In the middle of my seventh grade year, due to financial reasons, my family and I moved back to Middleburg, and my mother decided she wanted me to attend my old private school. I was nervous and excited to see everyone I had left behind so many years earlier.
Almost every single person from my Kindergarten class was still there, with only a few new additions. I remember my first day, how strange it was to be with all these people who I hadn’t known, people who had essentially shunned me. It was the first time in my life I wasn’t able to join seamlessly into the fray. I felt lonely. And I felt poor. Worst of all, I felt inferior.
I decided social interaction was overrated and excelled in school. My public school education had put me in the top of my class at private school and a lot of the time, I was bored and felt like the teachers coddled us. For example, we had two sets of grades on our report cards: Effort (how hard it seemed you were trying) and Achievement (the actual quality of your papers and your test scores). Effort? Are you kidding me? The most hilarious part was that placement on honor roll was determined by Effort grades. Needless to say, I often got better Achievement grades than Effort grades.
Another notable thing about being an adolescent at my private school was the amount of drama. I hate to generalize (actually, I kind of love it), but when you are rich and have nothing to worry about, you create things to worry about. Firstly, our class in particular was very into theatre; we put on two class plays whereas most other classes had only put on one (it was a tradition to do an eighth grade play and it was a big deal).
Most of these kids had been together for ten years, and so inter-class dating was pure comedy. The relationships seemed almost incestuous and the second some girl gave her first blow job or some guy tried to kiss a seventh grader, the entire class would know. There were suicide attempts (cry for attention), class-wide pranks (cry for attention), and dramatic break-ups and affairs (attention, attention, attention). One time we had an assignment in Latin class to write a tragedy in Latin and three would be picked to be performed. My best friend and I wrote one and when it didn’t get picked, the travesty of the situation forced us to take drastic action and chain ourselves to the door of the Latin class for an hour or so. Surprisingly, there were no consequences for this type of behavior and in the end, the teacher decided to pick our play because, in classic Roman style, it was very … dramatic.
This was also a very experimental and important time in my life. My comfort zone amongst my twenty classmates was exorbitant and so I dressed like an asylum escapee, often spoke in cockney or Parisian accents, and danced down the hallways like I was in a speakeasy. These aspects of me were not only accepted, but encouraged. This was the time in my life I solidified that I wanted to be a writer as I met my mentor, my English teacher with whom I formed a very close relationship. We often spent hours talking at the local coffee shop. I also met my best friend in the entire world, who still holds that title completely uncontested. We were a pair of kooks together and I credit my private school with not only enabling us to find each other, but allowing us learn each other with so few societal constraints.
I have never and probably will never again act with so much reckless abandon and carefree joy as I did those few years at private school, even despite my difference in color and class. I look back on that time as a magical and influential chapter of my life.
At the end of the year, I had become so fully ensconced in the private school mentality that I couldn’t bear to leave it. I preached my love for my school so vociferously that I was selected to give the farewell speech at our graduation ceremony. When I was accepted into one of the best boarding schools in the country, then immediately informed by my parents that they could not afford to send me (why had they let me apply in the first place?), there was nothing more I could do than to watch my classmates go off to their respective boarding schools. I was green with envy, but relieved I would at least be attending a nearby private high school with a few of the others who had been left behind.
Sadly, no. The night before high school started, my parents sat me down and told me I had been unable to get financial aid and so tomorrow I would be attending the public high school, which had already been in session for a week. Shanghai-ed once again by my parents, I mustered up all my courage, and spent the next several months vacillating between wanting to fit in and wanting to stand out—complete discomfort in my own skin either way. Such is high school. However, once again, through some cosmic dumb luck, my parents ended up making a good decision for me, because half those kids who went away to boarding school developed drug problems, became promiscuous, etc. And I got the chance to meet several more groups of incredible and unique people.
When I look back on my experience in school, I am grateful I had the opportunity to attend both public and private school; I literally got the best of both worlds. I got a great scholastic education in public school, while in private school I was able to learn about myself and grow as an expressive and unique individual.
While in sixth grade at public school, I met a group of Muslim girls who wanted me to fast for Ramadan with them. Although I was technically a Muslim, I had never done this, and decided to join them for the month of fasting. It was a beautiful and eye-opening experience. A year later, at private school, I walked down the hill to the picturesque pond on our campus with two of my classmates and spent our study period picking pussy willows and staring at the sky. Both memories will remain firmly implanted in me indefinitely.