South Grafton High School.

Thats where I spent a majority of my time between 1997 and 1999…Maybe a little of 2000. Well…that’s where I was meant to be. Some days I’d be lazing on the fresh-cut lawn by the Clarence river in the sun, watching pelicans on the water and buses and trucks drive over that scary yet familiar crooked bridge, thinking that one day I’d witness a smash.

But never mind that part. The part of me not being where I was meant to be.

I went to this high school because my father did. Not because it was best or fanciest, and certainly not because it was a safe welcoming place. I’d heard that it once was rated most violent in NSW. But I cannot back that up. It’s only something I heard long ago…But I did see punch ups involving poles and once a chain….

But….never mind that part either.

Turns out, that to me, it seems a safe and welcoming place none the less.

Such an amazingly short time in my life.

Yet it must have had an impact because I desperately want to go and revisit it.

It’s funny the varying degrees of which I knew everyone, some I knew very well, or wanted to, so I stalked them via strategically asked questions of others…..Or perhaps even using the ‘tick yes’ or ‘tick no’ on a scrap of notepad. Some I knew only a little, others were just regular faces….and occasionally there is the one here or there that tries to add me to Facebook climbing that we knew each other in school….only….I have no clue, not the vaguest of memory as to who they are! (In this case I look at our mutual friends…should there be enough school people, I add them hoping and praying that they don’t bring up memories that I have no recollection of.)

Their faces all familiar and safe, comforting even. It is strange how being herded into this massive group of hormone reeking children can somehow create a bond that cannot be broken.

We all know each other yet not at all.

We’re grown ups now and the idea of starting a fresh with people who we’ve already laid foundations with is so exciting to think about.

I wasn’t cool. I wasn’t popular. I think I was one of those ‘nothing’ kids. I was I guess  a loner or perhaps I was considered a ‘nigel no friends.’ Maybe I was just a floater…or wanderer….I had friends of course, ones I ‘hung out with’ most but a lot of the time I wondered the school.

Being neither too popular or too cool, I was allowed to talk and mix with whomever I pleased and no one thought anything of it.

I guess everyone had that freedom, I just mean I didn’t have a group of friend’s who’d question me heavily about why I was talking to a particular person. I’m not even sure if my main closer friends knew where I went!

Some of my fonder memories happen to be down on the top oval…I think that’s what it was called……opposite the sports teachers office, frantically waving a cigarette back and forth to disperse the smoke, it was fun and the adrenaline ran high thinking we could get caught at anytime…smoking out in the open. I’m not sure our school had labels for who was who, if they did I didn’t know them but if I were to label them I’d call them the smokers I guess.

We smoked cigarettes. We traded and purchased them from each other, if you needed or wanted one…thats where you went. I’m not sure if this was common knowledge among the ‘higher up’ students…I’m trying my hardest not to make out like there was a ranking system. I guess there was a little of that going on.

Those who the teachers liked, regardless of anything were pretty high up. Those who were super smart, but cool enough to be so without being called a nerd were pretty close up there, then the popular, regardless of brain power were admired by the student population.

Then there was the rest of us….Maybe I was at the very bottom? To odd to be friends with but too weirdly interesting to ignore perhaps?

I also liked the…..hmmm what shall I label them? The rebels. I don’t know if that’s the right description. I think they’d be the kind of kids who’d join and underground movement of some sort against the government, about our rights to freedom and the likes. Not really hippies, but they didn’t care too much for rules. Rarely in full uniform, lots of army green cargo pants and ratty hair. They were what I considered the cool kids.

There were also popular shiny kids. They interested me slightly. Mainly only because I felt that I shouldn’t or couldn’t talk to them. I would wonder why I couldn’t or shouldn’t talk to anyone, but decided that I don’t think I even really wanted to. I liked to see their awesome hair do’s they’d turn up with, the way their uniform always looked super attractive on them but yet did nothing for me.

Everyone always knew everything about them even if they didn’t want to. So even if I can say I never spoke to a popular girl, I probably knew everything about her.

Be it true or not.

It was odd the kind of ‘following’ they had. And still I wonder if the real world was as kind to them?…

There were mean kids, I think maybe at some stage I may have been mean too. I can honestly say that I never was mean without being provoked first. And by provoked I mean having my feelings hurt and not wanting to admit it, so I would try my hardest to inflict that same hurt.

There were the super smart kids too. I liked them as well. Because to be honest most of them were a bit dorky, but hey….dorky is cute. Smart and dorky and brave about it.

Never giving in to try to ‘be cool.’

So I spent my time not concentrating on lessons, which occasionally I wish I had, I wonder if I’d e a better person for it and decide against it. I didn’t spend time stuck in books or taking each word said to me to be law…I instead was interested in the people. I am interested in their behaviours, why some chose to do and say and be the way they are.

