Like many public schools, my high school had a circular track of sidewalk that many students would walk laps around with their friends, gossiping about which cheerleaders were pregnant, juggling text books and banana-filled brown sacks, and tossing stink eyes and rolled up trash at the kids nobody liked. I was one of those kids.
My favorite class was drama, because it gave me an outlet for all of the emotions that were percolating throughout my body: anger, for my parents not loving each other; sadness, for kids my age not giving me a chance to show them who I was; fear of never being good enough. Getting up on stage in front of a room full of shadowy figures and letting out tears that nobody knew were real except for me was an empowering feeling. I could fool people into thinking that I was a natural thespian who had a strong connection to The Scarlet Letter. But those tears weren’t for Dimmesdale or my pretend bastard child–those tears were selfishly all mine. And man, did I feel better letting them out.
It was difficult to pay attention in all of my other classes though, and I occasionally skipped fifth period English, only to get caught sneaking back onto campus with a McDonalds bag and a forged letter from my mom, beginning with, “To Whom it May Concern” and ending with notice of a doctor’s appointment…or a dentist’s appointment…or an anger management class…or a family emergency. Before long, I had a 1.0 GPA.
Homework was a silly concept to me, and whenever my parents asked to see the work I did the night before, I’d show them a piece of writing that had nothing to do with school, or tell them that all of my homework was research. Sometimes I would tell my mom I was going to my room to work on algebra, and instead spend three hours listening to “Fake Plastic Trees” on repeat, crying until I couldn’t breathe through my bright red nose. ”Fake Plastic Trees” became “Everybody Hurts” when my first boyfriend broke up with me after a week, claiming he was only dating me because he thought I would put out.
Even though I was sixteen and still hadn’t had my first kiss, rumors that I was a slut began to spread around campus, making it even more difficult for me to pay attention to Mr. Leffler explain the difference between microeconomics and macro. I was the subject of more ridicule after another student decided to pull my pants down in front of everyone in gym class. The only way I knew how to react was to act out, and soon I was spending afternoons in detention for everything from skipping class to throwing tomatoes at the school’s trophy cases in the cafeteria.
Lunch period was an exciting time for most kids–who got to catch up with their social life or attend club meetings–but I hated lunch. I would usually wait in the pizza line for twenty minutes as other kids cut in front of me until all the pizza was gone, then walk around campus, pretending to have somewhere to go, stopping into the bathroom every time I heard snickering in my direction to check to see if I had anything in my teeth. But I never did.
While my classmates spent Senior year applying to colleges and making plans for the summer, I dreamt of a future without school; one where I could succeed without having to put up with daily torment from my peers. Neither one of my parents went to college, so why should I? As everyone around me scattered throughout the country for UC’s, CSU’s, and other acronyms that meant nothing to me, I was struggling to graduate. Many of my teachers who thought I had potential were disappointed in me and passed me out of pity, while enough other teachers flunked me so that I wasn’t able to walk at graduation. I was actually kind of glad I didn’t have to sit next to cap and gown-wearing overachievers who shared the same letter last name as me, and after a couple weeks in summer school, I was handed my diploma.
If I had a better time in high school, I might have gone to college and ended up working as a journalist for some swanky news provider; I might have a dog and an overpriced one bedroom with a closet full of designer shoes; I could’ve become an essential part of a circle of successful women who drink wine together, borrow each other’s clothes and have dinner parties. There are a lot of ways my life could have turned out.
Instead, I skipped college for the chance to feel alive. Starting fresh in a new city with no money, friends or home, taught me how to grow up quickly, and after a couple years, I had a job and my own apartment in the heart of San Francisco. Sure, it wasn’t easy, but each barrier I came across was an opportunity to learn something and grow. And the fact that it was real and not just a hypothetical lesson taught by an overworked and underpaid college professor, forced me cooperate, much unlike how I spent my time in high school.
There’s nothing wrong with going to college, and I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with choosing not to. We all grow up different from one another, and if there’s anything I’ve learned the last five years I’ve been in this city, it’s that people will like you for who you are, not where you came from.