Gordon’s hair stuck up like hay. His icy eyes moved fast above his lips, which he rarely opened. There are always a couple students here at Patrick Henry College who have trouble loosening up. Gordon was one of them until he left.
Jonathan and I were thinking about Gordon last week. It was our second week of dating, and we were sitting downtown on some frosty bleachers looking at the dark football field. We had enough moon for shadows—we could see ours on the grass—and enough space to think.
Gordon disappeared from our student body after two semesters, and we can’t even remember his last name.
“I don’t think he ever got comfortable,” Jonathan said.
“There’s something profound,” I said, “about the idea of never getting comfortable.”
Jonathan surveyed the empty bleachers. He said that he bet so many lives revolve around this school. That he bet some kids feel like they own it.
“I don’t know if anyone ever feels like they own their school,” I said, doubtful.
We had visited my high school in New York a few weeks before—me, Jonathan, and two other college friends. The intersection of my two academic worlds brought an odd kind of healing with it.
At the school I pointed to classroom after classroom. “I cried here,” I said, outside the sixth grade guidance office. “I fainted here,” I said, outside the room where driver’s ed convened. “This is where I finally found out I could be a writer,” I said outside Mr. Fiedler’s classroom for 10th grade English.
I twisted the knob on each locker I had used, all of the combinations lost to me. I thought that maybe with the twisting my hand would remember them, but it didn’t.
In a sense, I felt I owned the school. The years I spent in it felt like missionary service. I sometimes rib my friends in college, most of them homeschooled, just because they didn’t go to school with me. Where were they when I argued against Darwinism in 11th grade environmental science class? Where were they while I wrestled about how to tell the girl in the next school bus seat that she really shouldn’t be having a baby—but that I felt glad she had decided not to kill it?
But those angry questions are deflectors. What I really want to know is, where were you when I felt just like Gordon? For despite my prickly defense of my education, public school is a place where I never got comfortable.
On the contrary, I got sick with nerves in the mornings and struggled with my breakfast. In the shower before catching the bus, I listened to sermons on cassette by an old Georgia preacher who shouted about “God’s darlin’ Son.” With that nourishment—and the difficult oatmeal—I made my way to the mission field. Like Gordon, I sometimes struggled to open my lips.
Only with time do I find myself able to look back kindly on my time in high school. Never getting comfortable, or feeling far from home, is something to feel sick about. I hope Gordon finds a kind place to look back from.