Rebels True

I had a plan, a beautiful plan, a plan that involved getting back to the type of writing I think I do best – anecdotes.  Those little stories where I heighten a piece and it turns into one of my goofy, isn’t life just ridiculous? blog pieces.  I really wanted to stick with that plan.  That’s my foreword on this piece.

I’m about a year away from my 30th reunion at a school where I was a “Rebel”.  We flew the confederate flag at our games running it up and down the field, it was emblazoned on the outside of our gym along with our mascot “Johnny Rebel”, we played “Dixie” as a fight song.  If we lost a game, a more dirgeful rendition echoed through the stadium.  When our band returned from a game, as soon as they crossed Town Lake (part of the Colorado River) that divides the city into North and South Austin, the band observed a reverential silence.  When we graduated, Mama Craig, our Government teacher, sat on a stool and sang a mash-up of Dixie and Turn Around.  I can still hear her pure and beautiful voice as it carried throughout the Tony Burger Activity Center.

A group on Facebook was created to prepare everyone for the upcoming event.  People joined, pictures appeared along with  the posts of excitement and disbelief that we’re that much older (only on the outside).  I did my part to drag my friends kicking and screaming into the group with the simple explanation of “misery loves company”.  I admit, I’m not overly excited about attending despite having gone to the 10th and 20th.

There are a few reasons I cringe at the idea. 1) Once the class upper echelon took over the planning, it went downhill.  The reunion was no longer inclusive of the entire student body; it’s now the popular kids.  Unfortunately, those kids don’t quite know how to find the other kids. (And we’re all still kids in my mind.) Their phone tree mirrors our football roster. Drill team members, cheerleaders and a few band folks are thrown in for spice.  When you’ve been involved in big event planning, as I have been, it’s hard to watch and not wince, and hard not to  wonder whether it’s their intention to exclude the other 300 people or are they genuinely too inept for the task. I suspect a combination of both. In my past, I’ve brought speakers to my University (Dr. Ruth, who was adorable, and Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panthers, who was simply incredible to sit and talk to), and I’ve worked on large scale events in previous jobs.  From my experience, event planning takes a lot of work and well… planning.  There’s actually some skill involved that these folks woefully lack and it shows, but hey they like putting it on so what the heck.  That party we threw in ‘85 was hopping! Just add 3 more people and we have a reunion! 2) I wasn’t popular.  I was (am)  nerdy.  I was the President of Orchestra, in NHS, and in the German Club – you get the idea.  The most defiant thing I ever did was sit in the hallway during a time we were supposed to be in our various clubs and look defiantly when we were challenged by a hall monitor while one of my friends said (out loud using words others could hear), “yeah, we’re in a club – the Breakfast Club!” Oy. (She was not impressed and we scurried back to class.)  I loved math and science.  My idea of a great time was coming in early to work on my Chemistry lab work, being nose deep in a book, or working through Geometry proofs.  I was living on the edge.  Combine that with my natural prissiness and being reasonably unattractive and you get a feel for me.  I’m not the girl you invited to the Homecoming dance.

At our school was a group who called themselves the Right Wing Extremist Organization (RWEO) headed up by a little toad named Shannon; the living embodiment of a balding hyperactive rat terrier.  He and his little gang would bully other kids unchallenged.  Any disagreement with them was greeted with insults. If you believe the rumors, they also upended one “liberal” headfirst into a toilet for daring to challenge them or their narrow views. I remember them openly mocking a particular girl in my government class when she recounted a traumatic story of being in a police ride along (something we had the option to do as part of the class). Laughing as tears streamed down her face, because she’d witnessed someone die. How ridiculous she was boo-hooing over a death – liberal, hippie, cry-baby. They’d scrawl their little slogans on our classroom’s chalkboards, and mostly wander the halls acting like pricks.  They’ll be at the reunion, too (well, maybe).

