I walked through my old high school today. It was kind of like playing an old video game where you suddenly remember the levels and maps and bosses along the way. And no, I’m not just saying that because I’ve been playing Modern Warfare Remastered like a fiend lately.
I’m halfway through my first season as a wrestling coach at my old high school, and I see myself in all the boys on the team. I see my anger in their mannerisms when something doesn’t go right in a match. I see myself in their eyes as they dart around nervously before a match. And I see myself in their chatter when they get rowdy in the back of the bus listening to “Last Resort” by Papa Roach (horribly depressing song by the way).
It’s a mirror, you know. Their t-shirts in 20-degree weather and buzz cuts and wide eyes before matches. The back-and-forth banter about whether a move is legal or not against the sounds of rubber shoes stubbing into the mat.
They are alive. They are here. They’re perfectly in the moment. Boys being boys.
I remember those days. The days when I was scared to death of walking into the cafeteria, fearful I’d have nobody to sit with. The days where everything seemed like the end of the world. The days where every experience was new and I met freedom for the first time.
There’s so much pain in these memories. There was hardly a day without any drama. From the two-a-days of Freshman year football to the sun-soaked evenings of my last semester. Because I was experiencing so many things for the first time, I reacted accordingly. Pure ecstasy for the good stuff and frightful horror for the other.
I learned there had to be limits on what I could feel. I’ve hardly burned as bright since.
Maybe that’s a sad thing, but I’ve protected myself from a lot of pain by doing that. Maybe that’s why I’m caught up walking down the halls of my old high school. Because it reminds me of a distant time when I was alive, and here, and burning brighter than the sun on a summer day.
I’m just a shadow of myself, now.
High school. This is my ode to you. To those wacky teachers with the long hair and corny one-liners. To the arrogant kids who played lacrosse and paired long Nike socks with dirty vans. To the former heartthrobs and homecoming queens who currently spend their time wandering around Fed Hill. To those wonderful friday night lights and the crowds that would flock like moths to them. To the togas, and the dances, and those people in the back who used to shout “Don’t Stop Believing” at the top of their lungs near the end of the night.
To the kids who weren’t seen by anyone. To the teachers who pulled me aside just to know if I was okay. To the old gym with the light dangling from the ceiling during wrestling matches. To my coaches who are still there years later. To the girl with the locker next to me who was beautiful but ugly on the inside. To that piece of wood, or plastic, or whatever the hell it is that has my name on it way up near the ceiling in the gym.
To a scared, but brave boy just trying to figure it all out.
These are my words for you.
So here I am, walking these halls yet again. There’s the cafeteria. There’s my German Teacher’s room. There’s where I used to watch my girlfriend sing for Chorus.
The memories haunt me, or comfort me, depending on how I look.
Through it all they’re just reminding me of how I used to be. And for a second, if only for a moment, I am that scared, brave boy all over again.