Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back to school

From what I've been hearing, nearly everyone is back to school already. I know I'm aging because school seems so different now (required supplies?), yet it doesn't seem that long ago that I was in the classroom.

For me, school started the day after Labor Day. Our first day of school was in September, the last in June. I can't imagine returning to school in August. Of course, that is what children are used to, so it's nothing to them, but to me it's all wrong.

I didn't have a choice as to which public school to attend or how to get to it. I was in a district, and that's the school I had to go to, by school-owned bus. Although I was at the first stop on the route, I was not allowed to cross Rte. 20 (state law? school rule?) to board, so I was always the last picked up, on the return trip. If there were 46 seats on the bus, I was the 47th passenger to get on. By the time I was in high school, I was lugging not only books (no book bag or backpack), boy style (arm straight down), but also a bulky, 15-pound bass clarinet. Unlike city buses, school buses aren't made for standing, so that was awkward, and it was painful to stand in front of the bus in clear view of so many potential tormentors. I liked school; I dreaded the ride.

In one of my high school years, my last class of the day was, I think, history. I managed to get the seat in the column and row farthest from the door, by the windows. I could see everyone, but the others could see me only out of the corner of the eye. I paid attention to the class, mostly, but sometimes the pull of the sun or the snow or the trees, was too strong, and my mind would wander. And sometimes I would daydream about . . . privacy.

While a typical teenager might have dreamed of clothes, parties, and boys, and a more poetic one of symbolism and beautiful or ghastly imagery, I fantasized about privacy. I didn't always like the regimen of school, especially having to attend classes that didn't suit me (geometry, gym. I didn't understand why people I didn't bother still taunted me. Sometimes, my own tendency to wisecrack was my enemy. Mostly, though, I didn't like that, for seven hours a day, I had no place to go, no place to hide, no place to call my own, Whether I was on the bus or in the hallway, the locker room, or class, someone could see me. And that meant I could not relax or be myself; I could not stop expending energy on negotiating the social morass.

Ah, I would think. I can manage this now because, when I'm an adult, I won't have to.

I was that naïve.

In college, I was torn. I wanted to have friends, so I spent time in public places instead of studying—and still I didn't make that many. And at times I retreated to my room to all the privacy I could desire—and became so lonely and depressed that I developed debilitating hives.

That didn't work out very well.

As an adult, I have 12 to 13 hours of privacy, 7.5 of which are spend sleeping. During the rest, I may be lonely and a little down at times, but I need at least some of that time to myself. As a sheltered adolescent I could not foresee my future (and certainly couldn't plan it). I didn't know what the work world was like. I never knew what I wanted to do. So now, during my commute and at work, I have no more privacy than I did at school—the best I can do is escape to the windowless, sterile "sick room" when I really need to, although it is not the place to heal or to imagine. It's just a temporary retreat. But most of the time work is like school—I'm on public display, failing to negotiate the social niceties, and subject to all the nastiness.

And unlike a student, I don't even get the summer off.

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