Friday, January 10, 2014

On Skipping My 20-Year High School Reunion (Guest Post)

Welcome to guest blogger Erica Sininsky, who chose to skip her 20-year high school reunion. Why? Not because of a previous commitment, or because it would have been expensive or inconvenient to attend, but because she still shudders at the very thought of high school. Thank you, Erica, for this honest piece about finding refuge and refusing to be a victim. It makes me, for one, reflect on how becoming a parent has changed the way I reflect on memories of my youth. We all have stumbling blocks in our past that we hope our own children will avoid. What are yours?

On Skipping My 20-Year High School Reunion

I am a 38-year-old woman, mother of two, and I consider myself a no-nonsense type of gal, practical and with my priorities in order. Why oh WHY then do I still have nightmares in which I show up to school for first period 10th grade biology in a towel? The very thought of walking down those cavernous high school hallways makes me shudder. It's not that I think about high school often; but when the thoughts do arise, they are powerful, even frightening. There must be some part of me that continues to lament my high school experience. 

In addition to the towel dream, I sometimes imagine myself in a bathing suit, standing before the entire high school football team, teetering on the edge of a full-blown panic attack. Oh, wait a minute—that wasn’t a dream. That actually happened. 

My high school had a pool, and a graduation requirement of at least one semester of swimming instruction. Co-ed. For some, (hormonally raging 17 year old boys), a fantasy; for me, this was the stuff of nightmares. While the majority of the girls could have stepped out of a J. Crew ad, their lanky figures barely filling out their swimsuits (or so it seemed to me at the time), I represented more of the zaftig type—well endowed, curvaceous, and hippy. (I wore -- no kidding -- a size H bra, according to the Russian saleswoman in a Queens lingerie shop.) To top off the whole dripping wet package, I wore a Star of David around my neck. I soon heard the rumor going around: people were calling me the Jewish slut. Not because of anything I did, but simply because of the way I looked. 

For many, high school represents the epitome of youth, the formative years, the height of everything: socially, physically, and emotionally. Rich carefree days spent gallivanting and partying, sexual discovery, challenges presented and overcome. And I did experience much of that during those years -- just not in high school itself.

My high school was physically imposing and classic at the same time, with a vast, velvety-green expanse of lawn, towering columns, and red bricks. The campus was “open”, meaning students could come and go as they pleased. For me, being inside the building was like serving a prison sentence. But once I stepped outside those doors, I was free. No need to avoid the ‘commons’, where the jocks and cheerleaders lined the walls, nor the dark corners where the angry “goths” conspired and shot baleful looks; no cliques to wade through between classes; no swimming pool to agonize over. I knew that my ‘spot’ on the lawn would be waiting for me, along with my friends (two without whom high school would have been unbearable), and that for the next forty two minutes I could completely let down my guard.

As it happened, my family's synagogue was situated directly across the street from my high school. The synagogue was my refuge—between Hebrew school, youth group and weekend retreats, it was inside that brown brick, oddly designed structure that I spent the bulk of my teenage years. Having that balance was an essential part of what helped to shape me during those years, and more than made up for what high school lacked. Between local activities affiliated with USY (United Synagogue Youth), and summers spent traveling the country and abroad, I had a very fulfilling young adulthood. I was anything but a deprived or depressed teenager. I managed to escape the confines of adolescent 'hell' unscathed. In fact, I went to college with a rich sense of identity and profound confidence in myself. But as far as the “high school experience” is concerned, mine was definitely not run-of-the-mill.

So twenty years have passed. I’ve grown more outspoken, no doubt the result of life experiences, maturity, and motherhood. Back when I was agonized by swim class and my peers' awful rumors, my parents suggested I remove my Star of David. Even though I know they were trying to help, I can't imagine making the same suggestion to my daughter (age 9) now. In a sea of insecurity, that Star of David was what made me feel most secure; connected to my cultural and religious identity.

Twenty years later, I have no need for small talk with my past-tense peers. I would rather spend time with my two dear friends from the high school lawn, whom I still see anyway.

When it comes to my daughter's turn in high school, I plan to share my experiences with her so that she knows that high school is not the end-all-be-all of life, though sometimes it can feel like it.

I'm living proof that you can still have a fulfilling life without attending senior prom. Or your 20-year reunion.

Erica Sininsky is the mother of Sofia, 9 and Dylan, 6. She lives on Long Island and teaches English to children from all over the globe. In her free time (ha!), she enjoys writing short stories and creating beaded and metalwork jewelry.

1 comment:

  1. Very powerful statement Erica! I know first hand and can associate with the feelings that you have. although my experiences were different in the way that they transpired, I know what it feels like to "have to" avoid the "senior office", fear walking the halls and such. I'm 38 as well; and while I've come to terms with high school torment, I still think about it. Good for you!!!! I actually went to my 20th last year. While it wasn't the complete horror show that I thought it would be, it still brought up memories and people were STILL divided. Some things will never change...and some of the best things that will never change are your lifelong friends :-)
    Thanks for bringing this to the public eye.
    PS your kids are beautiful :-)



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