Photos by Jill Beth Hannes
It started during my sophomore year of high school, and I suspect it had something to do with my decision to start having anal sex with my then-boyfriend…
Are You a Nerd? by James Franco
Obseshes: Let’s All Stop Complaining About High School
“Peaked in high school” is a sound concept: a lot of people do. (A lot, a lot, a lot.) The adult lives of many high school mob bosses are just sad as all fuck, not sad like “I’m judging you for your social affiliations and entertainment choices” sad, because that’s mean, but sad like “You seem sad.” I mean, by now “high school” is more of a myth-factory (in fact, the most successful and productive myth-factory ever) than a singular institution, so maybe this is beside the point, but I’ve been hearing this party line for WEEKS which I blame on various articles about how school is jail for children and how you can never escape your high school self and how people who “peaked in high school” are not allowed to be cool as adults and let’s just HOLD THE PHONE A MINUTE. I loved high school. I was good at everything about it except for acting normal (and I plugged all my anxieties into stupid tattoo ideas and the kind of happenstansical afternoon drug use, the sticky-gross time-wastedness of which would give me three consecutive coronaries now, so……….) but STILL I understood how it worked and had a lot of friends and was “successful” at it and consider it to be an important foundation for learning how to be around people and have relationships and manage emotions and egos. Being too/very good at the “life” of high school indicates post-college loserishness, I guess, but it doesn’t necessitate post-college loserishnes—correlation is not causation—and this is an objective fact that seems to have been lost on whatever version of hive-mind is currently populating my internet, one that wants so badly to, what, find a direct and appealing narrative line from one era of their life to another? Let’s get a new thing to be weirdly identity-proud of (OR NOT AT ALL?) because “nerd” and “outcast” are bbbbnnnnnnooorrrzzzzzzz.
Notes from a Hitter: High school football filled me with rage and damaged my brain
By the age of 18, I had undergone enough head trauma playing football to cause irrevocable damage to my brain. The three (documented) concussions I experienced resulted in a seizure disorder I will deal with for the rest of my life. I don’t discount my own role in the seizures I’ve had—some of them were partially due to poor decisions, lack of sleep, and excessive alcohol consumption—but according to my neurologist, my condition is undoubtedly caused by brain injuries suffered as a high school linebacker whose only goal at the time was to prove to his toughness to his teammates, coaches, and himself. That meant hitting people, and that meant harming my brain.
I consider myself lucky. Lifestyle changes and daily doses of an anticonvulsant have rendered my seizure disorder latent; its effect on my life is now minimal. More importantly, my mental faculties have remained intact enough to allow me to launch a (so far unsuccessful) writing career. Many NFL players aren’t nearly as fortunate—some have committed suicide, presumably due to the mental deterioration caused by their lengthy careers, including Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest rather than the head so his brain could be studied by neurologists after his death, and Junior Seau, whose family is suing the NFL. I hope that every player on the field during the Super Bowl lives a full, long life and doesn’t suffer any mental difficulties as a result of his career—but I know some probably will, and some will have much worse problems than I do.
I Was a Suspected School Shooter
By now, the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting has faded into memory for many people, a horrible event already superseded in the headlines by other horrible events. At the time it shocked me to a degree I thought I could no longer be shocked, a reaction no doubt shared by everyone who heard the news. But it also stirred up some more complicated emotions for me along with the sadness—it reminded me that when I was a teenager, the people around me thought that I was capable of what the Newtown killer did. At one point, I was more of a potential murderer than a potential murder victim.
I grew up in a Barre, Vermont, a town with a poverty level on par with an urban slum, a rural pocket of ugliness decorated with a halfway houses and abandoned storefronts. The town bred drug addicts, premature deaths, and weirdos, but I was still too weird for it. As a kid, I possessed an eccentric streak and was prone to long periods of silence punctuated by bursts of hyperactivity. On top of that, I possessed a dark sense of humor, and I was naturally attracted to outlandish outfits. I tried to tame these tendencies and stay under the social radar in middle school and early high school, but it didn’t help. It was like my classmates could smell that I wasn’t quite right. I was bullied mercilessly for years, even by my “best friends,” in the manner of the worst stereotypes of tween girls. My friends would send mixed messages, being affectionate one moment only to commit spontaneous acts of physical and borderline sexual violence and emotional terror the next. What I wore, what I ate, and who I talked to were all controlled. Imagine Mean Girls only the girls weren’t as popular or attractive and were much more vicious. We were probably only friends by default—we were bullied together by the more popular kids, thus we stuck it out together, but we never mistook our forced alliance for love.
The summer of 1997, before my sophomore year of high school, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to fit into my current environment regardless of what I did, and I was sick of the unhealthy relationship that I was stuck in with my “friends.” I was still shy and withdrawn, so my rebellion was expressed through my clothing instead of my words—excessive amounts of eye makeup, dog collars, offensive tee shirts, the whole avant-garde nine yards. This acting out wasn’t directed against my parents (they didn’t care how I dressed) but towards my friends and the rest of the school. I figured letting my weirdness show regardless of the potential backlash was better than continuing to try desperately to fit in only to be mildly tolerated at best.
