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Girl Writer

I'm a Grown-Ass Woman Who Reenrolled in High School for a Day

I learned about biology, bathrooms, mediocre lunches, and film history while gawking at just how crazily young all my classmates looked.

by Alison Stevenson
Nov 7 2014, 5:00am

It's often said that those who look back on their high school years as the best years of their life are incredibly miserable people today. Those who were outcasts, or were bullied, grew up to be so successful and rich that the trauma of their teenage years was completely erased, leaving no permanent damage to their psyche. I would like to dispel this misconception. You see, I fit into that latter group of people. When I reflect on my high school experience, there are no fond memories, and yet I am not at all successful or rich today. That's another point for the popular kids.

High school me was pretentious. My general attitude toward nearly everyone in my school was "fuck off." I had nothing in common with the popular kids because I refused to listen to Sublime and didn't participate in school activities. I never went to football games, homecoming parades, or school dances. Not even prom. I was that brand of teen that felt like no one understood me. I thought I was better than everyone because I watched, and pretended to understand, the occasional Fellini film by myself on Friday nights. My social life was limited to hanging out with the few people I deemed worthy of being my friends at lunch. I was probably so insufferable. I rarely went out on weekends, and maybe attended a total of three parties. To make things worse, I was also heavily involved in theater. At the time, my one wish in life was to get the hell out of there.

However, lately I've been thinking, were those four years really as bad as I made them out to be? It seems that now, with the advent of social media and smartphones, teens are worse off than they were back when I was one. In my day, it was all about Myspace and LiveJournal, but that was pretty much it. The only distractions our cellphones provided were texting and playing Snake. The teens of today are uploading fights to YouTube, making racist Vines, SnapChatting naked pictures, tweeting insults at one another, and participating in idiotic trends like the Condom Challenge. Should I be thankful that I was a teen before these things were happening? Is the teenage experience really all that different?

I decided to relive high school and see for myself if being a teen again is worth it or not. I contacted my alma mater, conveniently located near me in the San Fernando Valley (where Los Angeles goes to die), and asked them if I could be an undercover student. After a lot of awkward conversations assuring the school board I really was a writer and not a pedophile, they finally agreed to let me do it for one day. 

When I signed myself up to do this, I failed to remember the fact that school starts promptly at 8:01 AM, meaning I would have to wake up before 8 AM—something I have not done in a very long time. I always resented school starting so early. Back in my heyday of being a teen, I was late to school almost every single day, which resulted in several lunch detentions a month. Then again, I didn't mind those detentions because it was pretty much the only "badass" thing about me. 

My alarm went off at 6:30, and I made the immediate decision that I did not need to shower. I kept sleeping, and eventually forced myself to get up at 7:20. 

When it came to getting ready, I did not suspect that I would have a problem passing for a teen. I frequently get told I look younger than my real age—a comment that, one day, I am supposed to find flattering, because rumor has it that the inevitable passage of time will have a negative effect on me once I am middle-aged. At that point, I will have to defy the process of aging if I want to still be considered fuck-worthy to men my age. Right now, however, I know that the reason I look younger is because of my hereditary adult acne (shout out to Papa Stevenson) mixed with me having never grown past 5'1". Regardless, I still made sure to get rid of, or tone down, anything about me that still might make me look "adult." Basically, I didn't wear makeup.

I was supposed to get to the main office at 7:30 AM to get my class assignments and sign in. I arrived at 8:00 AM, rushed to the main office, and immediately started talking to the woman at the front desk. She shushed me, put her right hand over her heart, and pointed out the American flag behind me. I turned around, put my right hand over my heart, and waited for a teenaged boy to finish reciting the pledge of allegiance over the PA system. I completely forgot this was a thing I had to do every day. I even forgot the words, and there aren't even that many. Great job at keeping me a patriot, America.

I was assigned five classes: creative writing, world history, English literature, biology, and film history. The teachers were told who I was, but the students were not. The first class was creative writing, and I knew exactly where to go. It was surprising to me how well I remembered where everything was. Almost nothing about the buildings had changed—though, I mean, I don't exactly know what kind of change I was expecting. I guess I thought that there might be some random iPads on the walls for some reason, something to signal that this school was not still in the year 2003. Back in 2003, it felt like my school was in the year 1994. So really, this place has not changed since at least 1994. 

