My senior year of high school was great but completely confusing. I thought I was getting over being the chubby girl, learning who I was, and hitting my stride, but as the school year progressed it became very apparent I had no idea what I was doing or who I was.
My first day of senior year started with English in Mrs. Gryzbowski’s class. I was thrilled to be surrounded by so many of my friends. But when I realized Shaun Redding was sitting behind me I about puked. He was an incessant tapper, on his desk, his books, my head and anything else within his reach. He drummed constantly, and having dealt with this in my freshman English class I knew what I was in for...a nervous breakdown. Luckily my friend Bess was kind enough to trade seats with him so I wouldn’t lose my mind in the first 10 minutes of my senior year. Mrs. Gryzbowski began introducing herself to the class after she shushed us quiet. She was an older woman with short grey hair and wisps of white tufts throughout. She had rosy red cheeks and a permanent smile on her face. She was about the same height as I was and thus she lost the intimidation factor completely.
"It's your senior year," she began, “…don't blow it." We all laughed and she began going through the roll. When she got to the third Megan on the roll she gave an exasperated huff and clutched her arms around the podium. "There are too many Megan's. What can we do about this? Do any of you go by any other names."
"You can call her Nichol," my friend Anna Hamilton piped up from the seat just below Mrs. Gryzbowski’s nose, pointing in my direction. Mind you my last named was Nichol, pronounced like nickel, and when written was constantly getting confused for Nicole. I scowled at her and she gave me a smirk and a laugh with a shrug of her shoulders. That platinum blonde was asking for it. But before I could make a protesting remark Mrs. Gryzbowski looked at me.
"Nichol? Nichol." She tested it out in several different tones and then proclaimed, "I like it."
And that was that. I was Nichol for the rest of the year. It became my entire identity. I’d always hated my first name, so a change was in order anyway.
After our proverbial 20 minute snack break we termed nutrition I followed a friend to Physics.
I wanted to be a photographer. What was I doing here? The class was dryer than a piece of stale burnt toast. The professor, whose name I never learned, began the class almost instantly reading out of the textbooks. What happened to introductions? Jokes? Really? This is what I was going to have to live through for the next nine months? I started getting anxious and confused almost immediately. The things he was discussing were going over my head. Was I sure there wasn't some other class I was supposed to have taken after Chemistry before I jumped into this cesspool of Physics? It seemed as though I was the only senior idiotic enough to be taking the class. Nearly everyone was else was either a sophomore or a junior.
Next I headed to my Math Analysis. I got there a little early. The classroom was out in the portables ten years and a day away from everywhere else I was going. The only bonus was that it was my last class of the day and closer to the parking lot. Then again, that was also the problem because all I could think about for the duration of the 120-minute class was going home. The desks were oddly configured in three sections all facing the teacher; one clump in front of the teacher’s desk and one on either side. I sat down as far in the back as one could conceivably get. I didn't know anyone in the class. Not a soul. How had I made it through four years with these people and not know anyone? Who would I study with? How would I get through a class without passing notes? I'm pretty sure the teacher was using scare tactics during his introduction by reminding us it was an intensive course that needed our full attention. No class could be missed or we would fall behind like a dog in a horse race. It was clear he was trying to weed out the bad seeds, seeds like me, who couldn't hack the intricate nuances of calculus and other such things.
I had decided to take a full course load merely for the fact that they were the next courses in my schooling experience. I had motivated myself throughout school by putting myself in a fierce competition with my best friend Kaylie Jones. She was brilliant. Brilliant. She had straight A's, was a star softball player, beautiful, and she dated the guy I was in love with. You know the kind of best friend that makes you want to kill yourself…I mean try to be better. I just didn't have her capacity for academic achievements. My freshman year I had worked myself up so much about it I stumbled into a depression that my sister Camille attempted to shake me out of. After a long talk with her one night she helped me realize I was never going to be in the same classes as Kaylie, she was too far ahead and that was ok. It was a hard pill to swallow but it never affected our friendship. I was the one doing the competing, not her.
When I got home from school that first day back I whined to my mother; it was probably a little more like sobbing, fairly reminiscent of my days of overwhelmed-ness from freshman-year. "What reason do you have for taking these courses?" she asked.