There was no goth subculture at my school back then, so I stood out like a black thumb; I was the most bizarre-looking kid in town. My style was met with equal parts disgust and fascination by my classmates, and the bullying predictably escalated—I was verbally and physically assaulted on a regular basis, receiving death threats at least once a month. Teachers not only didn’t bother to defend me, they would often chime in with comments about my appearance, maybe in an effort to impress the more popular kids, who were usually the offspring of the grown townspeople with high standing in the community.
The other form my rebellion took was a book of charts and rhymes and short stories I had been working on for a while—by the time I was 15, it was 23 pages long and full of frustration and silliness. I shared it with my friends and it became the source of a bunch of inside jokes. Oh, and I killed some people in it too, people I knew who I thought were malicious—I referred to them by surreal fake names and described their deaths in cartoonish detail; most of them were murdered by a disco ball at the Elks Club. Here’s how I described it:
“Nuffiunda calmly took a knife out of her pocket and cut the rope. For the kids below, there was no more hope. The disco ball swung uneasily and in a matter of seconds, maybe just four, it was no longer above the dance floor. A loud crash vibrated the room, as several kids below had met their doom.”
As time went on, I started to prefer escaping into the private world of writing to trying and failing to impress my frenemies, and that attitude resulted in them banishing me and another girl from the group. We became loners in the truest sense: Only two people signed my senior yearbook and she was one of them. We were really the bottom of the high-school social totem pole, and the girls we used to call our friends were now our biggest perpetrators, starting untrue rumors that we spent our free time having sex with each other and that I fucked a bunch of guys—the usual teenage stuff.
The author posing for a photo that probably made sense at the time.
Then on May 1, just 11 days after the Columbine shooting, my life took a drastically dumb turn.
It began normally enough: My fellow loner and I were waiting for a ride, sitting on the steps of the school. Parked in front of us was the car of the main rumormonger and our chief tormentor. My friend told me to stand guard while she wrote a mean note and put it on her windshield—the note threw around the words “fat” and “whore” and she signed it with the name of one of the characters from my Elks Club story.
“She’ll know who wrote it if you sign it with that name,” I said. “You can’t write that.”
She agreed and rewrote it, signing off, “Love, The Trenchcoat Mafia.”
I shrugged. “Well, at least she won’t know who wrote it,” I remember saying. I didn’t even think we’d get in trouble. Then our ride arrived and I heard reports about a wave of Columbine copycat threats around the nation on the car radio. I think I let out an audible “fuck”—we hadn’t even been sneaky about the note. There were about ten kids who had watched my friend put it on the windshield.
Predictably, the police got called, and school officials wanted to talk to me. But they weren’t interested in the note, which I admitted being an accomplice to; they just wanted to see my “death plan.” Apparently my old friends had responded to the note by telling the vice principal that my surreal, jokey Elks Club story was a prom murder spree manual and that I was going to kill a bunch of kids at the upcoming Junior Prom, which was talking place, by sheer coincidence, at the Elks Club. (Not that that was a surprise; everything in that fucking town took place there.) The school had also been informed that I was in the process of building bombs. Now, most people I knew had access to firearms, as it was a big hunting town, but I didn’t have any guns in my house, I didn’t know how to build a bomb, and weapons didn’t interest me at all.
Within a few days, rumors of me wanting to go berserk went far and wide, and even made front pages of the local newspapers. Since I was a minor, my name wasn’t mentioned but there was constant mention of a “girl who wrote a short prom killing story.”
How to Totally Ruin a High School Reunion
Most people who bother to go to their ten-year high school reunion have an agenda. Some are looking to impress fellow graduates who tormented them. Others are hoping to have a sexual encounter on or near campus, preferably with someone who tormented them. One or two people actually want to have meaningful conversations. No matter when or where these gatherings take place, they’re all the same collection of highlights and lowlights.
Three basic types of reunion exist:
1) The Romy and Michelle Reunion
In this scenario, you lie about your success without remorse. This deceit feels good. It starts to take hold of you and you believe your own fabrications. Your recollection of events from school is colored by your own myopia and you still dress like a fucking idiot even though you are now 28.
2) The Grosse Pointe Blank Reunion
You attend your ten-year reunion begrudgingly, primarily because you are still pining over a lost love or unfulfilled attraction. Regret compels you to do something potentially embarrassing. Also, you are John Cusack and you don’t look 28 at all. You look closer to 38. Whoever thought Cusack was a good casting choice is a moron.
3) The Zack and Miri Make a Porno Reunion
You are a huge loser, and can’t afford to live an adult life. As such, you hope that your reunion will be a chance to recapture past glory. After it’s over and you’ve made a drunken fool of yourself, you forge a pact to finally achieve some measure of happiness. Instead, you end up getting penetrated on camera. You decide to never go to another reunion again.
These events don’t have to be as depressing as the ones above, but invariably, they end up being a boon to the pharmaceutical and liquor industries anyway. The cycle of shame continues without end because not enough time is spent explaining exactly why reunions suck. It’s not just because you’re shallow, self-pitying, lazy, or fat. It’s those things, plus all the mistakes made in the planning of the reunions.
If we can all just work together to stop doing the following, we might be able to make revisiting puberty pleasurable.