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An Open Letter to the People From My Past

Dear… friends? Peers? Classmates?

 

I really don’t know how to address you. This uncertainty about titles might be because I spent four years not knowing most of you, and I think that restricts me from calling you anything other than acquaintances. On the other hand, to the people I did know, I think I’m supposed to refer to you as my old friends – but that would go against the part of me that is constantly reminiscing on my high school days. The part of me that now knows the difference between real and fair-weather friends. The part of me that now understands I was only with a certain group of people so long as they wanted me there, so long as they would take me. No offense. If I’m being totally honest with you, a lot of my friendships were created more out of desperation than out of mutual liking, because that was the thing to do then.

 

Let me explain myself a bit more. We went to a Catholic high school in a rather uninspiring part of Toronto. It was all very dull. You remember the school, don’t you? The main building always looked tired, lifeless, as if it was only still standing there because the wind hadn’t knocked it down yet. The fields surrounding the school were unkempt, the grass more yellow than green. There was a hole in the fence behind the school that was kept hidden by a thick horde of trees. It was like a tiny forest, a patch of opulence in an otherwise mundane world. Kids would go back there to smoke pot during the lunch hour. Life was uneventful. I wasn’t being challenged and I wasn’t challenging myself. And I was okay with that. It was eventful enough for me.

 

 

I did fine there in the beginning. I’m sure we all did. We were electric and had sparks flying off the tips of our fingers. We were fresh out of middle school and ready for the real world. Everything was exciting and everyone I met was not a stranger, but a potential BFF. As the years slogged on, my large circle of friends started dwindling. Things became much more… structured. Much more adult. Or, rather, what we thought was adult. I’m sure you remember the day our favourite English teacher gave us this wild speech about what being an adult was really like. This was after someone had been busted for coming to class high. We all thought our teacher was crazy. I know now that she was just trying to look out for us. She was just trying to give us a head start on adulthood. Dirty rumours soon littered the hallways every minute of every day and staying true to yourself became a hard thing to do. Cliques became a reality. It was weird if you didn’t identify with a group of people. You didn’t have to like them; you just had to be one of them.

 

I was kind of floating around for a while. I was well aware of the superficiality of high school and it was stifling. My friends at the time all had their own crowds they ran with. They liked me just the same and would still chat up a conversation with me if I said hi, but I just didn’t make the cut into any of their cliques. This was around the time that my anxiety began to take form. I felt guilty for being superficial and for caring about what people thought of me. I knew I was above it. But I couldn’t help it; I was succumbing to it. I needed to not feel like an alien. I needed to not be different so that I could just relax. I ended up squeezing my way into an established group of misfits. You’d think that since we’d all been socially shunned, we’d get along great, but it was quite the contrary. We were all so desperate to not feel like outcasts that we forced ourselves to stick around. We bit our tongues when we had differing opinions and we tried so hard to like each other. It was friendship out of habit, out of necessity. And I was okay with it because it was all that I knew, and you were all okay with it because that’s the way our world worked at the time.

 

It didn’t matter that I felt like I couldn’t tell my friends my secrets; it didn’t matter that I constantly felt judged by them, that they made me feel bad about myself, that we limited and put each other down. We stuffed ourselves inside of this box because we had no idea that there was infinite space just outside. Space to be ourselves, space to make our own choices, space to not be held down by the uncompromising grip of high school.

 

 

Then I came to Queen’s.

 

The rigidity I felt for the past four years fell away within the first week and a world of possibilities opened up. I suddenly had all the choice in the world, all the space to be myself. It was overwhelming. I couldn’t believe that being different and speaking your mind was a thing that was encouraged at Queen’s. I struggled a bit at first, as I was still in the mindset that our high school created. I felt like I had to have a group of friends immediately, even if it meant compromising my own feelings and opinions. But within the first few months, that old mindset started to deteriorate and a new one began to take form. I found out that it was okay to be alone sometimes and that eating lunch by yourself didn’t make you uncool. I found a group of friends that I genuinely enjoyed being around. We tell each other everything and we do silly things and I’ve truly never felt more at home.

 

If I told my high school self that her social life would one day be a source of happiness for her, she would laugh in my face. But here I am, still stressed about school, but with a concrete group of friends I know will always support me. I hope you’ve all come to the same conclusions in your life, and if not, I know you’ll get there soon. High school was an important time in our lives and it was very special in many ways. But it’s okay to admit that we’re all glad to be out.

 

Sincerely,

Your old friend

I like cats, among other things.
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