I never knew it then but I was learning. Perhaps not Math or Science…but people.

I went to school purely for people.

I know I gave most of my teachers hell, some at different degrees.

The poor science teachers. Some were quirky and kind of geeky, others in smart crisps shirts, knee-high socks..I liked their varying oddness and interest in just stuff. I was not so well-behaved for them. But I was interested. Not so much in the lesson itself but the teachers could occasionally captivate me on something like genetics…..geology was a different story however.

I think there may have been a science teacher or two who deserved a bonus for having to deal with me.

My math teachers. I only remember one well. She was actually quite nice, firm but fair. I remember her because she was the one who requested I spend many a recess scrapping dried hunks of chewing gum from the undersides of her desks with a tea-spoon.

Still, I liked her. And permission to sit alone in a classroom -forgeting the gum bit- was kind of fun.

Even though I spent many an English lesson sitting on a hard plastic chair, which usually was there because one or more legs were bent, outside in the hall, I still consider it one of my favorite lessons. I love words, I like to write and read and create feelings and scenes with simple little words…..I really should have paid attention.

I never read any assigned book and probably didn’t even know what a metaphor was until I googled it a few years ago.

I REALLY should have paid attention.

Art. Oh art, I loved it. Art and English were my very favorites. I think perhaps because it combined my two favorite things and types of people. English teachers seemed to be off in some fairyland of intelligent daydreamers while art teachers lived in that very fairyland….creating it around them. They seem like fun, carefree people, depending on their art topic I found though. Photography seemed to require a little more class than say pottery. I liked their rooms, messy and sometimes dusty…there was always something interesting to look at to cause inspiration to stir, left behind from other students from previous lessons.

I could have taken art all day!

I want to apologise to my teachers now. I think you’re all wonderful people not just teachers, especially after having to deal with kids like me.

I hope I was not the worst. And if you cannot remember me then perhaps I wasn’t as bad as I thought!

Like I was saying I’m not entirely sure where I fit into the whole high school picture. I was never very good at viewing myself as others do.

I know I must have been thought of as perhaps weird at least. I remember one day being called to the deputy principals office at the end of an assembly. I had to stand and walk from the back through everyone to the front and up the stairs to the office. I tried to do this confidently as I could.

I sat in the chair opposite him. He stood and looked down at me, pointed at my face and began waving his finger “Is this a religious type thing?”

I used to draw dots, patterns and marks on my face. To me…normal…but I guess…from the point of view of others…hmmm…

“No not religious at all.”

“Well wash it off immediately. And put this on!” He handed me a white button up school shirt.

So I washed my dots off and put the shirt over the white one I was wearing. I looked in the mirror and frowned.

If anything, high school taught me that I don’t like being the same as everyone else. I couldn’t stand being the same, it twisted my guts to think I was just one of the ranks, one of the multitudes.

I had to have different, hair, different shoes, different styled skirt and if someone began wearing what I was, I’d change it quickly before I was to similar to too many people.

I couldn’t help it. Something in me just made me be different. I didn’t aim for cool, or popular, or smart. Just not the same as every one else was enough.

I guess some people found me interesting in the very least. People in art would request I draw patterns -like henna tattoos I guess- on their hands as I wasn’t allowed to draw on my face anymore. In math I was asked to create some dreadlocks in a boys’ hair.

In lunch breaks I would gather lots of girls to sit in a circle and have ‘out of body’ experiences where we’d travel to far away lands leaving our bodies behind in the playground….if only.

OK, ok….maybe I was the weird one.

Am I still?…..not too sure.

The only thing I can claim as that I been myself all the way through.

By the way have I mentioned?….I bought tickets and rented a car this morning. I’m going, 4 nights on my own (I’m not thinking about not being here at home,…..only about the seeing people part I can manage.)

I’m looking forward to it.

I know I’ll probably never have a chance to see these people in real life again. However most of us are Facebook friends.

It doesn’t count sometimes.

High school.

The place where I first smoked in a toilet cubicle and sadly I cannot say it was the last, the place were I had my hair set alight, the place were boys feel they have the freedom to snap bra straps…no wait…they still do that. The place where I had my first real love, the place where some of the longest friendships in my life began.

This small space of time that I call high school has brought together us strangers, mushed us together whether we liked it or not. We all share this weird bond of feeling like we’re a part of each others lives and so far I don’t mind.

I am proud to say I knew, or know each one of my school mates.

And….I can’t wait to get drunk with you girls and dance to corny old music like we’re 15 again!

South Grafton High School.

 I’m not sure if I’m going to walk in laughing or crying.

But I can’t wait ot go back.

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