You remember high school, right? Of course you do. We all remember the filled-with-bliss, magical, most important time of our lives (sarcasm alert). Those memories float to the surface every now and then, bringing a smile to our faces or making us instantly nauseous. Some of us look back on those four years with pride, while others of us breathe a sigh of relief that they're over. Time is a good thing. It gives us distance, clarity. It allows us to see what was important, what was stupid, and what we might still be holding on to that shouldn't matter anymore.
I recently reread the script for the play Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead by Bert V. Royal. It's an interesting imagining of the Peanuts characters as teenagers in high school. (SPOILER ALERT) Charlie Brown is saddened over the death of his dog and confused over his feelings for Schroeder. Yep, Snoopy is dead -- rabies. He had to be put down after he killed Woodstock. Sally is searching for an identity. One minute she's Wiccan, the next she's gangsta. Linus is a total stoner. As for his blanket, Lucy and Charlie Brown burned it. So, what's an addict to do? He laced a joint with the ashes, then smoked it, thereby making his blanket part of his body forever. Lucy is locked away in an institution. It seems she set the Little Red-Haired girl's hair on fire. Oh yeah, she also had an abortion. Pig-Pen is a total germophobe -- and homophobe. It'll take more than five cents for the "Doctor" to help him with either of those phobias. Schroeder's dad went to prison for molesting him so everyone stopped being his friend. He's the one they all call "fag" and "queer." They all think he's gay, but he's not sure...yet. He and Charlie Brown share a kiss. They also have sex. Peppermint Patty and Marcie are mean girls -- nasty and fake to the core.
I never imagined these characters growing apart as they grew up. I always think of them the way they are in A Charlie Brown Christmas. And yes, I'm aware that Charlie Brown is often the butt of many a joke, but I always believe they like him. Cartoon characters aside, we do grow apart as we grow up. That's life. The friendships made in elementary school eventually separate into high school cliques. There's some truth to the saying that people come into our lives for a reason, season or lifetime. High school is just a season and seasons end. But depending on where you fall in the hierarchy, high school can be one hell of a difficult season to endure. Think about it. The person that was your best friend in elementary school may become the person you choose to bully -- or who bullies you -- in high school.
I've been out of high school for 25 years this month, but I still carry scars of fear and shame from that time. My life is so different than it was 25 years ago yet I still wonder: When does all my personal growth overshadow that insecure boy from my youth? In many ways I'm more confident than ever, but insecurities creep up filling me with self-doubt and low self-esteem. My high school memories are not all bad, but when put in the right (or wrong) situation my muscle memory kicks in and I slip right back into the skin of that teenage boy who was called "queer" and "fag." The anxiety of those days -- walking the hallway alone, hoping to get to where I'm going without running into someone who might use those hurtful slurs just because they can -- washes over me sometimes like someone hit the bullseye in the dunking booth and plunged me into the water.
Nearly 25 years later, I'm still allowing some of my classmates and their bullying tactics -- probably stemming from some insecurity of their own -- to have power over me. I'm willing to bet many of those classmates haven't had a single thought about me in two decades. How then can the man I've become -- one with this much distance (and growth) between that past and this present -- continue to hold a grudge? Maybe I haven't let go of the grudge because I haven't really gotten in touch with the anger and hate I felt. The truth is that when I was 17 and they were calling me "fag" and "queer," they were right. I was gay. But they were using those slurs to bully and belittle me. They were hateful. I hated them everyday, but I hated myself more. I hated that I was different, that I had an attraction toward the same sex. I was afraid of my feelings, too scared to be me. I fought so hard against acknowledging and accepting myself that I couldn't make any progress because I kept running into the closet door that had me trapped. Why are we such fools? Why can't we see that we're all people, searching for friendship, compassion, love?
I know holding a grudge is a waste of energy. I think I've been holding it because I've felt like it gave me strength or power. It does neither. It makes me a weaker man. I know that I should forgive even if I never forget. A lyric in "Let It Go" from Frozen tells me, "the past is in the past." It's true. We can't go back. We can't change it. We can learn from the past and make better choices, or let the past keep us from growing. For me, those feelings have no place in my present. They have no place in the life of the man I am or the man I want to be. That season is over. It's time to let it fade. Of course, I realize that saying I should forgive is easier than actually forgiving. The desire to make a change is the first step toward change though, isn't it?
I almost forgot (SPOILER ALERT), Pig-Pen was so incensed by the kiss, even more so the sex, between Charlie Brown and Schroeder, that he broke Schroeder's fingers. Unable to play the piano anymore and completely defeated by the bullying, Schroeder saw no other alternative but suicide.
I'm out, but not as proud as I want to be. I carry with me some residual shame I developed as that boy in high school. But I survived those four years. I survived the bullying. I survived coming out. I'm more than surviving today as I continue to work on, understand and accept myself. I'm stronger than I was, if not yet as strong as I want to be. I think the best advice I could take right now concerning those less than happy memories from high school comes from Glinda, the Good Witch of the North in The Wizard of Oz, "You have no power here. Be gone!" Wise words.