I was stoked on creative writing. The perfect class to really listen to some good old-fashioned teen angst. When I took this class my senior year, I wrote dumb crap about Wes Anderson being the only person who got me even though we have never met, and how suburbia was going to be the DEATH of me. I was ready to hear it all again. This time as an adult who can be patronizing. Come on teens. Give me that drama. That emotion. That pain. Please, delve into your STRUGGLE. 

What did I get instead? One girl read to us a poem she wrote about her mom. A loving poem. She even said she gave it to her mom, who then cried. The fuck? Another guy read a story about how much he misses his grandma. What kind of bullshit is this? You're a teen. Family is the enemy. They don't buy you all the crap that you want and don't let you stay out past midnight. They're dictators who don't get you. You're supposed to hate them until they pay for you to go to college, and then miss them because now you have to do your own laundry. Ugh. I blame Obama.

My next three class were academic classes, and not as disappointing. Well, not as disappointing in the sense that they were just as miserable as I remembered them being. My concentration broke frequently, as I looked around the room at all the students. They were not dressed very well. Again, don't know why, but I assumed that the teens of today put more effort into their clothing. Nope. I saw the same, stupid faux pas I took part in. The same baggy shirts and pants with too many pockets. The same act of tying jackets around the waist. The same Abercrombie & Fitch pants with the intentional holes in the knees. I even saw someone wearing read-and-black fingerless gloves similar to a pair I wore in high school. My pair (from Hot Topic, of course) had let everyone know that I was dark and mysterious, not like other kids. High school is still a fashion nightmare. 

When I did pay attention to teacher, I realized that I don't remember the majority of the things I learned in high school, and was now seeing exactly why. High school is easy to pass as long as you commit yourself to memorizing a lot of facts. I was not a good student as much as I was dedicated to memorizing shit. Biology especially reminded me of this. I definitely took biology in high school, but almost everything this teacher was talking about felt new to me. Bones? What the hell are those? Yeah, we all think we know what bones are. They're those things that make our skeleton and prevent our organs from jumbling around inside us or something. However, I didn't know what bones were made of. This is information I knew at one point in my life, and now I am clueless. The teacher asked the class, "What are the two types of tissue bones are composed of?" Kids raised their hands and read the answer directly from their textbook: Cortical and trabecular. Not even close to ringing a bell. What information did I replace with this? Memorizing the lyrics to "Nookie," because I thought that would be funny? I can't forget that song, but I can forget what's happening inside my own body. This is the reason doctors charge us a lot of money just to tell us that we sneeze because we have allergies. Because of Limp Bizkit. 

I will admit that I did develop a momentary crush on my history teacher, just like in the iconic Drew Barrymore film Never Been Kissed. He looked probably just a few years older than me and was ironically dressed like some sort of preppy private school student, equipped with blazer and bow-tie. I found him attractive, and was impressed by his teaching. He did the opposite of what the biology teacher did—he forbade students from looking at their textbook and encouraged them to answer questions using only their memory from what they were assigned to read. As he lectured, he emphasized to his class that note-taking is not repeating what he says word for word; rather they should be writing down the concepts he was teaching in their own words. I never thought it would happen, but learning was turning me on. I might have even been in love. Just a little.

I talked to him a bit after the class ended. He knew I was not a real student, and started talking to me about how he used to live in New York. It was weird for me to realize that I probably had a lot of teachers his age but assumed they were much older. Unlike Drew Barrymore and Michael Vartan, my crush fizzled as soon as I left the classroom. Being the only male close to my age who I had seen the entire day had a lot to do with my thinking I might be in love with him. Now I get why people in small towns marry their high school sweethearts. Who the hell else are they going to marry?

At this point, it was lunch, and I was feeling flustered. I went inside a bathroom to collect my thoughts. The stalls were incredibly short, even for me, and paper towels were thrown everywhere. Two sinks somehow flooded. What the hell are teens doing in here? Inside my stall, I read an inspiring quote written in black marker: "No matter how big your house is. How big your bank account is. Our graves will be the same size. Stay humble hoes." She's right. This hoe has to stay humble. 