I mean it was a fairly logical question. What was I pushing for here? I knew I was going to be applying for photography programs at various universities and I doubted they cared much about me completing Math Analysis or Physics. And I was fairly certain they weren’t required classes to graduate from high school either. The answer was pretty simple when I really thought about it. Taking these classes would make me feel like I was almost as intellectual as Kaylie; sad. So the next day I went right into my counselor's office and dropped both classes. Then came the question, "So, what do you want to take instead?" Mr. Baird had been my receding hairlined, ponytail busting counselor since I was fourteen and I had probably spoken to him twice in those four years, this being the second. He was really tall and a little on the ex-football player girth side of things. For a girl of five feet two inches it was pretty intimidating even though he couldn't have been a nicer human being. As I sat across the table from him I drew a blank. I had already signed up for my fourth year of photography, and as a TA (teacher’s assistant) for a first year photo class. I was also doing Project Socrates a class where I aided teachers off campus (mine was for a neighbor who taught a class of first through third graders all with hearing impairments). What else was there? That's when he suggested Creative Writing. It sounded interesting enough. I fancied myself a children's book writer and illustrator as a child, so it seemed like a natural place to be. “And what about being on yearbook again?” he asked. I had dropped out of Yearbook the second semester the previous year because it was so boring and I had almost zero input. Plus the yearbook was done in February and there was nothing to do the rest of the year. I sucked it up and decided on Yearbook again for the second year, crossing my fingers that I’d have something more exciting to do than the year before.
That was that, creative writing and yearbook. So let's line this up shall we? English, TA for Photo, Government/Econ, Photo III, Yearbook, Project Socrates and Creative Writing. I do not know another senior that has ever had such a lax schedule. I had a breezy senior year ahead of me, and I was looking forward to it. The only real classes I had were full of friends to keep me. I felt a little guilty about my sudden venture into slackerdom but I wasn't about to renegotiate my choices with Mr. Baird. This was it.
My first day in Photo III, I sat next to Rebecca Slade. She was the girlfriend of my good friend Ashton Alvaro. She was gorgeous and thin and perfect, to me at least, and I was the complete opposite. The thing was, I had been totally in love and obsessed with Ashton since we were in seventh grade. He of course, was in love with my best friend Kaylie. Let the love triangle ensue. When we were still in middle school Kaylie and I got into the one and only fight we would ever have. She knew of my devotion to Ashton and confessed to me about how she had told him of my affection. I couldn't imagine how she could be so obtuse and not see that she had ruined my entire life by telling a boy that I liked him. I cried and pouted in the big leather recliner in her family room while she went into the kitchen to get a glass of lemonade. That was how it was with us. I always overreacted and she was the coolheaded one to talk me off the ledge. Eventually, I got over it (I don’t know how anyone could ever stay mad at her, she was a the kindest and most loyal person I’ve ever known). Sitting next to Rebecca was ok. We hadn’t really known each other until then even though she had been dating Ashton since the year before. I was mildly jealous, but she was so sweet it was impossible to hate her like I wanted. And by that time, I had convinced myself I was over Ashton. Really. I was over him. Besides, I knew there was no hope for us ever dating after he told me he and Rebecca had slept together. I was a strict Mormon girl that lived by certain standards, chastity being the big one, and everyone knew it.
Rebecca and I had fun in that do-nothing class and she didn’t seem to mind that I hung out with her boyfriend more than her strict parents allowed her to. She was an only child and her parents were total nutcases about her dating. So, inevitably I would be the one over at Ash's house watching the Food Network with him and his parents, making tamales on Christmas holding hands at baseball games and ditching school together.
Looking back on it now I can see exactly what you’re thinking. It was completely inappropriate for a guy with a girlfriend to be spending so much time with another girl. I didn’t get it back then. He was the only guy I had ever had a close relationship with and I figured that’s how they all were: quasi-dating-but-not, more-than-friends situation. It was really confusing. But I figured I wasn’t worthy of his Adonis-like good looks. For me it didn’t matter how he treated me, as long as I got to be near him. I always felt like I was one weight-loss summer camp and Clueless makeover away from being his one true love. He was dreamy, the kind of guy that made every girl swoon. Big brown eyes and long lashes, and a smile that essentially glowed and this dark brown skin that made me weak in the knees. It’s no surprise he was voted biggest flirt in our senior yearbook.
Our sophomore year in high school I confessed to him that I was totally over him. He lived right next to my church so I walked over to his house after youth group fairly regularly. We were sitting in the back of his white F150 chatting about heaven only knows what when I felt the urgency to confirm that I previously had feelings for him but didn't any longer. "Yeah, I used to have a HUGE crush on you," I muttered, half under my breath. "But don't worry, that's way over now." Somehow it made me feel like I could go on loving him and still be in disguise. He seemed mildly flattered and mostly relieved. He was a great friend to me, which made it even harder not to care for him the way I did, so I took what I could get. Even if that meant he was kissing someone else and holding my hand.
After that night he seemed to get closer to me, so I guess in a way my ploy worked. He felt he could be closer knowing I wasn’t interested in anything more. He and his brother had separate rooms but both of them had bunk beds, which I never quite understood. The bottom bed was a full size and had just enough space for us to lie on together and watch movies. The first time I did that I nearly melted into a puddle. He cradled me while some bland movie played in the background. And we fell asleep like that; him snuggled up in the nape of my neck arm around my waist and me dreaming that it would remain that way forever.