They Tore Down My High School
They tore my high school down a few weeks ago. Our Senior Class President posted the news on Facebook. To be honest, when he posted it, I didn’t even click on the pictures he uploaded of it happening. I have not set foot in that school since the night of graduation in June of 1971. I went on to the University of Nebraska, and we moved away from the area, never to return.
So, it’s a few weeks later now, and the school has been in my thoughts numerous times since the post. In the middle of the night, in the morning, and once during the day, when a song from the seventies came on the car radio.
“Strange,” thought I to myself. “Why would I care?”
The physical high school building was one of the cornerstones of my growth. I spent more of my waking hours in that school those four fabulous and awful years than I did at home, or anywhere since. In many ways it made who I am today. High school is a time on an assembly line of experiences and exposures that help determine the directions we take toward our futures.
I remember my locker. My “room” in the school where I kept the books I never took home, my coat, and a sweater or two that never again saw the light of day after I carelessly left them there. Once or twice I pretended to be looking for something in it while I hid a tear or two brought on by some word or other that hit me the wrong way.
There was the gym where we gave speeches during elections for class officers, and I was whipped by Jeffrey A., who wrote a much better speech than I did and deserved to win. I thought it was about popularity, and that I should have won. Maybe it was about popularity, and the class simply liked him better than me. Who knows? It was my first loss, and I learned from it.
There was the lunchroom where I learned to make new friends — friends who may not have been quite so cool as the group I hung out with. There were conversations there that I still remember as if they were yesterday, about real things like Vietnam and the soldier I was writing to daily, and whom I expected to marry even though we’d never met. Conversations about the POW bracelets we were wearing, and who that particular guy might have been in “real” life. Oh, all right, we talked about boys too. Bob R. Rollie B. Rick K.
There was the parking lot where you were assigned spots by year, so when you became a senior you were one happy camper to be so close to the entrance. When you drove in, you knew at a glance who was already there ahead of you. Janet, Lauren, Susan, and I drove to school together each day, and I left an hour early to pick them all up. Really? What was I thinking? There was Sue R’s mother, who happened to be behind me one night when I was driving everyone home from a football game and said I was a good driver and could drive Sue to games if I wanted to. I felt like a good driver from that moment on. Forty years later I still think of it during difficult driving through bad weather.
There was the girl’s locker room, where I returned for some forgotten thing or other and walked in on the swimming coach (a woman) sitting on the gym teacher’s lap (also a woman) in a way that I knew was not okay to the outside world. I never said a word, but they were terrified, and I ran out the door. I am not sure the word lesbian was even in my vocabulary at that time. I was not a good keeper of secrets, but I kept that one.
There were the bleachers outside where I went to a football game wearing that amazing Ladybug outfit my mom had bought me after my grandmother left her some money. There was that spot under the bleachers where Rick Kaufman and I made out. There was another spot on the bleachers where I cried and told someone that my parents were getting divorced.
There was Mr. Koenig’s class right by my locker. Mr. Koenig was the first teacher for whom I wanted to do well to make him notice how smart I was. And the English class down another hallway, where I actually read and loved the book being discussed, The Scarlet Letter. I wish I’d realized that other books might have made me think, too.
There was the trophy case outside the lunchroom, where Bob R’s picture sat and reminded me that I was a fool to break up with him our freshman year in the hopes of an upperclassman noticing me. Your first love is always with you.
There was the lounge by the front door where I heard about a girl a year older dying in a car accident over Thanksgiving, and wondering how it was possible someone our age could be gone forever.
There was Powder Puff football on the huge field where I was a defensive point “man” and was noted in the paper for excellent defensive play. Thinking about that field made me realize I wished I had played more sports in high school. It was the field where I played field hockey without shin pads my junior year because the coach (the same one I’d seen kissing the swim teacher) said we would play like we were wearing them if we wore them.
There was the theater, where the Student Council met and never really accomplished anything that I can recall, other than being happy to have been voted in by our peers.
But more important than those and the many other memories that make me who I am, Bloomfield Hills Andover High School was safe. At least for me. I do not remember bullying. I do not remember anti-Semitism, although my friend EJ, who was the target of it, does. I don’t remember being mean to people, or people being mean to me. To be honest, I don’t remember one glass of liquor during high school. I will say that there were few people different from myself at Andover. We were all the same. Upper middle-class kids who grew up during those four years with little to fear … at least while we were in the building, and so much to try on for size. To see what we cared about for later.
There has never been a building since that one that gave me so many opportunities to grow. So many opportunities to try things. So many people to call friend in one place. So many identical days that I looked forward to. The buildings of our youth, those structures that reflect so much of what we became, should remain on the planet always. I just wanted to take a moment to mark it in my personal history. It served me and so many others well.