One of my sisters is still in high school. She is brave and strong and resilient. She is optimistic and compassionate and hopeful. And she is daily challenged, even in the summer time, by people who are not.
They aren’t bullies, per se, although they have a manipulative power all their own. Instead, they have a sickness that actually threatens to do more damage to themselves than to others. They fully believe that the four in high school are the best years of their lives.
When TV shows, movies, and old people with too much plastic surgery so their faces look like Halloween masks of George W. Bush tell you that high school will be the best years of your life, they are only remembering the parts they want to remember. They are remembering a few friends whom I’m sure they loved dearly. They are remembering the excitement of new drivers’ licenses and first dates that were so anticipated that they can’t actually remember the date itself. They are reveling in the fact that way back when, they weren’t worried about money or mortgages or marriages. Simpler? Maybe. But certainly not ideal.
How sad is that, to think that by age 18, your life trajectory is completely downhill? Eating only turkey and mustard sandwiches because that’s what your mom packs in your lunch every day. A ten o’clock curfew on week nights. A pimple the size of Mark Zuckerburg’s bank account…on the inside of your nose so that any and all facial muscle movement irritates it and causes a persistent ache not at all mitigated by sticking a finger up there to check. Not to mention hormones that make every day a living nightmare of emotional ups and downs that will inevitably blow up in your face in the middle of a science test. OMG, and remember science? Gross.
High school will end, and you’ll still have 60 years left on this earth. No really, the average American dies at age 78. I looked it up. You’ll spend the first 18 years not even on your own, with only the tasks set in front of you by other people, and decide that the other 60 are worthless and spend them reminiscing about all the wonderful things you used to do.
Maybe pick up a few cats along the way.
Those are not the best years of your life. They are full of confusion and jealousy, back-stabbing and pain. They are emotionally scarring, physically awkward, and simply time for you to relish whatever small good things come your way. Not to mention that, spontaneously, you will need extra strength antipersperant, and it will be evident in every picture you take.
Practice making friends. Practice managing your time. Practice giving back. Practice, practice, practice.
For some of you, college comes next. People love to tell you that college will be the best years of your life. These people don’t even look like an unfortunately wrinkled former President. Instead, they look like your middle-aged next door neighbor who really likes to water her lawn in flannel pants.
The truth is that you will meet amazing people in your first few years out of high school. You will finally take classes that you enjoy because you got to choose them. You will find people who inspire you, attend sporting events and finally feel like a part of something, and still not bear the complete weight of financial responsibility. College, is it so much better than high school. Believe me, beer is great. I love beer. I also love Shakespeare, who has a freaking conspiracy theory around his identity and no one bothered to tell me that during high school except my grandma’s batty best friend; Duchamp, whose most famous installation is a urinal; and my professor who tried to draw goats on the boards. (“They need floppy ears and eyes that look like death.” Yes, yes they do.)
When you’ve been out of college for a while, worry about taxes, spend half the day on your parents’ couch, use the phrase “the economy is really tough right now,” and realize that you know every line of NCIS Season 3, you’ll wonder if the college four were the best years of your life.
Guess what? That still leaves you with 56 years to go. They’ll be really long years if you think you’ve hit your peak.
When I asked my friend the other night, “We could be fun again, right?” I was thinking about how much better my life was in college. I had things that finally caught my attention. I felt that my intelligence was being used to its full potential. I actually had reasons to shave my legs.
I wasn’t thinking about the night I got off work at midnight and had three voicemails from friends telling me that another friend had committed suicide. I wasn’t thinking about the deep pain that comes from questioning my religion, the very foundation of my belief that grace and kindness exist in the world. I wasn’t thinking about falling in love as an adult and the subsequent heartbreak that came from losing that love.
Those moments? They’re over. They hurt, and now they’re gone. There will be more like them; not just like them, but similar.
There will also be great joy. Greater joy than I have experienced so far. Greater joy than passing the SAT. Greater joy than successfully cooking for a really attractive date. Greater joy than watching my cousin walk down the aisle.
I still have great love to look forward to, bigger and more powerful than I have ever experienced. I still have babies in my future. I have higher degrees and international travel. I have supervisors who appreciate me, neighbors who will invite me over for dinner, students who will light up with understanding. There are some really great clothes in my future, and also new cooking skills (because realistically, I can’t live off tacos for the rest of my life), and hopefully a TV show as great as The Big Bang Theory when the writers decide not to renew the contract. I will get to work and see my bank account grow, thanks to my own initiative and talent and dedication. Some of that money will help to change the lives of other people, in a new incarnation of my support that right now is constricted by the hours in the day. Grandchildren. (That is, assuming that I have children in the first place. Or maybe not. I have adopted grandparents who spoil me rotten.) Babies whom I can love, and then hand them back when the mess starts. And retiring. And taking voice lessons. And writing the next great American novel. And sunsets. And whatever new inventions may improve upon the hamburger.
The best years are to come, always, because I am going to make them that way. They come with things that are so painful they almost feel unbearable. But they also come with joys that are exponentially better than the last ones. They keep getting better if you keep holding on.
Here are two versions of this song. They’re both going to make you glad that you’re out of high school, because the first is Avril Lavigne in all her racoon glory, and the second is the cast of Glee singing with strange yearbook scribbles in the background. The latter is the only Glee cast one which uses correct grammar and spelling. Choose which one hurts your eyes less, or just listen to the song instead of looking at the screen. I don’t know why this song gets me, but it does. Every single time.