Thursday, September 6, 2007

September - a re-post since I'm going to reunion in June

Me at age fifteen. This photo was taken in September. I'm wearing my new school uniform for the first time. This is the last view my parents will have of me—and I of them—until Christmas break in three months. Home is 800 miles away, in Illinois. At an all-girl prep school in upstate New York, I’m about to find out how it feels to be a stranger in a strange land.

I have don’t remember exactly what I was thinking behind that bright smile but I’m sure it was a combination of terror and despair. I’m sure I fought back tears as my parents drove off.

Boarding school is not my idea. I do not want to be here. I miss public high school and my friends. I don’t know one single person here. Other girls wearing the same uniform as mine seem to know where they’re going. I don’t even remember how to find my room. Is it somewhere on the third floor, overlooking the parking lot? My two roommates, both East coasters, haven’t arrived yet. One will have the bottom bunk in our tiny room. The other girl will sleep in the adjoining room. For now, the closet holds my new uniforms and a few civilian clothes that I will be allowed to wear only at certain times on weekends. This is a place of rules.

The uniforms arrived at my home in August. Two of my best friends were present when I opened the big box. We screeched at the uncool outfits I would be required to wear the remaining three years of high school. (At fifteen, clothes can make or break the woman.) The spring “unies” as we called them, were one-piece dresses that zipped up the front. The collar spread almost to the shoulder seams. These dresses were cotton gingham in yellow, red, green, or blue check. Also in the box were the dresses required for the evening meal. They were rayon and the same basic design as the daytime dresses but in pastel shades. At dinner, I would be required to wear panty hose and heels. Every night. The winter uniform was an austere white blouse, a “serviceable” gray wool A-line skirt, and a gray flannel blazer. The shoes were to be “sturdy brown tie-ups” such as brogues. (Like Doc Martens, only uglier.) My sturdy browns were gum-soled and resembled a pair of beetles. It was official geekdom. My girlfriends wished me well at boarding school and went off to do their own shopping for cool new school clothes. I wondered if they’d still be my friends when I returned home.

Now, in September, I am reminded of those uniforms and the rules and the pain of being torn away from everything I knew. I remember what was lost but what was gained.

Today, on my way to my writing critique group (my “school” of choice) the song September by Earth, Wind, and Fire came on the radio. It starts out, “Do you remember…?”

How could I forget?