The COVID19 Diaries: Kickin’ it old school

Something happens to me the moment I think about high school, suddenly there are 90’s R&B songs playing in the background and I feel the need to put on a pair of baggy jeans and crouch low for the camera while moving my hands in front of my face with a menacing look in my eyes. Yeah, I’m a G. Wait no, actually I’m not even sure what a “G” is, or that I have the clothing or co-ordination to pull off those moves. “G” or not though, there is something fun about remembering high school- the angst, the drama, the hairbrained things you got up to with your friends. I’d be lying if I said I remembered all of it, it was almost two decades ago and most days I can’t even remember how many Easter eggs I’ve eaten (don’t judge- we’re in an apocalypse and I need Easter eggs as a matter of survival). In fact, I’d be lying if I said I thought about high school that often, but recently a Facebook friend started gathering the troops for a reunion and it has got me thinking about those awkward, strange and stupidly fun years. Will you stay with me a while for a trip down memory lane?

When people start a conversation with me about children, which happens at an alarming frequency, I am prone to ask, “Have you met a 13-year-old girl? Is there anything more terrifying?”. There isn’t enough wine in the world for me to find out, trust me. But of course, there is something more terrifying, it’s many 13-year-old girls grouped together. Throw in a roughly equal number of boys, struggling to find the right way to be cool, or how to style their hair and you’ll have the disastrous mix of teenage angst that usually kick starts high school. Part of me wants to say that I started high school like a new born deer, all gangly, with limbs that never seemed to be co-ordinated with each other, but that would only be true if you could also imagine that deer with something that could be an afro, but never quite lived up to it’s potential. My goodness, it’s almost embarrassing to think about what a weirdo I was at that age, luckily I’ve now grown up and had many years to cultivate and encourage that oddity so that I am now a fully-fledged, card carrying member of the weirdo club, but back then I was just a young girl who thought she could change the world by having her ears pierced twice (can someone say super cool rebel?). Things I did know at that age were my times tables and that I would never drink alcohol (EVER), sadly neither of those proclamations hold true today, although those times tables did come in handy for many a drinking game, so I’m convinced not all hope is lost.

Now my school was nothing like the American movies had promised it would be, there were no jocks, cheerleaders, nerds or drama geeks. The only stereotype that did fit where the token representation of black people at my school. That there were no jocks or cheerleaders is hardly surprising, schools such as mine, which even post-apartheid, were termed “Indian Schools”, usually placed little or no emphasis on sports or athletics. Nope, schools were there to push us towards becoming doctors, engineers or lawyers and wilfully shame those who didn’t. I actually remember two classes, Guidance and PE, being cancelled in lieu of more maths lessons, because what young minds and bodies needed was evidently less guidance and physical activity, and more maths. No wonder so many Indian men in their 30s have a specific body type that’s sort of between, “I’ve just had a baby and I’m trying to lose the weight” and “Will you come to my baby shower next weekend?”. I can’t blame my school or teachers though, education has always been considered the great leveller, the one thing to right many wrongs of our past, anything extra curricular was for you to find out about when you finally start hanging out with white people. I almost fell out of my chair when someone told me rowing was a sport at university, white people were funny like that. I get the focus in those “Indian schools” and while I’m grateful for my education, I wonder if perhaps there wasn’t another way to nourish the potential within us apart from rote learning and the encouragement into cookie cutter jobs. But what do I know, I cant even raise my tomato plants right.

I suppose even though the American movie stereotypes didn’t fit, it didn’t exactly stop us from creating our own groups and dysfunctional units. There probably were nerds, but I don’t feel like any of them were shamed for being academically inclined, in fact they were probably put on a pedestal, and walked around haloed and revered. Doing well academically was also almost always a marker for who would be head boy or head girl, the king and queen of all the prefects in the land, but sometimes even this norm was challenged and few who didn’t top the grade would be selected. Of course, there were the prefects, that subset of our group there to preserve law and order and to keep the rest of us unruly beasts in line. That I wasn’t elected a prefect crushed my vulnerable teenage spirit in a way that I can’t fully explain- my loud mouthed, bossiness made me believe I was meant for leadership (or at the very least shouting at people). So, I ditched my school tie (talk about rage against the machine) and decided on a course of action that hurt me more than it did my school. Blinded with the arrogance of youth, I didn’t understand that then. Let’s see, who else can I lump together to form a disastrously inaccurate single story? Oh, I know, there were the quiet girls. I must tell you, I so wanted into this group, but they seemed to only exist in pairs, and they were painfully shy, always hiding behind beautiful hankies and giggling to themselves at jokes I’d never know. I guess I always wanted to be a quiet girl, the girl who never made trouble, the girl who knew how to plait her hair, the girl who did the right thing. But I just couldn’t fit all of my stupid opinions into the mould, I could never be the quiet girl, not then or now.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I knew who I was in high school. I barely know who I am now, but there are parts of me that haven’t changed much from that annoying, loudmouth girl always asking questions and getting herself in trouble. I want to say that I’m a bit softer around the edges (and while that’s certainly true physically) my thoughts, beliefs and ideals have become sharper and more focused with time. In other words, I still pick fights, but just not with everyone. Funny how people go out into the world to “find” themselves, when sometimes all you need to do is to remember who you are. If I think about it, parts of me that I love were shaped during those crazy high school years, some parts I’d rather not remember but we don’t get to cherry-pick the lessons life hands us. What we do get to chose is what we do with those lessons.

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Denira Varma

I am, if nothing else, a perfect example of the dichotomy that exists in every one of us. I seek adventure, yet I long the grace of long days spent reading in a quiet treed spot. I am hedonistic but pragmatic. I long to create yet I burden myself with thoughts that I am not worthy. I started this blog to share part of me, my thoughts and experiences.

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