I thought I loved high school. Looking back, it had been—at best—an infatuation. The place I thought I adored was filled with easily impressionable and easily impressed teenagers. These kids helped build a reputation for me and at the time, I revelled in this personal branding of infamy. Today, I'd do anything to escape my teenage rep. Generally, if you pissed your pants in gym class or solely ate ketchup packets for lunch, graduation would be your reprieve from that embarrassing part of your life. People have better things to do and will eventually move on with their lives. But in Canada's smallest province (that's PEI, if you are interested) your high school peers build a persona for you that can follow you to the day that you're dick up in the dirt.
I was a teenage shithead. This persona erupted at a point where the list of new things to do in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island ran dry—which, if you've ever been here, happened pretty quickly. Every Friday night was spent listening to the same Motion City Soundtrack album driving listlessly in my friend's mom's minivan. And as much as I fucking loved that album, it wasn't enough to save me from myself.
It's easy to be an asshole in the halls of any high school. But, Charlottetown Rural High School was a perfect melting pot of rural and suburban PEI kids that shared a larger-than-normal amount of cultural ignorance. Where being dumb wasn't uncool. The teachers didn't care, the students were easily encouraged, and the halls were always empty. Anything was possible there. It was a place where you could damage property, destroy people, and build a solid reputation on that, with few real consequences. The last part is key. It's what destroys you in the long run.
It was almost chic to be awkward and belligerent about your subculture at the Rural. You are defined by it. Like any other high school, we had the smokers, the skaters, the band kids, the preps, but I belonged to special group of shit-causing addicts known as "The Stoop."
Our stoop was a ledge of white tile that jutted out at the intersection of two staircases. It was populated by a circus parade of walking archetypes without any sort of confidence in our individual identities. The place was filled with an intimidating manic energy. During my time at the stoop we started a turf war (it was just a lot of screaming), sprayed a Chinese kid we teased (but also liked) with a fire extinguisher, filled a radiator to exploding capacity with cookie dough, started regular food fights, and other common punk kid shit.
This informed a highly organized state of mind when it came to making the lives of others hell. I spent a lot of time in A/V class mocking my teacher for what I considered "overly effeminate" behaviour. I stomped on his new Mini DV battery charger because I was sure it was the trap from Ghostbusters. I ruined it beyond use. I secretly videotaped an old hobbling man at our local waterfront, Peake's Quay, for my final project. I handed it in as "Crazy Old Fool" and somehow still passed the class. After that I start taking shits inside the sheds in the Home Depot parking lot after class. I threw a rotting Christmas tree down a flight of stairs. I opened a fire hydrant to flood a local park. I wasn't even so much as suspended. This informed a state of perceived invincibility.
Boredom is a hell of a drug. Causing shit was so intoxicating, it became the best way to pass the time. Other students loved these antics. I was highly suggestible at this point since the resulting trouble was always inconsequential. My reputation as a shithead blossomed with my ego. One day, I used bolt cutters to cut the flushers off all the urinals. The resulting Charlottetown Rural piss parade was a monumental occasion. This eventually led to taking a shit on the school walkway where the morning buses let off and I watched a girl slip in it. Then I turned eighteen and almost immediately I was arrested for trespassing on the roof of the local mall.
It's here that I, your now humble narrator, realized the ramifications of being a shithead. I wish it was the understanding that I could have seriously hurt others, but it wasn't. At that time it was the mere implication that I could go to jail. Because jail time would set off a chain of gossip that I'd never truly escape.
After my arrest, it was suddenly not funny to be a teenage shithead anymore. My best friend canceled our plans to move to Europe together after high school. I wasn't allowed into my graduation party. My reputation as an asshole spread quickly—the stink of your shit travels a lot faster in a small town. It informs people's opinions before they meet you. People love to build up who you are from what they've heard of you.
My friends know the person I am now, ten years later—but peripheral people who only knew a glimmer of my past self are still set in their old opinions. They define people by what they hear, and sadly what they heard about me, wasn't my best side. In my case, it's almost always the worst. People talk, and then people talk about that talk. Your personal life is an unending shitty game of broken telephone. Stories of my heavy drinking will no doubt be sung as cautionary ballads to future generations of Island children.
I've always been driven to entertain, but today I do it without trampling over others. I've built meaningful relationships based on mutual respect, I strive to empower the people in my life, and have managed my alcohol consumption. I'm in control. I think people would probably say I'm a pretty nice guy. But it hasn't been easy to get here.
Social media is easy enough to ignore. But, when you have a beautiful island to call home, you tend to lust for visits during the summer (I live at the other end of the country now). As anyone who grew up in PEI and subsequently left will tell you—the place thrives on talk. While visiting, it's those face-to-face interactions that sting. Sideways glances, condescending tones, and assumptions of immaturity are par for the course when running into "old friends."
It seems people stake a sense of accomplishment just from knowing about you, or being around when something "legendary" went down. But, they only really know the shitty broken telephone version of you. I can introduce myself as a writer, and at best, I'm greeted with a lazy eye roll. I don't have a weird sense of pride in this, but I have lost friendships, shamed my family, and have generally worked hard every day to be a halfway decent person as an adult.
But when I go home, I'm greeted with this weird level of expectation. Reputations precede you on PEI. I'll always be one of those guys who water ballooned people coming out of the Anne of Green Gables musical. When I go back, it seems Islanders are stuck in a confused time machine—everyone has aged to the present but only can view the past me from a decade ago.
The gossip never stops, so when I'm home I stop listening and shrug it off like the teenage shithead I was.
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