Tuesday 2 September 2014

First Day of High School

Pictorial metaphor for my 14 year old self.
I have been learning Polish for just over three years now. According to my notes, I could say "Jestem tutaj na służbowo" (I am here on business) by September 2011. Currently I can write 500+ word passages about daily life with the help of a dictionary; apparently I have a good grasp of grammar but not of style. Meanwhile I  am stuck on Chapter 11 of Polish in 4 Weeks: Level 2. My brain doesn't seem to want to absorb either the vocabulary or the rapid fire mock radio broadcast.

It is not yet the thirtieth anniversary of my first day of high school, but we are nearer to it now than we are to the twentieth.  This year I thought it would be fun to give Toronto teens beginning high school the benefit of my sage advice in the Catholic Register. To get an idea of what they might want to know, I got out my diary to see what I said about my first day of high school.

Oh dear. What a shock. This is why so many other people destroy their high school diaries. It is only recently that I admitted to not being an intellectual in high school. Calvinist Cath says she was, but I certainly was not. I would LOVE to look back on myself as a fourteen year old who read Simone de Beauvoir, Das Kapital, the Confessions of Saint Augustine and the poetry of Leonard Cohen between trips to the record shop to purchase the experimental music of Kraftwerk, but NO. Impossible. Behold:

Wednesday, Sept. 4, 198-

Yesterday was totally freaky. Of course I was nervous. I remember getting up and checking in the mirror to see how my hair had turned out--I had washed it the night before. It was okay. My bed I made first and then into my uniform. I was hurrying--I wanted to meet Renée at the Garfield [newsagent's] at Sheppard [subway] Sta. at 8.30. During breakfast she 'phoned to say that her mother was going to pick me up at 8 and take both of us from [sic] school.  I agreed but was bothered because I had planned on The First Train ride to High School. We were the first at the school. We waited for S.F., Renée's best friend by the mailbox on the edge of the school's front grounds and introduced ourselves to a girl named Julie who's great and a slight Chinese girl (Note--she's not Chinese) named Marion or Marian as we usually say it. The five of us went to auditorium [sic] where all the niners were supposed to be. There I met JM, S and TH. S was mostly ignoring me (fine with me!) I freaked was surp. when I saw J because the night before Elizabeth

Sadly the account ends there. I do not know why I found J's presence surp.ing or what Elizabeth had said or done the night before. History does not relate.

This passage reveals much about the chaotic, inchoate nature of my fourteen year old brain.

First, I used words like "freaky" but did know that I ought not to write I "freaked" when really I was just "surp."

Second, self-consciousness about my unusual hair still ruled my life. At fourteen my way of coping was having it cut short in a horrible 1980s style instead. My yearbook photos are simply awful. AWFUL.

Third, the awkwardness of "My bed I made first" was probably due to not wanting to scratch it out and begin the sentence anew, which would have messed up the page.

Fourth, Renée was my best friend then, and I felt very lucky we were going together to the same school. However, I see that I allowed her mother to override my own wishes. It would never have occurred to me at the age at 14 that I could say "No" to the plans made for me by friends' mothers, especially Renée's.

Fifth, that apostrophe before "phoned" was a total affectation, and I bet I got it from a Dorothy L. Sayers novel or some other upper-classy British novel of the pre-World War II era. I thought Lord Peter Wimsey was the epitome of what a man should be like; I don't think I quite understood that he had mistresses. (I was also very hazy on the relationship between Charles and Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited.)

Sixth, I had romantic ideas about high school to the extent that I thought just taking the train there on the first day would be super-special. I was not at all rooted in reality, as my mother liked to shout.

Seventh, although Renée was MY best friend, HER best friend was S.F., which made me second banana. I felt second banana all through high school, as Renée and my two subsequent best friends were all prettier than me. They had best friends who weren't me, too. Sigh.

Eighth, I'm delighted I mentioned Garfield and the mailbox. The chain of newsagents in the Toronto subway system is no longer called Garfield, so that is an important historical detail. The mailbox anchors the important event in a small, traceable location, and I can now see it in my mind's eye.

Ninth, although I haven't seen Renée in over twenty years, I am still in touch with Julie. And Julie remembers that she hadn't know anyone before she arrived, so she was extremely thankful to have met Renee and me right away. I can't remember who Marion/Marian was but am too tired to check my yearbook. T.H. is now a Facebook friend, and I met up with her for a drink two or so years ago.

Tenth, good for 14 year old me for correcting myself regarding the ethnicity of Marian/Marion. Details like that are important, especially if you are going to grow up to write Op/Ed.

Eleventh, oh the drama of S ignoring me and my not caring. Despite being open and friendly to new girls, I could be shockingly callous. And that's part of a story that bothers my kinder adult self to this day.

Twelfth, I'm glad I mentioned Elizabeth, which whom I am still in touch and whose mother is still a great friend of MY mother. Elizabeth went to another (or THE other, for our neighbourhood) Catholic girls' school, which reminds me that, even in Grade 9, my high school social life was not confined to MY high school. (It was, however, largely confined to those who went to Catholic schools.)

Social life was the most important part of my life. I had been so lonely, unhappy and resentful in my elementary school, Grade 9 was like heaven.  The part-time female fellowship of Girl Guides and Catholic fellowship of the parish youth group (both with Renée) became full-time. Thank God.

I didn't say any of this in my Catholic Register article. Instead I confessed that when I was fourteen my mind wasn't fully formed yet, and that mind-forming is the whole point of high school.


  1. Ten years exactly since my first day of high school. I think I recorded it live in my diary in the fourth floor hallway because I was just THAT cool. Oh my....
    On another note, first day of grad school today. Ten years is substantial. Twenty + must be much more so.

  2. I started high school about six months before turning 13 (in most parts of Australia, high school starts in year 7). I can't remember the first day. I think the first two weeks or so are blurred together in my mind. I doubt I wrote a journal entry about it, but maybe I'll have a look later. School was okay, but I'd tell any high schooler who'd listen that university is waaaaay better.

  3. Woodbine, it WAS cool that you recorded it. Reading the words left behind for Me-at-Fourteen for Me-When-Older is both enlightening and grueling. But the most important thing, I realized, is the Me at Fourteen set pen to page and didn't stop writing. I have a multi-volume record of teenage life in the 1980s.

    Julie, I hated so much about my undergrad years, I cannot agree! I have a high school classmate who longs to get back to Grade 8, in part--I strongly suspect--to choose a different high school. But I would pick the summer after Grade 12, so I could redo my final high school year and hit the ground running at uni. My first two years at uni were disastrous.


This is Edinburgh Housewife, a blog for Catholic women and other women of good will. It assumes that the average reader is an unmarried, childless Catholic woman over 18. Commenters are asked to take that into consideration before commenting. Anonymous comments may be erased.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.