Thank you for the invitation to join this group and to help plan and/or attend the upcoming 25-year reunion (go Cougars?). High school being four of the unhappiest years of my life, I will not be joining either the group or the reunion, but boy howdy has this invitation stirred up a hive of hometown memories. Please accept these random fragments as my reunion contribution In lieu of my attendance, virtual or real-world.
- There’s the usual angst–not fitting in, not being pretty enough, not being cool enough. No surprises there.
- Then there’s the John Hughes-ness of Asheville: being surrounded by North Asheville money every day while one of those North Asheville classmates mentions he drove past your father’s house and that it could really use a paint job; while you’re wondering whether there will be electricity at your mom’s house when you next stay with her; while you’re afraid your mom will start writing bad checks again and the next store won’t be so lenient.
- There’s realizing you’re gay in early 1990s North Carolina where people have no qualms telling you you’ll be thrown in the Lake of Fire for lesser sins, like being Jewish. And finding out two classmates have bet $50 on whether you’re gay (see above about being surrounded by North Asheville money), which you pretend to be satisfied to settle for them on graduation day.
- There’s beginning to make sense of what my father had done to me when I was a little girl, what he had taken from me, what he was likely doing to and taking from my youngest brother and how I have no power to stop it.
- There’s trying to make sense of my mother putting men above her kids, always, even Chuck the Fuck who tried to hit my brother, said he didn’t like my mouth, and somehow kept getting struck by lightning.
- There’s being embraced by the unlikeliest friends–the heavily Christian girls of the Advanced Women’s Choir–then outed, then ostracized completely.
- There’s my father shouting at me and my brothers about how fucking ungrateful we are. Hasn’t he put a roof over our heads? Hasn’t he put food on the table? Hasn’t he paid for our health insurance? There’s my father grabbing my youngest brother by the arm and dragging him up the stairs for spilling something on the dinner table or speaking in the wrong tone or doing nothing at all. Farther back, there’s my father hitting my youngest brother while he was an infant in his crib and me listening on the other side of the wall. Always feeling so fucking useless.
- There’s my brother plummeting into drug addiction and never climbing back out.
- Of course, there are saving graces (amazing graces?) too:
- In-school escapes like academics, theater, and journalism
- Teachers who encouraged, empowered, and inspired me: I’m looking at you, Lisa Sessions and Calvin Hall and Gary Mitchell
- Friends from North Buncombe High School: I’m looking at you, Melanie Bateman and Laura Rhodes and darling Eric Sams
- Finding a fearless sophomore girlfriend my senior year
- The beloved 13-inch black-and-white television in my bedroom at my father’s house, where I could lock the door and escape into Northern Exposure, Murphy Brown, Roseanne, and more
- Summers away from Asheville at nerd camps: Summer Ventures studying discrete mathematics and combinatorial games and girls; North Carolina Governor’s School studying poetry and girls and longing
- Bookstores and coffee shops and poetry poetry poetry: Malaprops and Vincent’s Ear and Captain’s Bookshelf; Adrienne Rich and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kathryn Stripling Byer
- The Olive Garden gays who introduced me to Scandals and Club Hairspray and pubic grooming (a lesson very painfully learned)
- And then there’s the nest of sorrow in my bedroom at my mother’s house, a yellow velvet chair and matching yellow standing lamp under whose golden glow I would wrap my arms around my knees and cry for hours. And the black overhead light in my bedroom at my father’s house, under which I’d lie on the floor and keen while quietly blasting Nine Inch Nails.
So thank you, Asheville High Class of 1995 Facebook Group, for thinking of me, but you can stop reminding me of your invitation to those painful years. There will be no Romy & Michelle moment. I will not be triumphantly returning after so triumphantly running away. There is nothing for me there.
Jessica the Westchesbian
Jessica lives with her shiksa wife and geriatric cat in picturesque Tarrytown on the Hudson. Although a proud Westchesbian these days, Jessica grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, back when the opening of the Olive Garden and the 24-hour Walmart were big news. During business hours, Jessica’s a communications professional who translates highly technical concepts into clear, concise, colloquial language that media buyers and sellers can understand. Outside of business hours, she’s a poet, cat mom, wife, avid reader, and lover of questionable crime, sci-fi, and supernatural TV shows (preferably all in one), not necessarily in that order. Her poetry has appeared in Tin House, The Paris Review, LIT, and The Huffington Post, among others.