Thursday, May 22, 2003

High school sucked. Four of the worst years of my life, period.

I was a scared gay teenager in a football-and-FFA world, the epitome of a square peg. The farm kids resented me because I rebuked my farming background. The jocks, because I wasn’t. The “in crowd,” because I wasn’t. [And how do you get in that, anyway? Is it just a matter of, as the LOX rapped, money, power, and respect? Or is there something more to it?] The burnouts because, in the words of Adam Ant, don’t drink/don’t smoke, what do you do? Read, and wrote in my journal, mostly (how I wish I still had my highschool journals – a lot of adolescent bile, to be sure, but likely a fair amount of genuine teen angst, as well, which I wish I could see again).

I’ve never been precisely certain why I ran cross country my sophomore year: was it an attempt to join an (not the) “in crowd,” to feel like I belonged in something other than the band (I played trombone, just like this cutie)? Was it to see cute, lean, muscled guys in the locker room? Was it to make my parents proud? Here’s what it did: it gave me, occasionally, a slight sense of accomplishment. It didn’t change my social standing in school, not even really with my teammates (though a few of the upperclassmen took pity on me, saw that I was at least trying, and treated me with respect, which didn’t go unnoticed). It infuriated my asshole band director, who wanted to make me choose between competing Saturday CC invitationals and marching band competitions (whenever possible, I chose the invitationals, as I loathed matching band passionately). It ended, chiefly, in tears.

With the hope that this entry hasn’t become too self-piteous – that’s not my intent here; I’m recounting/reporting, not looking for sympathy – let me tell you about the end of the cross country season. Manchester High School was known for excelling in CC – our boys’ team had made it to the state meet (only 16 teams, statewide) in previous years. We hosted our own Manchester Invitational, which drew teams and runners from across the state every October. But never before had both our boys and girls teams made it to state the same year, until 1985. I was excited. We were all excited. Even though I, along with 7 other boys, was only on the junior varsity team, we were part of the team. We’d trained and ran just as hard as everyone else, and were ecstatic. Until Coach Miller (also a math teacher) told us the news: the school couldn’t afford to send the entire team to state (cross country teams only have seven people running varsity). The top 12 runners would be going. Which meant that two others and I, the 15th man on a 15-man squad, would be staying at home. We were of course encouraged to go to the state meet and cheer on our teammates, but we’d do so on our own.

The school held a pep rally for the team – this was a big deal, sending both of our CC teams to state – to send them off, in the gym. After the pep rally, the gym cleared out, the team left. I sat by myself in the sea of hard, wooden seats, crying. The message I got from Coach was that even though I’d run my best just like my teammates, even though I’d gone through all of the same stuff, it wasn’t enough. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t important enough to go to state with the rest. I did go to the meet, with the parents of our #1 runner, who went to my church (and were much nicer than they had to be, a hallmark of a good person in my opinion). I cheered for my friends and teammates. But it wasn’t the same; my heart wasn’t there. It had been left back in the school parking lot, mangled under the wheels of the bus which drove the team to the state meet.

I didn’t run cross country again. And I always resented Coach for what I saw as (reasonably or not) his decision. Even when I had him senior year for a math class, trig or some bullshit, I never trusted him again, ever. I still wouldn’t. The damnedest thing is that when I think about it, when I look at our photocopied “yearbook” from that season, it still hurts a little bit. Like it does right now, writing this.

The boys team finished in 7th place at state, the girls in 12th.

Ladies and gentlemen, Exhibit A: loss of innocence.

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