I was fortunate enough to go to a boarding school for high school. This was not because my parents were rich or I got an amazing scholarship, no. It’s because my parents worked for a company that paid for it. Maybe you think that a fifteen year old is too young to leave home? Well, let me tell you, I was nervous, but I was ready. My raging teen hormones had reached a level that was seriously conflicting with my mom’s menopausal hormones.
Hey nature! This is a stupid trick! Menopause should be dependent on when your child leaves home. If they stay forever, at least you’ll be able to think, “gee, I never had to go through that damn menopause crap.” After all, you’ll have to find some bright nugget if your kid is still at home on their 50th birthday.
I sat down before my prospective school catalogues. They were all on the East Coast, except for a Catholic all girls school in Washington State. Yea. Right. Like I would consider that. I started taking note of the ratios of girls to boys. Once I had narrowed the stack of catalogues down to the few that had at most a ratio of 1:3 I began to look at the stock photography. Well. Sure, I can lay on the grass in New England like anyone. BUT, can I do it in a uniform? Ew! I was totally grossed out. Out of the stack went a few more catalogues. I was down to two.
Blair Academy and Suffield Academy.
Essentially the same schools, just slightly different New England locations. One was in New Jersey and one was in Connecticut. Did I mention that I had the option to go anywhere in the world? You’d think that at a time like this your parents would step in and tell you that “you are an IDIOT! Go to Spain! Go to Italy! Go to Aruba!” Instead, they left the decision up to me.
I was an American teenager living in Saudi Arabia, and I have to admit, I missed the idea of being American.
The idea of being American to my teenage self: hanging out with Cory Haim and Cory Feldman, drinking can after can of diet Coke, going to the mall, wearing current styles (not the styles of 6-12 months ago. Madonna was already on to her pointed bra stage when we were sporting lace gloves and perms), listening to boom boxes while people break-danced on a piece of cardboard next to me, going to fast food restaurants (with my boys, Cory and Cory), and for some reason imagining boy after boy hanging on my every word.
I was going to be an American in America!
I poured over the catalogues again. Suffield or Blair. Blair or Suffield. This was a big important decision. I put it off. I turned 15. Time was running out. I grabbed those catalogues a final time. My best friend was going to Suffield. This should be a no brainer. BUT. Suffield didn’t allow jeans as a part of their dress code. How the hell were boys going to fall madly in love with me if I couldn’t wear jeans? Really? Sorry BFF.
It came down to you or the jeans, and I chose the jeans.
The ratio of girls to boys wasn’t too shabby either. I was outnumbered 3 to 1.
I packed my 15-year-old valuables, which consisted of my vast tape cassette collection and jeans. We flew to New Jersey. We got lost at least ten times. Then, in our rented van, “Red Red Wine” came on the radio. I stopped listening to my parents argue about directions. I looked out the window. There were gorgeous giant trees. There were rolling hills. This was actually quite beautiful. Maybe I’d learn to drink some red wine at a place like this. We pulled up the “driveway” along with the exquisite cars of the other parents that were making giant pools of drool fall from my dad’s lips. I unpacked and settled in. My parents left. Without shedding a tear, I might add.
I was free.
I was at boarding school!
I ate raisin-ettes by the crateful, danced to Two Live Crew with my best friends, I fell in and out of love (sometimes in the same day), and sometimes I scrounged up enough change in the couches to buy a diet Coke.
It’s official: I was American.
Not quite all I hope for. As I traveled back and forth across the word, writing love letters to my boyfriend of the moment (who was NEITHER CORY) I started to see the reality.
No one I knew could breakdance.
Most people ate McDonald’s DAILY, and it showed. Sometimes the ratio of boys to girls means there’s more boys around, but our of that 3:1 ratio, 1/3 are red necks, 1/3 are gay, and the other 1/3 are not even close to resembling a Lost Boy. Americans really did have a tendency to be loud. They often exhibited a certain arrogance. While traveling, they were unattractive in almost every way (myself included – never could handle that red red wine – memorably demonstrated on a flight to Amsterdam when I released that red red wine in a most unglamourous fashion). What had I done?
The important thing here is that I got my wish. I was born American and I had returned to my country of origin. But I missed my shwarmas. I missed the random garbage smell that would knock you over from a mysterious direction. I missed the incense. I missed the women in their black abayas casting sheepish, curious glances our way. I (almost) missed the stares of the Arab boys, because in Saudi I was different. I was blonde. That was enough. In New Jersey, I was one of many (yes, I know you are weeping for my hardship). But I kept my bubble strong.
I wore jeans almost every day for three years. And while I never saw either of the Corys, but I did see Lou Reed. Americana personified. Black leather, sunglasses, in the rolling hills of Jersey.
Good thing I was sporting my jeans. I’m sure it mattered to Lou.