The first time I went to the School, I was nested in a make-shift bedroom on the floor of the girls’ bathroom, the air smoggy with Aquanet and wet from bad plumbing. I knew it was special for it’s innate sense of emptiness, the kind that makes you look at yourself. You can feel it everywhere. Even the sound of your voice off the walls, anywhere in the building, seems hollow and stunted and whispering “I can tell you think someone is coming to help you, but they’re not.”
The B52s’ Give Me Back My Man from a waterproof shower radio mocked me begging, as I wanted to beg. to never have to know this place. Something about that song, finding myself so suddenly alone and still, told me I was being marooned somewhere that would only allow me to take inside it what I was born with. I’ve been emptied of everything I keep within me before, but this was different. This was being made to face long hours of only my own hands to hold, only the songs about myself and what I really believe, the light low enough to be warm, and the pillow barely comfortable enough to sleep on. This place, I immediately knew, would hold me to the isolation of teenhood… on steroids.
I always knew a place like this was real. A place we could see what we are and clearly. We just showed up, as we’ve shown up everywhere else. But this time, it’s all of us in one place. If marking the time matters at all, we’ve spent almost thirty-six years writhing to and from every physical manifestation of headspaces there are, falling through the very real trap doors of identity, and leading double lives on top of double lives. Thirty-six years, until we came to a screeching halt here in the only place we’ve ever been together that we didn’t choose. And don’t ever forget it: We. Did not. Choose this.
With everything we’ve been through together and the sick knot forever inside me that says we’re about to go through a whole lot more, I wandered the halls for the first time, to find the exit. The metal handles of the front doors were cold, the stillness inside only apparent when I opened the door to the howling low pressures of the weather outside. The ever-overcast sky surrounding the abandoned campus became the swelling belly of my acceptance, pregnant with the knowledge everything is only so real for so long. I closed the door immediately, shivering against the imminence of rain.
I turned my back on the billowing gray ocean, returning to the soft glare of fluorescents on gray painted lockers, under low and dim ceilings. I always knew someday we’d find a place where everything made sense, I just didn’t realize how fucking scary it would be to feel it all coming together. The wooden trophy cases were dinged up from whatever life passed them but were not empty of the bright faces of winners. The school was abandoned, the halls alone remaining readily lit, but only for summer. Far from derelict, newly vacated, this meant… I was someplace I understand. So why was it so threatening?
It felt like something greater than our time was at stake.
I briskly walked the halls looking for someone, anyone, but found no one. The school seemed so much like me, the part of myself that knows what will happen and feels so much sympathy for the impact that every action will have on everyone it’s acted upon but can do nothing about it. I called out for Brad first, knowing if this place belonged to one of us, it would most likely be him. But there was no answer.
I didn’t start to become afraid until I could feel, although I couldn’t find anyone, we were all here, and we were unarmed. Unarmed, as if some part of us equipped to separate real magic from pretend magic had been stripped from us. As if this is a giant confessional (of our church and our reality show alike), the place where nothing moves and the walls listen to you ask questions that will never be answered.
A soft panic rose through my lungs, and with a hard swallow, I could only ask myself: How many tests will I be expected to take?
A high school is just a tender graveyard for the last time anyone understands themselves. And I knew, if we really were all here together that, by the each other, by the most actual fate there is in all of existence, or maybe by the hand of almighty God himself, we were all about to be schooled.