The Vengeful Polyglot

Time is a Funny Thing

Posted on: November 21, 2011

I found myself back at my high school. This year I was in LA again, so I went to see the fall musical. I took a break in the middle of grad school application essays about “emotional moments” and “interactive experiences” to go have one myself. This year it was South Pacific. The opening strains of the overture washed over me in a wave of nostalgia. The memory of saying to our drama teacher over and over, “please, this one,” is strong and close, despite four years gone by.

I’ve never had a firm grasp on time. My memory is always spotty and blurred, and sometimes I have difficulty remembering events in the correct order. Facts, I remember. My life, less so. When I think back, high school is a bright period in my mind. It seems so close, just out of reach, just beyond my field of vision. Like I see the motion, but not the color. The striking thing about it for me is that it seems so much closer than college. Maybe it’s because I lost all the friends I made in college and I’m back seeing all the same people. I’m back home. You can’t escape Buckley in the Valley. They don’t remember me, but I remember them. Hazy, maybe, but always there. I walk past them, like a secret.

It was strange and uncomfortable driving down the street, the jacarandas already out of bloom, and knowing that even though it felt familiar, things were different. My high school experience was not idyllic. I struggled with the typical teenage angst and an inability to motivate or express myself. Often, it felt like nothing was going right. But in between the “rock” of middle school and the “hard place” of college, one thing elevates my time at Buckley into the rose-colored glass of nostalgia: a lack of cruelty. Even if I had few friends, I wasn’t disliked. I wasn’t harassed. My problems were internal, not external. Despite wasting two years trying to be someone I wasn’t for the wrong guy, I wound up learning more about myself. I felt comfortable there more than anywhere else.

I remember glancing around the darkened auditorium, looking for the faces I was so sure would be there. I didn’t see anyone I knew. I think there were four of us there from my year. So strange, I thought. Why wouldn’t it be the same? But it wasn’t a year out of high school, it was four, and the people who steadfastly promised to come every year, myself included, had faded away over time. I don’t think I wanted to see it. I think that’s why I always had some excuse to miss the musical year after year in college. Avoiding watching my old life disappear in LA while living in Irvine was predictably easy. I just… didn’t go. I don’t know if I regret it now.

It doesn’t even look the same now. Someday soon, I won’t recognize it. They’re remodeling. Out with the old, and all that. I won’t be able to laugh as Mr. Beam screams at the students noisily attending to their lockers outside of his classrooms. That room will be demolished, a physical representation of the movement of time. I have a hard time letting go. The musical, in particular, is hard. As the wonderful baritone launches into “This Nearly Was Mine,” I think over and over you’ll look stupid if you cry, you’ll look stupid if you cry. It’s just that it’s not over for me.

I’m not one of those people who lives their whole lives in high school, frantically trying to hold onto the drama and the popularity as if emotionally moving on is just too frightening. I left, I went on my own. It’s only that when I look back through the battlefield of college, I feel so much fondness for this time, for these people. Unspoiled, before I had to fight for an education. Before the boogeymen my mother warned me about came out from under the bed, chasing after me with long, spindly fingers. I was smaller, but the world was brighter. I remember it. But it doesn’t remember me, and I know that.

When the show ends, I anxiously wait to talk to my old teachers, one of whom calls me “Katie.” I think back to Guys and Dolls, to Wonderful Town. Props on Little Shop, costumes on Les Mis. I remember with my heart in my throat the fright, the exhilaration of the arts. I ask if anyone would mind me going backstage, just for old time’s sake. No one is listening, so I let myself in. The doors slide smoothly, the latches taped with black just as I remember. The stage is smudged and marked. No one looks at me askance. Most of the actors have checked their costumes in and left with family or friends. I remember that feeling. The feeling of loss the last night the curtain falls, feeling as though you have been a part of something so significant, and then had it taken away.

I check the drama room, wondering if the same parent is still helping with costumes. No one is there, so I cross through the wings to the dance room. I don’t look at the set. I don’t know it. There she is. Mrs. Tramz. She looks at me, a half-empty fruit plate in her hand. I ask, with a strange sort of smile, “Do you remember me?” She tries to hedge, sweetly. I know she doesn’t. We talk for a little, and I think she starts to remember. Mr. Nash walks by and stops, toddler daughter in tow. He says, “Look who’s here, huh?” I think he sounds less excited than he’s trying to, harried and wanting to leave. She laughs and says, “I didn’t recognize her. She’s so different!” He agrees. My phone buzzes somewhere under my arm, and I excuse myself to leave.

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1 Response to "Time is a Funny Thing"

Beautifully written. Although we do remember you here…

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Blog by a programmer cum linguist cum writer cum total geek. One who pretentiously uses "cum" in place of any other logical connectives. Direct questions to the Ask Lauren page!

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