Tuesday, November 3, 2015


I went to the same school from pre-Kindergarten through 11th grade.

It turns out that leaving your high school in your senior year makes you feel like you don't have a high school alma mater. This is particularly important in a city like New Orleans, where "where did you go to school?" always means "which high school did you attend?" It's a question that can answer what color, religion, and gender you are and how wealthy you were as a kid.

Yes, that's right: New Orleans segregates its parochial schools on gender and color.

I can't throw many stones, though; I had never been in a class with a black person until 12th grade.

But I didn't move away from the only school I had known to be in a more diverse setting. I chose to go to an all-girls' boarding school for my senior year because everyone I knew was having sex, drinking, and doing drugs. I was not interested in any of those things, so off my precious academic self went to a school that required I take Latin (!) but did not require me to wear a bra or anything fancier than pajama pants. It was the late 90s: there was lots of flannel and unwashed hair to go around, anyway.

I wanted to go to a high school that would prepare me academically for college, so instead of coasting through what would have probably been an extremely easy senior year, I moved 300 miles away from home. Bless my 17-year-old heart.

I cried every day until Thanksgiving. Every. Day. I was painfully homesick, and my parents wouldn't let me have a car until... I'm not really sure what changed their minds, actually. I think it was needing to get to my SAT or something. (Knowing 17-year-old me, I'm sure it was a very responsible sell.)

And then it was finals right after Thanksgiving and I spent my January term at home, and when I got back for my final semester, I only had four months to survive. My friend Jenny, with whom I have lost touch, said her father always said, "You can do anything for <period of time>. You can stand on your head for <period of time>." Jenny and I counted down the days until we didn't have to stand on our heads any longer.

When I got to college, I'd already gained my freshman 15, mastered homesickness, and shared small spaces (and bathrooms) with strangers. I knew how to study, write, procrastinate, live without a car (it disappeared again until my second semester sophomore year).

When people ask me, "where did you go to school?", I know they don't want to hear Wake Forest or George Washington. They want to know if I'm one of them or if I'm an outsider. They want to know if I can be trusted; what neighborhood I grew up in; and if I have any good stories about learning biology from nuns (I do, but they're my mom's stories).

What I want to tell them is that I don't really have a high school, and it still makes me feel lonely to think about sweet little 17-year-old me, sobbing every day for 3+ months because I missed everything I'd ever known, even though everything I'd ever known didn't feel right, wondering what was wrong with me and when I'd feel right.

My extracurricular activities became limited to the 300-mile drive home almost every weekend. I'd been Female Athlete of the Year in 11th grade; I only played one sport in 12th grade. Sundays became synonymous with leaving a place I was happy to return to a place I wasn't. Jenny and I would resume our counting.

And now I have car payments and student loan payments and no high stakes tests. I visit my parents' house, on average, once per year. I wonder if any of us ever stop questioning whether we're an outsider, if at some point we ever recognize "I have arrived!!!!!!"

Probably not. And, if so, I imagine I'll find a way to move into the unknown, the discomfort, the challenge, the new. It's who I've become and where I thrive.

Thank you, 17-year-old me. I'm sorry it was so hard. I'm sorry it was so lonely. But you're prepared to do great things, love deeply, and never take drugs.

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