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Dead Horses

My first memory of realizing that there legitimately might be better things in store for me besides rolling my eyes in disgust and disappointment at my peers and their materialistic, self-centered antics was during my senior year in high school. For whatever reason, up until that year, I had avoided any academic challenges, thinking I wasn't smart enough and that I would fail if I took any "advanced" classes, AND THEN WHAT?! IF I FAILED A CLASS, WHAT THEN? WHAT, I ASK YOU?! Life would be over. End of story. Curtain falls.

My junior year English teacher was going to be teaching the advanced senior class, and I knew if I signed up for it, I'd get to take English class with her again. Everyone else, all of my narcissistic peers who lived for weekend sleepovers and trips to the mall and wore silver half hearts around their necks that either said "BE FRI" or "ST END," hated that teacher and thought I was insane for 1.) voluntarily signing up for a "hard" class and 2.) voluntarily returning to HER class. I loved her, though. She was witty and demanding and she kind of looked like she might hold secret Wiccan meetings in her basement. Nobody but me suspected that, and I don't know why I did, other than the fact that she had a stereotypically witch-like face, only a little prettier, and with a little more sparkle in her eyes.

Once my senior year started and I realized that the advanced classes got to read books ON THEIR OWN TIME, that they were given a lot more leeway in terms of paper topics, and that the structure of their paragraphs were under much less scrutiny than the content of their document, I was slapping my forehead in self-derision for having avoided these classes before. My junior year "major" paper was about orcas (aka "killer whales"). My senior year paper was a multi-media comparative essay using Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the screenplay to Pulp Fiction, and The Police's Wrapped Around Your Finger, using the theme of self-deification, a topic I invented because I had the sweet, sweet liberty to do so. As the year ended, Possible Secret Wiccan Teacher and I were talking about how much I'd enjoyed the class and she had one of her mischievous, mystical looks in her large, dark eyes and a wise, knowing grin when she said, "you know, some people's lives peak in high school, and then it's downhill after that, but yours will be different - you have a long way to go."

It hit me, when she said that, that all of the eye rolling I'd been doing might actually have the chance to stop. After all, the eye rolling was a self-defense mechanism designed to help keep me at arm's lengths from the peers I didn't understand, who didn't understand me. I could have gotten behind wearing a "BE FRI" necklace. I could have gotten behind spending 24 out of every 48 hours at the mall and eating warm pretzels with people who accepted and understood me, who wanted to be my friends. But those people, my peers, it had been my experience, never understood me. They thought I was odd, they chalked it up to nerdiness or dorkiness or dweebiness or whatever the acceptable phrase was at the time - then they found a way, usually a cruel one, to extricate me from their group, to remove the one who made them uncomfortable and who they just couldn't find a way to assimilate. I could act haughty and uninterested and then we'd all be happy, we'd all get to stay in our comfort zones. When Possible Secret Wiccan Teacher said those words out loud, told me that actually, this crap doesn't really matter, the best is yet to come, it was like being reminded of something I'd known a really long time ago, but had forgotten.

I went on to college and the work force and married life and adult interactions. Still, there are times where the arms length eye rolling instinct wants to kick in, to protect me from the pain and loneliness that comes from social rejection and outcast status. Sometimes we don't "fit in" even in our own families. That truth never changes. What changes is our awareness of the white hot sun rays of CHOICE in how we embrace that truth. Do we harden our protective shell and burrow into our cool, dark stagnation, or do we climb out risking burns and painful blisters on the off chance we'll find warmth and growth? The difference between my youthful peers and me was that I recognized the sun rays of choice because I had to. They didn't need to know such things existed, so comfortable and largely accommodating were their dank shelters - all of the BE FRIs and ST ENDs could fit inside any one of them. That "peak" my teacher mentioned occurred inside such places, and was more like a small hill than a mountain top. Those of us whose "peaks" are out in the sun and hard as hell to climb sometimes forget that the burning sensation from those white hot rays, that's part of the experience!, the blisters, they make you stronger!, the shelter was too small and stifling, and the pain, well - it is accompanied by so much more.

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