to the drop off curb, he said, “have a good day.”
I absolutely froze.
“Honey, get out of the car.” Sometimes parents don’t know how to help, they aren’t prepared for some new version of their teenager, such as the doubting, conflicted, refusing to leave the car type?
There are like a thousand kids milling around in these intimidating cliques, laughing, and talking with ease. I do not see anyone I know and I am not getting out of the car. I was petrified, and with the conviction of a fourteen year old, I demand, “take me home.”
If my Dad was anything, he was practical, so he tried a new approach, “I have to go to work, get out of the car.”
I see his sensitive side kick in, he says with a little more compassion, “You’ll be fine, honey,” then he reaches over and pushes my door open almost knocking over some student in the process, who was not pleased, she turns and glares at me through the window. Perfect.
“Go on, you’ll be fine, I promise.”
Slowly I emerge from the vehicle, hanging onto the handle until Dad pulls away, he waves to me from the back window, and I believe he was smiling.
This was the 70’s, parents were unemotional, they encouraged independence, you found your own footing in life, stumbling was considered formational. The good old days.
My little locker slip is crumpled in my sweaty palm, as I go in search of locker number 237, at least I have a destination. Freshman were assigned locker buddies their entire first year. I prayed she wasn’t from Blackford Junior High (our arch rivals) with braces and bad breath. I suppose this was because high school campuses were designed to hold around 2,000 students, and I believe Del Mar was hovering around 2,500 at the time, hence the locker sharing policy.
When I approached the row of lockers with my number sequence, I found several students milling around, looking as lost as me. I notice locker number 237 was hanging open, there’s a lunch box and several books organized on the shelves.
One of the girls with same hair style, long, parted down the middle, pushed behind her ears, says, “hi, is this your locker?”
“Yes, are we sharing?” I could only hope this posh girl was my locker buddy?
She laughs and says, “yes, my name is Conni, I think we went to the same junior high?” Clearly we ran in different circles, but she had her shit together, sparkling eyes, beautiful smile, and it was like. . . everything’s going to be alright.
“I’m Cheryl, how about you take the top and I’ll take the bottom,” which really never became a reality as we jammed our things wherever they fit, eating each others lunches, sharing notes from our classes, kept a stash of change at the bottom of the locker for cokes and coffee. Soon Conni and I would become the best of friends, within months she allowed her boyfriend John, or was it Jack, use of our locker. It was a chaotic jumble with three of us using the same small space, not to mention the bottle of Tabasco we had to catch every time we opened the door, but we happened to be strategically located on the main quad, and it became our hangout.
I spot my sister chatting with a gaggle of upperclassmen, I notice she avoids making eye contact, probably hoping I won’t run over screaming her name. I thought about it, but being my first day and all, I showed considerable restraint, and just waved, which she barely acknowledged, sisters.
It was a fine high school, as far as high schools go, typical of the era, miles of covered corridors, criss-crossed with rows of identical blocks of classrooms, a large open quad was located in the center of campus, with the warm stench of cafeteria food filling the air. This was the 70’s, there was a designated smoking area in the back of the amphitheater, with the quadruple door entrance to the gymnasium to the east of campus, behind the gym were the locker rooms, pool, sporting fields, and tennis courts.
This was the suburbs, every school had the same boring design, basically these were holding tanks until our acne cleared up and we were old enough to go to college.
The senior guys were dreamy, the senior girls wore annoyed expressions, the rest of us practiced being cool, some more successful than others. You could easily delineate the nerds, from the jocks, the glee club, from class council, the marching band from the spirit commission, the parking lot kids, from the academics, everyone had their uniforms, and established hangouts, and under no circumstances were freshmen to wait in the senior lunch line or use the senior bathroom without reputational death or worse, pantsing was a popular antic.
“There are a million rules for being a girl. There are a million things you have to do to get through each day. High school has things that can trip you up, ruin you, people say one thing and mean another, and you have to know all the rules, you have to know what you can and can’t do,” says Elizabeth Scott
The first bell rang and like Pavlov’s dogs, people started rushing around, filing into the halls, except the seniors of course. Reluctantly we head off to our first class, scouring our printed schedules, so we wouldn’t mistakenly end up in the wrong room, humiliated for the rest of the year.
I had Spanish I, two buildings up, last door on the left, near the student parking lot. To my utter surprise my cousin Karen was sitting in the back of the room, she’s shy, and looked slightly alarmed to find us in the same class. I wave and offer a friendly hello, as if my ship had arrived at Gilligans’s Island, and I was about to be rescued. She waved me off so her friend could sit next to her, being a year older, she didn’t take to fraternizing with freshmen, and there goes my life raft.
It took me less than a minute to get comfortable, I had an easy going nature, what can I say?
We had those typical student desks, a chair attached to the desktop, one unit with a rack under the seat to hold our things. These will be our cages for the next four years.
What happened next may have led to my cousin’s decision to transfer out of Spanish I within a week, who knows, we’ll call it a hunch.
So this adorable head of dark curls takes the seat right in front of me. I’m admiring the tangle of thick wavy hair when without warning, my wayward hand reaches out and tugs one of those tempting locks, like I said before, “when etiquette fails, trust your instincts.” It wasn’t meant to hurt, just tease the occupant, let him know I was behind him.
The young man turns around in his seat, his eyes as big as saucers, if I had to describe the look I would call it arrant fear.
I smile, “hi, I’m Cheryl, I’ll take notes this week, you’re up next week,” what’s not to like?
He looks as if I slapped him across the face with the palm of my hand, he takes hold of both sides of his desk, and scoots as far away from me as possible. Seems a little rude, but those curls….
I scoot my desk right up behind him, and give those dreamy locks another yank, just to be ornery, I know I’m hard to endure, elude, escape ~ not much has changed.
Bobby yells from across the room, “I think she likes you, Oreglia.”
No truer words have ever been spoken…
“Did you meet your soul mate? That always happens on the first day of school, right?’ Francesca Zappia
I’m Living in the Gap, revisiting the past, when did etiquette fail you? Drop me a note in the comments!
- “It was only high school after all, definitely one of the most bizarre periods in a person’s life. How anyone can come through that time well adjusted on any level is an absolute miracle.” E.A. Bucchianeri
- “For the record, I would like to point out that it is NOT being obsessive to memorize a boy’s schedule so that you can accidentally bump into him. It is called being efficient.” Jess Rothenberg
- “Do you think that every single thing that happens in high school can be categorized as either gossip or stress?” David Levithan
- “Damn, if I could go back, I would say a lot of things. And I would laugh more.” K.B. Ezzell