Though orchestra was, by far, the most painful period of the day, high school wasn't all terror and violins. Sometimes things could almost get sweet. For instance, I remember once at lunch a little freshman came running through the courtyard sobbing about a test. I remember how, as soon as he got through the other door, Ali clucked her tongue and said, "school's a bitch." She shook her head sadly. "Messed up on amino acids, for Chrissake. Poor bastard forgot to study."
On occasions high school was like a Ping-Pong ball. You could put fancy spin on it, you could make it dance.
I remember at lunch every day before U.S., I would always ask Emma what time class started. Every day she had a different answer. Sometimes she would say, "are you honestly asking me that?" Other times she pretended to hit me. People didn't get it. Repeatedly they would hear the question and answer for her. It was still sort of relaxing, though. Both of us knew I knew class started at 12:02. We knew where we stood. It was predictable.
Once there was this student who had the lead in the musical and then, at the very start of the biggest performance, she forgot her lines and started performing the previous year's musical. From there, everyone: stage crew, the orchestra pit, the whole cast, just performed the musical from the year before. No one skipped a beat. It was incredible, it was crazy, it was daring, and the audience left a little confused about what had happened.
I remember Carissa smiling as she told me that story. Most of it she made up, I'm sure, but even so it gave me a trick truth-goose. Because it's all relative. You're stuck in some stupid Spanish class, and then the bell rings and you realize it's lunch time and you get half an hour to spend with your friends, and you walk out and look up and see the sun and a few puffy white clouds, and then immense serenity flashes against your eyeballs. The whole world gets rearranged, and even though you're stuck in school you never felt more at peace.
What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end:
Frances lying down in some dorm room in Tennessee, our whole DI team just there in the dark, and her whispering, "I'll tell you something, guys. If I could have one wish, anything, I'd wish for my parents to sit me down and say it's okay if I don't get an A on a test. That's all they ever talk about, nothing else. How they can't to see my goddamn test scores."
Or Monica teaching a snow dance to Carissa and Hong, the three of them whooping and leaping around while a bunch of freshmen looked on with a mixture of fascination and giggly horror. Afterward, Hong said, "So where's the snow?" and Monica said, "The grader is slow, but the student is patient," and Hong thought about it and said, "Yeah, but where's the snow?"
Or Tim adopting an inch worm, carrying it around all day on his briefcase until Jeff purposefully knocked it onto the ground and stepped it on it with his size twelve sneakers.
We're all pretty young, I guess, so things often took on a curiously playful atmosphere, lots of pranks and horseplay. Like when Jeff stepped on Inchy the Inch Worm. "What's everybody so upset about?" Jeff said. "I mean, Jesus, I'm just a kid."
Sometimes you can't spin it, though. Sometimes high school wasn't fun and everyone knew it so there it is. There it is, they'd say. Over and over, there it is, my friend, there it is, as if the repetition itself was an act of poise, a balance between failing and almost failing, knowing without going, there it is, which meant take it easy, take it slow, don't worry about that math test. Oh yeah, man, you can't change what can't be changed, there it is, there it is, there it absolutely and positively and friggin' well is.
They were tough. They were adaptable. They were confused. They were sure of themselves. They could walk in the hall without a problem. They weren't afraid to shove someone, or to write on the tables in the courtyard. They yelled for people to be quiet. They danced. They sung. They sat by themselves. They carried on, saddling up every day and forming up in through the door and walking towards their classes.
It wasn't too bad.