Let me knit this all together

Earlier this week one of our classmates posted his feelings about the confederate flag; it was an impassioned piece explaining why he felt it was time to remove the flag (and I completely agree with him).  He explained that as a black student that imagery bothered him and while it didn’t bother him as a teenager, it certainly bothered him now as an adult.  He wrote about how he’d fought in Iraq and Afghanistan for people’s rights, but that he didn’t fight to support this flag.  A bunch of folks followed-up with their support, and then came Shannon’s post. “You’re wrong.” (Quick aside: Shannon had responded to another classmate’s page and eloquently expressed his disagreement with a well-worded, “you’re a dummy,” and then followed with a brief note about how he was unfriending the aforementioned “dummy.” He’s truly one of the school’s more gifted debaters (sarcasm font)). I won’t get into how someone feels cannot be “wrong,” but the original poster was not “wrong” for how he felt.  Well, that wasn’t enough for Shannon, he then fired back with “[my lacky] and I have decided this reunion has become too political, so we won’t be going”. Nevermind the fact that for four years he turned our school into political theater. Someone saying “I don’t like the flag” was clearly going too far – too political!  He used the tried and true “we’re taking our toys and going home” tactic complete with breath holding. And as we all know, you can’t have a reunion without a showing of the RWEO; the whole thing will collapse.  That table they reserved for 30 of the 364 students will now be reduced to 25.  Chaos will ensue! The reunion will be a complete failure.  What will this say about the 35th? the 40th?  Immediately a post fired back, “{your lacky] and his social secretary will be missed.”  My inner 15 year old chortled gleefully.  I’d never actually seen anyone sass the RWEO guys.  You see, for a long a time one of my dreams has been that someone would shut this guy down publicly, and wow, thanks fairy godmother I’m heading for the ball.  While it wasn’t a complete shutdown or maybe even close to one, it was the closest I’d seen in years.  See, the folks I know while clever and quick-witted are all more akin to a lumbering Great Pyrenees, in contrast to his terrier, and would really much rather sit thoughtfully, pant a bit, get pats and hopefully nap than acknowledge there’s an annoying terrier bouncing around for attention.  It may be the more mature response, but my personal vote is for the thoughtful, well-worded, humiliating smack-down WWF Thomas Paine-style.  BOOYAH!  And since he’s never challenged me on any one of my sites, I’ve never had the opportunity. Plus, I lack the intellectual prowess for a true public shaming.  I’m simply more sass than refined wit.  It’s a shortcoming. We all have flaws.

Anyway, I had to chime in at this point.  I agreed and added that to me the flag and mascot were just symbols and changing them wouldn’t alter my memories, the friends that I made or the education I had.  That you could paint the school hot pink, call us the fighting fluffy unicorns and sing the Barney theme song at the Homecoming game, and nothing about my past would change.  I personally don’t need those symbols to always remain the same; and were they to change, it would have no real effect on me.  And the truth is, it’s time for a change.

What happened next? The original poster acquiesced explaining it was never his intent to prevent Shannon or his friends from attending the reunion.  That instead he would personally not attend so that Shannon would be able to go.  Whew! Here I was worried that the whole thing might be slightly less douchey   The post disappeared along with the OP’s personal high school photos, and he’s no longer in the group.  What a shame, too.

The whole thing makes me sad and re-emphasizes why I will not make this one. I have my memories and my friends from high school without needing to be part of this rather disappointingly exclusive club.

Julie

“Thank you for reminding me that I wasn’t a bad person.” Julie and I had just gotten together for our annual dinner and gab session where we catch up on the year and reminisce about our shared past.

I met Julie in 2nd grade, the same day I met Ernie, when I was uprooted from Dallas and plopped down into a school of strangers as part of Miss Winn’s class (or maybe she was a Mrs. or more than likely a Ms.; it was the ‘70’s).  Where I remember Ernie very clearly thanks to my brain’s solitary focus on “where is that tour guide kid,” I have the vaguest memory of a group of girls from my new class taking me by the hands and running with me up a hill at recess. In that moment, I knew I was going to be ok.  And when I replay it in my head, I always see Julie as part of that group – carefree and smiling as we all ran. I was accepted. I was calm.

