“So…?,” my friend’s mom asked me when I walked in the door, a grin and tilt of the chin down, expecting me to proclaim how much I loved my new life at my new school. This woman is one of the primary reasons the world goes around. Her spirit is so bright that it practically glows through her skin. I grew up with her son since pre-school when we used to say prayers together before we ate snacks every day. That evolved into sitting on carpet squares and growing up year after year at the same school together. After freshman year, my friend switched to the big public school in my area. The “normal kid school” is what we called it, sometimes “the bad one”. After all, we went to the “smart kid school” which I realized later was a lie we told ourselves and preached because we saw normal kids being happy and didn’t see that within ourselves. Well… we knew Homer. We spent our whole evenings doing homework and crying. We didn’t need a school spirit because we were being brain-washed into being these sheltered, run of the mill characters that a school founded on moral corruption wanted us to be. Kids who were happy and went to football games on Fridays were obviously dumb and lacked a moral compass that we thought we really had. My old school told us they were teaching us what it meant to live well and have a good life. Take a walk down the halls one day and see how well everyone seems to be doing.

There are girls sobbing in bathroom stalls out of stress for the next five point quiz that could ruin their grade. The boys are writing on the insides of their shorts in order to cheat through any test given. Some of the teachers even express how much they don’t like their job or how they don’t agree with the amount of stress the kids are put under. I make jokes about how the kids walk around and speak like they have a gun to the head, but it is true. My old school is a breeding ground for mental health issues and a joke when it comes to its mission statement.

And yet we are told that no other education will serve us well in life. I thought my whole life was school until I got out and realized that I not only could have time to eat, breathe, sleep, and take bathroom breaks during classes without feeling like I was committing a crime, but I could also have a job and hobbies. The kids at my new school are normal, albeit there are many negatives associated with normality. It is a wealthier school, that is for sure, and that factor plays a key role in personality of the school and individuals that make it up. The kids are happier, excited about their future, have open schedules, take classes that actually interest them, and promote a tremendous amount of pride in the school they attend. No one mopes around in the hallways every day, and I’ve yet to see anyone have a mental breakdown. The change was so intense I had no idea what was going on at first. Who were these kids? Why was I only spending an hour on homework a night? Why did my teachers seem happy? Why wasn’t everyone biting their nails and hiding anti-depressants in their backpack? It was a whole new world.

I took an easy schedule for my migraines and it allows me to get out of school every day at 12:20. Let me tell you that waking up in pain and having to convince yourself to get up and make it through five hours of school at a happier and healthier establishment is far easier than eight hours in hell a day. They also have a legitimate nurse and administration who told my mother on the first day that their goal was to help me as much as they could in achieving success. My mom almost cried when she heard that. If I heard that sentence at my old school, which I never would have in the first place, I would’ve laughed, asked where the camera was or if it was opposite day, and made fun out of the interaction for days. It was all a fluke. They didn’t want to help me. They wanted my GPA and to keep my mouth shut. It is one thing to preach success in all students, not just the able-bodied ones with 4.0 GPAs, in order to complete a perfect school persona. It is another thing to actually do it.

I am incredibly grateful for what I learned in my early years at that school and I still stand by and defend the curriculum. My old school made me the critical thinker and analytical writer that I am now. I have a fond appreciation for the classics and still nerd out about ancient Greece and Rome. I owe that to my teachers and no one else. They were the ones who kindled my love for knowledge. However, I still question whether or not I would’ve been healthier if I had left sooner or not gone at all.

The answer is simple: yes.

That’s where I can’t get over it. That’s why I feel like I have to have my final punch by writing about it. I wasted so much of my youth being sick, and still am by the day. And to think that I could’ve eased my pain and stress by a simple lifestyle change is too much to think about. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to have gone on so many anti-depressants that resulted in far more harm than help. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to go through as much as I did. But in the grand scheme of things, “maybe”s only hurt the heart. So I’ll stop there.

