do something for him since he had such an
“important job.” The man did something he
never would have considered in high school.
“I actually told her to go f--- herself,” he says.
“You didn’t care about me and what I do
before yesterday, so why now?” he asked.
Finally telling her off “felt good,” he says.
As the firefighter’s story demonstrates, those early rejections tend
to stick with us. Studies show that we
remember our high school years more
vividly than we do other periods in our
lives. In fact, those memories are so
powerful, according to a 2005 report
in the journal Memory, that we retrieve
them more often, making them even
stronger as time passes.
We also tend to have more memories
from our high school years than from
other periods, thanks to what’s known as
the “reminiscence bump.” Multiple stud-
ies have found that these are the memo-
ries we produce most often when asked
about our lives.
And even if we wanted to leave high
school behind, the rise of social media
has pretty much made that impossi-
ble. Some 22 percent of our Facebook
friends are from high school, according
to 2011 Pew Research Center data.
One 2000 graduate of Thomas S.
Wootton High School says she origi-
nally joined Facebook to catch up with
her friends from high school, but found
herself “friending” people she barely
knew there. “You can access friends and
friends-of-friends and see what every-
one’s up to, even if you’re not actually in
touch with them,” she says.
Indeed, Facebook doesn’t just connect
us with old friends. It offers us a way to
check out the people who’ve haunted us
over the years. We can see if the Mean
Girl has a face full of wrinkles and if the
Jock who slammed us into the lockers
has a big paunch. We can learn if they’ve
been successful in life or ended up stuck
in neutral. All without ever having to
actually face our demons.
None of this is to say that everyone
hates high school and can’t wait to leave
it behind. Some people uncover talents
they didn’t know they had, enjoy the
camaraderie of a sports team or receive
encouragement from a teacher or counselor at a critical moment in their lives.
“I loved every minute of high school,”
one 1976 B-CC alumna says. “Maybe it
was because I hung out with the popular
kids, but I also remember having friends
in different groups—cheerleaders, poms,
jocks, potheads. It was the ’70s, so high
school was all about friends and having
Then there was Dave Porter, who affected an asymmetrical
haircut and had a penchant for wearing trench coats and combat
boots. He’d moved to Los Angeles and was now the musical
composer for AMC’s hit TV show Breaking Bad. His artistic and
introverted nature had proved a perfect fit for the creative solitude
of composing film scores.
At the reunion, which took place in August 2010, the class “geek”
showed up in a Ferrari with his hot blond wife on his arm. Another
classmate, a girl who’d been considered a nerd as well, now looked
like a supermodel. (She’d married a plastic surgeon, but still…)
It was reassuring to learn that some people do transcend their
high school identities. Perhaps they’re driven to do so because
their high school years were so painful.
But the Mean Girls? They’d stayed behind, still clinging to
the identities they’d forged in high school. And I had to wonder
if geography really is destiny, if staying in place means being left
behind in more ways than one.
Eventually an injury forced me to quit kickboxing, and I figured
the Mean Girls were gone from my life. But as I was jogging in my
Gaithersburg neighborhood one day, I ran into the Queen Bee.
She was sitting alone, looking at the lake there, and she
seemed upset. I went over to say hello and we began talking.
I learned that she and her high school sweetheart were going
through a divorce. She felt lost and alone. She had barely
acknowledged me in kickboxing class, yet she seemed to know all
about me and my time in L.A.
“I wish I’d done what you did. Left here,” she said. “I wanted to
do that with my life. Be famous or something.”
“Why didn’t you?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I fell in love. I didn’t want to let him go.”
And then she added, “Now I’ll never know what could’ve been.”
I then recalled another time in kickboxing when one of
the Queen Bee’s two friends talked about maybe training for
a marathon. “You don’t run,” the Queen laughed. The others
laughed, too, the matter seemingly closed. But I couldn’t help but
feel the wannabe runner’s suffocation. She’d had the same two
best friends for decades, and they weren’t going to let her outgrow
them. Now the Queen Bee was realizing that in clinging to the
past, she’d sacrificed a future.
That’s not to say that staying close and connected isn’t a good
thing. I know another group of girls from high school who all live on
the same street and married men who are also best friends. Now
their children play together. I’m not sure it gets any better than that.
But there’s something to be said for at least spreading your wings a
bit, leaving the old labels behind and reinventing yourself. Perhaps
it’s harder to do that when you see yourself as already on top.
When I left Montgomery County, I considered myself an outlier.
But in the years since, I’ve reinvented myself, first as an actress;
then as an author with a young-adult novel, The Possibility of
Fireflies, to my credit; then as a screenwriter. The film based on my
book is scheduled to begin shooting in Vancouver in November.
My return home was intended to be a brief detour before I
resumed the life I felt I was meant to live. Not long after coming
back, though, I met someone I soon began dating seriously. I
asked him recently about his high school years. Imagine my
dismay at learning that, despite my best efforts, I’d followed the
same path as Ally Sheedy at the conclusion to The Breakfast Club:
I’d fallen for The Jock.
Dominique Paul is an author and screenwriter living in
Gaithersburg. To comment on this story, email comments@
high school forever
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