My 3rd grade memory of Julie isn’t any better.  I remember her Trapper Keeper that had impossibly cute characters on it and said underneath them, “When it freezes, don’t get sneezes!” (I have a weird memory like that. Myers-Briggs says it’s part of the 4 letter thing – people like me apparently are just like that.)  We shared a table in our English class and she’d claim I was going to get in trouble for taking the “100’s” on my papers and turning the 0’s into little heads – giving them little faces, hair and hats.  I gave her a hard time about it years later and while she didn’t remember it, she suggested she may have been jealous of the 100’s.  I doubt that, because while on a good day I may be considered “smart”, Julie is exponentially smarter than I could ever hope to be. I’m only smart enough to know I’m not that smart.  (Does that finally make me wise?) I know without actually remembering that her papers were equally adorned with those coveted 100’s.

By 4th grade, we had moved into a different part of town, which meant new friends and new people.  There was a brief return to Dallas in 7th grade, which heralded the bullying rite of passage I got to endure and then it was back to Austin for the end of 7th grade.  It was 8th grade that I finally had another class with Julie – a social studies class.  Once again we sat next to each other and Julie would tell me incredible stories; she was fascinating.

Here’s where I’m going to brag a bit.  In that social studies  class Julie and I were named as co-leaders for an assignment where each team of students had to prove who discovered America first before a panel of University of Texas at Austin judges.  As one of the group leads, I got to draw the name of our potential discovers.  I walked up to that hat with my fingers crossed it would be either Vikings or Spaniards and of course I drew Egyptians and Phoenicians. My heart sank. We were doomed. Julie and I each took on the responsibility of writing a paper (I think we made the rest of the group draw pictures and point at things).  Long story short – and a huge thanks to Thor Heyerdahl, we won against all odds.  Julie got points from the judges for her paper and I got kudos for the opening line of mine that went something like this: “When the Spaniards landed in South America, the native Americans referred to them as the “Gods of the Second Arrival”; therefore, who were the gods of the first arrival?”  We made a great team.  (And we scored special treats for our entire group, which made us temporarily cool.)

Literally wearing 80’s rose tinted glasses and my orchestra shirt while Julie explains to them they’ll be drawing pictures and pointing at things. The graphics were awesome! Good job, guys!

The next time I really remember Julie is 10th grade Honors Chemistry.  There are plenty of stories there (we “may” have made an evil student teacher so nervous that she dropped her evil chalk), but the thing about 10th grade was it was when Julie became my very best friend.  It started on a Spring Break filled with sleepovers while dancing to “Footloose” in her living room.  This was only a couple of years after Julie’s mother said I reminded her of Carly Simon and I was still working on ways to forgive her.

Unfortunately, sometime between then and now, Julie forgot how amazing she was as a teenager.  I think we all have that awful ability to remember the worst about ourselves and forget what makes us so incredible and special.

So, I’m telling you about Julie during high school – this way if she ever forgets again, she can always come back here as a reminder.

First, let’s start with me.  On a good day I’m awkward and weird. In high school this was especially true.  I was in orchestra (I eventually became the president – yes, the President of Orchestra), I loved math and science.  I was even a charter member of Mu Alpha Theta, the math club. I quit, because I couldn’t stand the stigma. I was in the German Club. When “The Search for Spock” came out, I was camped out with my high school friends playing a game called “spoons” in front of the theater waiting in line to be the first people to see it.  I had acne, bad hair, a love of my jeans and t-shirts, no OP clothes, Gloria Vanderbilts, Izods or Polos and not a Swatch to my name. I did have wooden Dr. Scholl’s that I would clonk around in – the wood echoing down the halls as it slapped the linoleum floors. To try to “get” my peers, I forced myself to listen to pop music.  Seriously, who makes this a personal assignment?  I was also (and still am) an introvert and if that’s not bad enough, I’m shy.  Unless you were an extreme nerd, you wouldn’t approach me. I’m an acquired taste.  My best day was being adopted by the D&D gang.  I’m a babe among that crowd.