I want it to be known that I really didn’t want to switch. Although I hated where I was, the other option was a drug-infested brothel of the local area. Or so I thought. This faulty perception is cultivated by parents and the school alike, trying to scare the kids into a state of obedience and silence. When I say the name of the school I am currently at, I can assure you that half of my old school’s student body would sneer. Oh… you go there? The place where no one touches a book and still gets a 4.0? I’m sure they all have their own twisted perceptions of anything other than their own school, because the thought of something better is treated as a whimsical wish. Well, it’s not. There is. And as much as those students talk about how much they love their school for what it is, just know that I see the secret Instagrams and I talk to my old friends there. I know what goes on. That’s not some sadistic power statement; that’s a pity statement.

“BUT THE DRUGS!” is a line I get a lot too and it makes me laugh. It usually comes from the naive parents who are mortified about vaping. Dear parents who ask that question, I hate to break it to you, but your kids are probably the ones doing them the most. Drug use is prevalent in high school and has been for years. No school is free of that, however if we can do some math together, 1400 kids is bigger than 400, therefore there will be more drug use… because there are more kids. Glad we stuck that one out. The difference from my point of view, is that kids are under so much stress at school, they resort to any form of release they can get their hands on. Although that isn’t exclusive to my old school and it happens in both, it is sadder to me when I think of it in the context of my old school. The kids are incredibly depressed. That makes a hit of a joint a little bit sadder, I guess.

What is even funnier is that I have crazier drug interaction stories about my old school. Granted, I only attend my new school for five hours a day and rarely socialize with people there, but in a way my fingers are sill intertwined with the social scene. A distant grip, yes, but a grip nonetheless. Drugs are not okay, and I’m not preaching some script that the kids seem to do which is “Living life!” because frankly, I think that’s a load of bullshit. Living young doesn’t have to mean rotting your lungs and cultivating addictions because your hand isn’t gripping a metal sleeve like the rest of your friend group. Maybe it’s cynical (what’s new?), but drugs in high school will never completely be abolished. Kids will always find a way to get their old siblings to buy them vodka, their upperclassmen friends to buy them Juuls, and let’s be honest: pot isn’t going away any time soon. It is the age of experimentation, and just like sex, should be treated with informative discussion rather than shunned away. Talks of abstinence do jack squat, sorry to break it to you. Ask half of the religious community at my school what they were doing on Friday night before Sunday morning worship. Expect a few flushed faces. The more we try to avoid the issue and act like our kids and our friends aren’t the ones doing it or it’s not that bad, the more fourteen year olds will waltz around the halls with a candy cigarette dangling from their lips. Children shouldn’t have addictions, but I guess I’m old fashioned.

To think that my old school is perceived as some perfect bubble of virtue and goodness is the biggest joke of them all. It’s quite the opposite.

I bring up the drug issue because that was one of the biggest things I was afraid of when I switched schools. I was breaking out of this tightly wound cocoon that I had been tucked into from such a young age into the real world. And that, I think, is the most important transition. I know a few years from now, when I’m graduating high school and even college, I will laugh at how much I thought I knew as a teenager. Let me set the record straight: I know very little. But I do know my peers and my environment. I know how hypocritical men tend to have the nicest voices. I know absent smiles when I see them. I know lies when I hear them. And I also know that I will not earn my worth as a young woman and a human being by sitting through “virtue discussions” with the rest of my anxiety-ridden, depressed, pox-marked peers. That part is my job.

This whole essay sounds like a pissy statement coming from someone who “couldn’t make it” or a “dropout”. The truth is, I have every right to be a little pissed off. I feel like I’ve been robbed of what my life could have been and spoon fed a truth that I didn’t believe in. For the record, I could have made it. But the only way to “make it” at that school seems to be by killing yourself slowly. I guess I wasn’t down for that ride anymore. I had to preserve what was left of me.

If you are a nervous student or parent reading this, because I know you are, and you’re looking for your sign to leave, this is it. Don’t wait for that next failed chemistry test or the next scandal. Just walk out, and never look back. I think it will grant you more peace that you could ever imagine. It did for me, at least. My story is all that I can offer.

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