It Gets Better…Or Does It?

One night, towards the middle of August in the summer after high school, four friends and I got together for the last time.  Two of my friends were leaving for college out of state the next day.  I knew I would be leaving in a couple of weeks for a college even farther away.

That night I felt completely unmoored.  A friend of mine was fond of quoting the line, “Beyond this place there be dragons,” and that was how I felt.  I had lived all my life in the same house, and had known many of my friends since elementary school.  And here I was at the edge of the map.  I was sad and scared and sure things would never be the same.

All of us were feeling the same way that night, or at least I thought we were, until one of my friends said, “Don’t worry.  It will all be better.  You’ll see.”

It was exactly the wrong thing to say.  I don’t think I said anything to him at the time, but I was angry and hurt.  How could he think things could be better than this?

I’ve thought about that night a lot over the years, and wondered if he was right.  Of course he was.  I went off to college, met the love of my life, found a career I enjoyed, and for the first time started to feel like I was free to be mostly who I wanted to be.   I never again had to spend an entire day being forced to move from one tiny desk to another whenever a bell rang (funny how you never appreciate how horrible that really is until you get out of high school).  I got my hair cut, so I no longer looked like an electrocuted French poodle, at least not all the time.  And I gradually learned to just admit that I was weird and insecure and imperfect, instead of living in fear of being found out.

Ironically, last month a cousin of mine asked me to write some words of advice for her daughter, who was turning thirteen.  And my first response was, “It gets better.”  I didn’t even think about that night before college.  For some reason, I was hung up on the things that made me miserable back then: the social minefields at school, the hormones, my lack of a love life, my ridiculous hair, the horrible self-pitying poetry I used to write.  When I went back to look at the notebook of inspirational quotes and poems I kept back then, I found it full of A.E. Housman (“To an Athlete Dying Young,”) and Sara Teasdale, who killed herself in her bathtub.  Cheery stuff.

But lately I’ve been thinking back to that night before college.  I don’t think I’ve ever had friends who made me laugh as hard or as much as I did in high school.   And, for better or worse, I don’t feel things as intensely as I did then.  The most trivial things (a boy smiling at me in chemistry class, or a particular song coming on the radio) could make me insanely happy or just as insanely depressed.  It was like being on the Scream Machine at Six Flags.  I don’t think I could have survived my whole life with those emotional extremes (at least without medication), but it was a wild ride, and I miss it sometimes.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mandalaymai
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 14:55:40

    I love the photo! Fits the sentiment perfectly, I think. I remember feeling that way before college and frequently thinking when things are bad that they will never be as fearful and uncertain as that time was. You said it perfectly when you talked about growing up means you dont feel things as intensely. You hit the nail on the head!


  2. Vern
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 19:00:52

    Leave it to A.E. Housman to cheer an ailing teen (my favorite remains “Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff”). I would add to not feelings things “as intensely,” not thinking as deeply. Both in high school and in college, I was able to dedicate an amazing amount of time to thinking. It wasn’t because the educational system necessarily made it a priority, and they certainly weren’t all great thoughts, but it is something I miss. Who has time to think anymore? Even though, as adults, we’d all be better for it.


  3. Kim
    Jul 07, 2011 @ 03:28:33

    That night is burned into my memory, too. Yes to every word of your last paragraph, yes to Mai’s comment about the fearfulness & uncertainty of that time, and to Vern’s comment about thinking (I would add talking, and talking about the things we were thinking). I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I do miss the intensity, and the IMPORTANCE that gave to everything.


  4. ash
    Jul 07, 2011 @ 04:18:08

    Yes! It was a bit like living in “Twin Peaks” (which I would have loved at the time as I had a huge crush on Kyle MacLachlan). Everything was invested with so much significance, and I would obsess endlessly over the possible meanings of things. It was fun and exciting in its way, but again, I don’t think I could have lived my whole life like that.

    Vern, “Terence This is Stupid Stuff” was in my notebook too, and has always been one of my favorite poems.


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