I had no one to eat with. No one in any of my classes had talked to me, or even asked who I was. I had hoped at least one kid would offer to show me around, assuming I was a new student. I should have reached out to speak to someone, but honestly, I was terrified. In English class, one girl asked me what page we were on and I froze for a complete ten seconds. I then stuttered for the first time in a decade. I don't know why, but these teens were intimidating. I feared that anything I said would scream, "I'm a grownup, hate me!" 

I stood in the long, crowded line of the cafeteria. In front of me, a group of three girls teased a group of four boys, telling them they have Ebola. Ebola jokes are really big in the high school circuit right now. The food options were limited: peanut butter and jelly sandwich or sloppy joes. There was also an apple and milk. I grabbed a sloppy joe, which came with a side of corn, an apple, and (begrudgingly) a milk carton. I didn't have a student ID, so the cashier charged me $3.50 for it. I was outraged. Back in my day, lunch only cost $1.50. The food didn't even change. In fact, these sloppy joes looked like they very well could have been leftovers from when I was in school. 

Out of habit, I walked to the area I used to eat lunch at the majority of the time I was in high school, a large planter by the quad. I remembered standing by this planter, with my three best friends. We spent our lunch finishing homework assignments and freaking out over lines we had to memorize because we were all in theater together. All us theater nerds hovered around this planter, then split into smaller groups. The really nerdy theater nerds could be heard from the other side of the planter singing songs from some Broadway musical I didn't give a crap about. The cool theater nerds were in the center. They were cool because they got the lead roles in every play, had friends outside of theater, and smoked pot. My friends and I the faction that hated musicals, but didn't smoke pot. 

I finished my lunch, and had a lot of time to wander. I decided to head toward where my next class would be. As I wandered, I marveled at how young everyone looked. When I was a freshman in high school, the seniors looked like full-fledged adults to me. The girls had boobs and the guys had facial hair. Not only that, but they could drive, and some could even vote. These things were a big deal. I could easily tell who was lucky enough to be a voter and who was a lowly noob like me. Now I can't tell the difference at all. They all look exactly the same. They are all the age of teen. 

I got closer to the classroom and looked inside. A bunch of kids were in the room, eating while watching Labyrinth. The teacher sat at her desk, ignoring them. I walked in and watched the film until the bell rang. This was all so confusing. Labyrinth? No one I knew in high school spent their lunch watching Labryinth. Is this a new phenomena or was it my fault for never bothering to enter a classroom when I didn't have to?

This class, my last class of the day, was film history. I guess it does make sense that a bunch of kids were already inside watching a movie—although Labryinth was not on the syllabus. Our teacher gave a short lecture on the Marx Brothers and put on Duck Soup. About ten minutes in, half the class fell asleep. I was surprised to see that no one took out their phones. I had rarely seen anyone on their phones, in fact. The bell rang as I was mid-thought about poor Zeppo (the Rob Kardashian of the Marx Brothers). Film history was over, and so was my school day.

During the car ride home, I found myself thinking this wasn't all so bad. Maybe my attitude was the only thing that made high school so awful. Then I thought about having to repeat this day, every day. For nine months out of the year. Not only that, but having to live with my parents while doing so. The bad feelings quickly came back. Sorry kiddos, high school sucks and there's nothing you can do about it. It did feel good to see that not much has actually changed. Teens still have to write their notes with a pen and paper and sit in a series of wooden chairs, bored out of their mind. They ignore the temptations of their smartphones and use their lunch break to interact with people. It's true that the cliques will never change. There'll always be popular kids, outcasts, nerds, stoners, and whatever the classification JROTC kids fit into. Though these groups were much more apparent to me as a teen. Now they are all clumped together as whippersnappers with no respect for public restrooms.

Follow Alison Stevenson on ​Twitter.

Tagged:
teens
snapchat
1994
Millennials
Stuff
film history
kids today
textbooks
theater nerds
Reliving high school
alma mater
undercover adult
Pledge of Allegiance
cortical and trabecular bone tissue
Never Been Kissed
Stay humble hoes
overpriced sloppy Joe's
Marx Brothers
public bathrooms