In the 12th grade, I moved in with my Aunt Kellie so I could go to Calabasas High School instead of Chatsworth High School. Mostly, this was because I had gotten into a fight my Junior year with a girl who was mad at me because I hooked up with her ex-boyfriend, or maybe I just liked him. I don’t even know. She got a whole posse of girls to pass by me at lunch or sit next to me in class and whisper horrible things in my ear. I just couldn’t take it anymore, so one day after science class I walked up and punched her in the face. This is sort of my MO. I just take it and take it, until I can’t take it anymore. And then I do something like punch you in the face.
I’m working on it.
This story makes all my friends giggle because I am not the sort of girl who gets into fist fights, let alone initiates them. Have you seen my picture?
My Aunt had just gotten a divorce and only had her three year old son, Harrison, living with her, so she had a room and a new school zone, and I could babysit for her. Win-win.
A lot of afternoons after school were spent, she and I, in the kitchen piling large amounts of rotisserie chicken onto a piece of wheat toast, then topping it with fat hunks of Brie cheese, sprinkling with Ms. Dash and letting it get all bubbly in a toaster oven. Our other thing was to scoop cottage cheese into a bowl, top it with goldfish crackers, and sprinkle with Ms. Dash. I don’t know why we were so into the Ms. Dash.
These eating habits of ours are very funny, since my Aunt is now California’s resident health freak. I don’t care who you bring me to rival that title, my Aunt wins hands-down with her raw vegan leaning, vitamin B shot giving, green juicing, Kangan alkaline water drinking, wild salmon dabbling, wheatgrass and sprout growing, dessert shunning (unless she’s on vacation). She recently had bacterial meningitis and survived. When the hospital told her she was a walking miracle— they couldn’t believe she was alive, and it must be because her immune system was so robust, she immediately shot back, “It was the Sea Buckthorn!” (her latest health related obsession).
I say I moved in to go to high school but I spent more time not going to high school.
The kids at Chatsworth were the ones I’d known since fourth grade. They wore Adidas and had Jansport backpacks and hung out at each others houses after school. They were normal and also kind of jacked up.
The kids at Calabasas were also jacked up but in a different way. They complained a lot, but drove brand new BMW’s and wore jewelry from Tiffany’s and hung out at The Commons.
I never felt like I fit in with the kids at Calabasas, although I never tried either. All I cared about was acting and getting the hell out of there. I had turned 18 right away in November of that year and had already checked out mentally from the school thing.
Right before I left my old school a few months before, I roamed the halls of the office and noticed a bunch of signs congratulating kids from my grade on the collages they got into. The signs said things like “Congratulations to Matt Cassel for getting to USC” and “Congratulations to Jennifer DeVera for getting into CSUN” and I remember stopping dead in my tracks. How did these people know where they were going to school already? We were not even seniors yet.
I found out later, of course, that you apply for college before your Senior year. How come I didn’t know this stuff?
This is how I found out I wouldn’t be going to college, or any big college, anyway. Certainly none of the ones they would put up on a board at school.
Three weeks before graduation I was called into the vice principals office.
“I want to talk to you about all the school you’ve been missing. I’m not sure I can graduate you since you’ve missed roughly half the year.”
“Is there a reason you’ve been out so much?”
“Um,” I began. “Well, I’m an actress so I miss a lot of school for work.”
I was an actress, and I did work school hours on occasion, but most of the time I was just visiting my boyfriend.
There was a meeting with my Aunt and the Vice Principal where her jaw hit the floor, mortified I might not graduate high school on her watch.
“You haven’t been in school? Where have you been?”
I didn’t figure “at my boyfriends” was a good answer, so I just talked around it and kept citing all that acting I was doing. I could talk intelligently enough about it because I was always getting scripts and audition material, so I knew the projects in the works.
At the end of the day, I argued that my grades were fine because I was passing all of my classes and even getting a couple A’s (English – because, writing), so how could they not graduate me? This was before attendance policies.
It was scary for a few days there. But I also kept thinking, graduation was so close. Surely they couldn’t bring this up last minute when there is nothing to be done about it now.
In the end it was decided I would have to attend school every day from then to graduation with no exceptions. I agreed, and ended up walking across the stage that year and accepting a diploma… but it could have been a different story.
I was lucky and stupid and eating far too many goldfish crackers, but I graduated, and I even went to a community college a couple of years later, where I got most of the credits I needed to get my – what is it? Bachelors degree? No, probably not, but whatever the first milestone is, I was about to get that when I quit, like, three classes shy.
But listen, the title of this essay is “Why I almost Didn’t Graduate High School” so the college story will have to wait another day.
But I DID graduate High School so there’s that.
If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I would say some version of “get yourself together. It is a privilege you get to go to school. I know you hate it. I know you don’t even like the people there, but like it or not, graduating with integrity is worth far more than figuring out how to get out of all the hard and uncomfortable work that happens at school, let alone figuring out where to sit at lunch.” And I’d probably say some other stuff too, about choices and what you do when people are not looking and how that matters.
But I don’t think I would have listened. And that’s the sad but true part. I was always going to be me and make the choices I made, and I don’t think anyone could have convinced me otherwise.
This scares me. I have a daughter in high school currently.
I don’t know if this is true, but I think it’s true, because up until this point I am all the ages I have ever been, and I can go right back into my eighteen year old brain and remember what it was like and I want to shake myself. You moron! Quit being so embarrassing!
But also, I kind of want to take her hand, with compassion, and tell her it’s okay. It will all be okay, whether I had graduated or not. Everything was going to be fine. Just fine. We would figure it out. Because we always figure it out.
And this part is always true.