In high school I was friends with all of the nerdy academic kids.  It was safe.  We surrounded ourselves in a snark filled bubble of being above all of the things what made us not cool.  We might not be invited to the cool parties (or any parties), but I could dissect “A Tale of Two Cities” and walk you through the complexities of the digestive system in the same breath (I can’t do that now, for the record).  We were the academic elite – destined to wear all the extra do-dads with our caps and gowns and we were snobs in our own right.

I am (and was) very conventional and uptight.  I was not fun.  I was a smart, elitist, uptight asshole just like my friends. Then I was in 10th grade in Honors Chemistry and there was Julie.

Beth & Julie

Julie was (and is) a person who wasn’t like me in the least – in the sense that she was outgoing, athletic, cute, super energetic and extremely fun – she actually laughed. She’s the kind of person whose soul I picture perpetually spinning in a field of daffodils as the sun gently brushes their cheeks.  Carefree.  She’s also devastatingly brilliant, which my little elite clique didn’t catch onto.  I remember one time being warned by that crew, “if you hang out with her, it will ruin your reputation!”  My thought to that was, “what reputation? How do I get one of these again?”

One of my favorite moments was going to my 10 year reunion and one of the intellectual elite asked about Julie.  I said, “she’s in med school, what are YOU doing again?” They scuttled away.  They always underestimated her, falsely assuming a more conservative demeanor equated to intelligence. They missed out on the fact that intelligence and fun can pair even more beautifully.

Over our years of friendship in high school, I became more “me”.  Laughter came more easily. My sense of humor became a little more wicked. I lightened up. I started having adventures.  I experienced more – and my taste in music grew. I went to Rocky Horror. I danced and sang and was more comfortable being me. All thanks to Julie.

Beth & Jule: Over the Fence to Hop a Train

I’ve told Julie in the past that I didn’t know what she got out of our friendship, since I was hell bent on being unfun in the beginning.  I suspect that I offered a sense of stability where she offered freedom – a perfect yin and yang.

So Julie, I just want to say again and put it out here so you can see yourself through my eyes: You were truly an amazing teenager. You were brilliant and funny.  You danced and sang and lived life to its fullest.  You were Janet! Sure, you did some dumb things along the way – made some dumb choices – but you survived (and didn’t come flying out of that Camaro, or crack your skull on that dashboard, and De De’s blood and vomit washed right on out and we learned Dorito’s aren’t a great breath mint when it comes to hard liquor, and you did bounce right on off that car with only a tear in your shorts and a few sore muscles as proof and we still went shopping. You even slapped the quarterback!).   I’m still deeply impressed that you tried out for the drill team and still disappointed that you didn’t make it; you were good enough but unfortunately your last name wasn’t Biddle.  You even managed to look appropriately defiant when you, Roger and I were in the hall avoiding club time and a teacher asked why we weren’t in our club meeting and Roger declared that we were, that we were in “the Breakfast Club” (which I’m sure scored a major eye roll from the teacher).  I should point out here for everyone else, I never did anything dumb.  Ever.

Thank you for all the late night walks, the talks, the laughter, the shared adventures, the Cornquistos, the whim purchase of the “Footloose” soundtrack, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, and Cat Stevens “Morning Has Broken”.

Thank you for being flashed by me at Barton Springs and not spending years in counseling over it.  For teaching me that “All will be well, all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” (My mantra when I’m having a bad day.)  For introducing me to me.  If I could give you one gift, it would be that you could see yourself through my eyes whenever you look back and think that you were ever a bad person and not the incredible person you actually were and are.  Like your mother, you are a beautiful person with a beautiful soul. You are joy.

And you’re also a doctor! So go suck it former elitist classmates!