High school: first day

The choice seemed pretty simple to me: either leave the familiarity of my friends for the private Catholic school where I would initially know one person, or attend the closest public school in my district that sported metal detectors at the doors guarded by gruff men in uniform who searched backpacks between classes. No, thank you. I’d rather chance it with the Catholics.

Aside from my best friend and his father, who happened to be the band director at the new school, I knew no one. Everyone else in the school, having attended parochial school together since kindergarten, had long since formed their cliques. I didn’t expect to be accepted right away. So it wasn’t a surprise to me when I found myself completely alone in a sea of almost a thousand other bustling students hurrying to their next classes.

That’s right – I said a thousand students. There were three hundred eighty four in my graduating class. You do the math.

The school was large – large enough to comfortably handle almost a thousand students. While the gym, music rooms, cafeteria and bookstore were off on their own in a separate wing of the building, the rest of the classrooms were contained in a three-storied set of hallways that, if one examined a cross-section, resembled bars on a jail cell. Four sets of staircases, one in each corner, got students to and from their classes. Each day, between each class, for some reason that still escapes me, the near-thousandfold student body opted to ignore three of the stairwells, thus bottlenecking onto the stairs nearest the cafeteria. Being a freshman without a mind of my own in the strange new land of high school, I followed like a lemming.

Did I mention this was a Catholic school? Having never attended anything but public school before, I was thrust into a world of new educational values: crucifixes in every room, mass every week, meatless Friday lunches and, strangest of all to me, uniforms.

Not my uniform exactly, but it may as well have been.

I have heard that since I graduated, my high school has since relaxed their standards of girl’s dress, allowing khaki pants and sneakers. But when I attended this particular school, girls were to wear white Oxford shirts, closed-toe and -heel shoes, and the most hideous wool-like plaid skirts ever invented by man. I can’t say they were wool, because wool has never felt so much like plastic. They were itchy, hot and uncomfortable, and, as we found out after graduation, fire-retardant.

Skirts were to be no higher than two inches above the knee, which translated to most mothers who had to hem their daughters’ skirts as mid-calf. The result was a school full of teenage girls who were horrified to wear such conservative garb, and thus rolled the tops of the skirts so as to shorten the hemline. It made for longer looking legs, but fatter, donut-shaped bellies.

In addition to rolling for shorter skirts, it was also the fashion at the time to don uniquely patterned boxer shorts, just in case a stiff breeze came along and caused the skirt to fly up over one’s tush. My personal favorite was the Big Dogs smiley face pair.

And so here I was, being carried up a flight of stairs by a sea of people who knew each other and where exactly they were going, all the while trying to negotiate the most uncomfortable, unflattering skirt I have ever worn or ever will wear. All things considered, I was doing pretty well. That is, until I reached the landing between the first and second floors.

It’s a pretty well known fact that I’m a klutz. I trip over my own feet on uneven surfaces, walk into doorknobs and regularly smack my head on cabinet doors left open. It was only natural that I should trip up the stairs in my new school in the most crowded stairwell with seemingly the entire school present as witnesses. But this wasn’t just an ordinary trip-and-fall-flat-on-my-face moment. This was an epic how-did-I-actually-manage-to-make-friends-after-that moment.

Being the dorky freshman I was, I didn’t trust that I would have enough time to stop at my locker in between classes. I packed every book I would need for the entire day into my back pack. The weight behind me may have contributed to my fall; I’m actually not sure how I managed to fall forward instead of backward. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had forgotten to zip the top of the pack. So as I fell forward, the momentum caused the back pack slid over my head, spilling its entire contents onto the landing ahead of me. If that wasn’t bad enough, one of the buckled straps hanging from the back managed to latch on to the back of my skirt, pulling that up with it, too. Being my first day as a dorky freshman in an unfamiliar land, I hadn’t been privy to the boxer short style. The only thing separating my booty from the masses around me was a thin layer of white flowered cotton panties.

No one stopped to help me collect my belongings, though they were kind enough to sidestep me so as not to trod upon my fingers. I was late to my first geometry class.

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