Thursday, August 14, 2008

My High School Experience

Lately I have been thinking a lot about my high school years. Maybe its because Rachel and Jessica recently posted about going back for their ten year high school reunions. Maybe its because my ten year high school reunion was to be held this weekend. I had a lot of conflicted feelings about attending and before the RSVP date decided that I didn’t want to go.

I have some great memories of times with my friends in high school. I also have some memories of my high school experience I wish I could force out of my mind forever. After talking with some other classmates recently, I discovered I’m not alone in those feelings. Our high school experience was different than most, the things Lifetime movies are made of quite honestly. Yes, there was skipping classes, Friday night football games, “shooting the loop,” having water balloon fights around town while riding in the back of pickups, attending homecomings and proms, honors classes with insufferable teachers, etc. However, during our sophomore year our lives were forever changed.

Growing up in a small town gives you a false sense of security that nothing bad can ever happen. You attend school with the same kids you’ve known since kindergarten. Your parents attended school with your friend’s parents. More often than not, your grandparents knew more about your friend’s families than your friends themselves. I grew up in a safe community where my friends and I played kick the can up and down alleys well past dusk. We rode our bikes all over town and down to the river. We crossed the train tracks to go fishing underneath the backwater bridge, ate pizza from the cardboard boxes it was served in outside of the local pizza shop and bought penny candy from the gas station. By the time my classmates and I hit high school there wasn’t much we didn’t know. We were invincible, unstoppable. Looking back it was like we were living in a plastic bubble, where nothing could hurt us and no outside dangers could get in. Little did we know that it would be someone on the inside that would burst that bubble that would shatter all of our childish illusions, and force us to grow up way before our time.

It was March of our sophomore year. That March was unseasonably mild, there was no snow and there were buds on some of the trees in neighborhood yards. There was a dance at the high school on a Friday night sponsored by a local radio station. My friends and I said goodbye to each other, some of us making plans for a sleepover the next night. We went home, blissfully ignorant to everything but our own teenage lives that were to us far more important than what was happening anywhere else outside the limits of our small town.

Saturday afternoon the phone rang. “Have you seen H? Her mom is looking for her, she didn’t go home last night.” This was not anything out of the ordinary. H was dating the former captain of the football team and tended to sneak around because her single mom didn’t approve for various reasons. K was charming, funny, and most importantly a high school graduate with his own car, which for any high school sophomore was a big deal. K would pick us up for lunch in his flashy sports car and bought us beer when we were all too young to be drinking. He was arrogant, cocky and the type of guy you didn’t want your fifteen year old daughter dating. H and her mom would often fight about the relationship, but because H was a straight A student, cheerleader, and member of just about every club it was typically dropped. Her mom worked two jobs to make ends meet and had H’s little brother to look after as well. After all, we lived in a small town, nothing bad could really happen.

H never came home and after we said goodbye to her at Friday night at the dance, none of us ever saw her alive again. She was beaten to death, bludgeoned with a piece of concrete, strangled, suffocated, thrown over the river embankment and left to die. Worst of all, it was K who had done it, someone we knew and trusted. Within a 48 hour time span, our false sense of security had come crashing down, our reality altered. My classmates and I were left trying to answer questions for which there were no answers. Our parents didn’t know what to do to help us understand because they couldn’t comprehend it themselves. We heard terms like arraignment, crime of passion, unthinkable tragedy. For two weeks we attended classes with reporters from all over the tri-state area shoving microphones in our faces asking us “How do you feel?” “How are you dealing with all of this?” The school brought in counselors, social workers, domestic abuse specialists, and local religious leaders. Pictures were splashed across the newspapers and news casts. There was a funeral mass with people standing out in the rain on a Friday morning because there was no room left in the church, a memorial service at the school with poems about grieving and going on. Looking back, we were all on autopilot, going about life as if we were robots. It hurt too much to think or feel. In the following months there was a trial in which some of my classmates were forced to testify, details came out about what had really happened, how it had happened and how bad it really was. We were only 14 and 15 years old.

Eventually, the trial was over. The news crews left. Our sleepy little town returned to its quiet ways. A new school year stared. Everyone went to football games on Friday nights, Homecoming came and went, and life went on. Our class learned to laugh and smile again and we all dealt with things in our own ways, but there was always a void that would never be filled. For the remainder of high school the cliques disappeared, everyone was nicer to each other, and after graduation we all went our own ways.

For most of us, those were the defining months of our high school years. When the idea of a reunion was initially kicked around, most of us thought it was a great idea. A chance to catch up, to be a part of each others lives again even for a brief weekend. As the planning commenced it seemed like less of great idea as more and more of us recalled the experience we shared and lived through. Just a few days ago, I received an email saying that the reunion was cancelled all together. I guess in the end, most of us decided we were satisfied by staying in touch via Facebook and Myspace. It’s hard to know what to say beyond “How have you been?” It’s hard to go back when the memories, thoughts and feelings are still to this day hard to process. In a way, I’m glad that I don’t have to because honestly, there really isn't anything left to say.

9 comments:

RebeccaC said...

Yuck is about all I can come up with here. Strangely, there was a girl murdered in my class my sophmore year as well, but different than your H, this girl was a bit of a loner on the fringe of things. I had choir class with her even and didn't know much about her. It was sad, but oddly surreal. The media presence certainly wasn't there for her. I sang with the choir at her funeral. Haven't thought about that in a long time...

Nikki said...

Oh my gosh- how awful! That would be really tough to deal with now, let alone as 14-15 year olds.

Mandy said...

RebeccaC -- Its not something I like to think about either, but all the talk about high school just brough back some old memories.

Nikki -- It was difficult to deal with.

Bayjb said...

Holy sh*t that's awful. I mean just so senseless and awful. I've been fortunate where nothing like that has happened to me personally but we did have a shooting at my high school the year before I got there. They locked down all the schools and my dad had to personally come to pick up my brother and me. very scary. EVen years later they didn't like us coming home alone.

Rachel said...

When I read she was murdered I was sad (I was expecting the typical drunken car accident). When I read it was done by K I was angered. I hope that he got everything he deserved.

Maxie said...

that is so sad. i'm glad that they caught the bastard, but I'm so sorry you and all of your friends had to lose someone at such a young age.

Andy said...

In our case, the event that brought us together was luckily a positive event. No dying or anything.

We had this big dance+fashion show and we all had our part, some dancing, some backstage... But the important thing is that in my mind, I'll always keep in my memory all those hours and hours of rehearsals and lunch times spent dancing and sharing... it was amazing...

As for H, I was so shocked. I would have believed she was dead in an accident. And then her boyfriend killing her, I was like "HOW??".

Sissy said...

What a terrible tragedy, not only for the high schoolers that had to endure the circus that surrounded you, but for the families as well.

No one is safe, no matter where one lives. Asa's soccer practice is held at a park where a little girl was killed and dumped and I can't help but think of that everytime.

Hang in there Mandy. I hope this post helped you in some way.

Tana said...

I'm moved by the honesty of your story. I'm so sorry you had to experience something like this at such a young age!
I hope this post helped you in your healing process?
We sure never know when our last day will come....sure brings a whole new reality to embracing each day as it is given to us and living it as though it were our last!