There’s this memory that keeps coming to my mind recently.
I’m probably fifteen, and I’m sitting in my usual spot at the two lab tables pushed together, front and center, in my environmental science class, my program class/major. We’ve just gotten our—I think—PSAT results, or some other big standardized test. There are so many of them. My friends chatter somewhat nervously about their already high scores around me.
I, sporting the ever present disheveled purple ponytail and bags under my eyes in the same color, the school fashion, am booting up my class notes on my school Google Drive account in one tab, and whatever writing project in the other. I usually work on both simultaneously, noting down the slide, then turning to my writing, evoking good natured teasing from our teacher as the others scramble to get the notes in. My overstuffed backpack beside me contains school supplies, several leisure books, a four hundred page binder printout of my latest NaNoWriMo novel, and Xanax. We’re all on Xanax. The class bearded dragon settles into the hood on my jacket.
“Whatever, we all know Hannah did best,” my friend E says, of the scores. She’s the one not on Xanax; she’s on Adderall, and I hear any extras are a hot commodity. She snatches the oversized envelope out of where it still rests in my hand. She swears loudly, then snaps her gum, earning a halfhearted:
“Hey,” from our teacher.
Everyone peers at my results and makes similar remarks. J, not sharing her exact results, squirms; she doesn’t test well. I squeeze her shoulder. I’m kind of in love with her anyway.
I hang out with the somewhat nerdy kids, in an extremely selective magnet school, and they are wowed. Their scores are good. They are by the time you take your actual SATs, your scores might get you into the Ivy League good. Even J will go to a very nice college. M, currently muttering, “Jesus Christ, ninety-ninth percentile?” is a talented swimmer, always arriving to class dripping wet after waking well before dawn. Their percentiles are in the upper eighties, low nineties.
But my scores are best, as E predicted. Because I’m Hannah, and I’m the smartest, and I’m ambitious, and I get all the plaudits, and I write books, and I’m going places, and I haven’t really slept in years.
The funny thing about this memory is that I am, to my knowledge, the only one who doesn’t technically graduate.
I effectively drop out just a few months later.
Here’s another memory.
Ultimately, after exploring options, I had opted to write my own curriculum plan and “homeschool” myself for a year (read: run around the arts district with the local NaNoWriMo group), then get my high school equivalency a year early. I’d already worn out public school, private school, magnet school, and online school. I’d now attempted a few community college classes, mostly online, without much enthusiasm or success. Depending on how I tell this story, I either had a psychotic break and dropped out of high school, graduated a year early after opting to be an autodidact homeschooler for a year, or I left to pursue my greater passions/”creative differences”.
Now, though, aged nineteen, I was sitting in the hallway near my Anthropology class on a dreary morning in Cambridge, MA. I’d somehow gotten into a lovely, small, private liberal arts college with a very nice scholarship. It was a great school in a lot of ways, and I was in love with the greater Boston area (and maybe yet another girl). But by October, I was in a seventy-two hour psych hold, and after almost going home to Vegas (recently rattled by the October 1 shooting), I had opted to stay. Adjust my course load, work with the counseling center and disability office, change my meds, get myself together, and try again.
As I sat in the hall, staring at my notebook, too drained to write, early to class simply because I had nowhere better to be, I dreaded going into the classroom. I dreaded sitting through the lesson. I dreaded sprinting to Arts and Social Justice on a different campus immediately after, and sitting through that. I dreaded the idea of going back to my tiny, sixth floor walkup dorm, and doing homework with my roommate.
I could not comprehend how badly I did not want to go to that class.
And as I sat there, it dawned on me that I had never really wanted to go to that class, or to Arts and Social Justice, or to any other class. There were ones I liked better and worse, had more or less passion for the subject, and got on with the professor better or worse. But while I loved learning, the subjects in theory, I had never really wanted to go, never really wanted to do the homework.
Why was I going to college?
I just wanted to write, mostly. And what do you do with a degree in creative writing? Most of the courses I’d ever taken seemed to just be beating my will and creativity out of me. I had just dropped my planned second major, a self designed program in conlanging expressive arts therapy, realizing, after my psych ward stay—where I’d done the most productive writing since I’d arrived in Cambridge—that I could never work in mental health. I was thinking about doing the dual degree program, getting a Master’s because it sounded good, but why? I didn’t need a degree to write a book. I’d written several. This wasn’t actually any better than my community college classes online, and it cost a lot more: money, time, creative energy, sanity, being away from home. I hadn’t even wanted to finish high school.
I… don’t want to be here.
I had never really wanted to go to college, in reality. It just seemed like a thing to do. I wanted the experience. I liked sitting around with my favorite professors over lunch, discussing this book and that. I liked forming a schedule around interesting sounding subjects. I liked creating pretty study guides, and even studying them, not to test, but to learn. I liked the culture of study groups, of library and museum trips. I liked learning, I liked reading, I liked writing. But I had almost never… liked school.
I didn’t walk into my Anthropology class.
I stood, turned around, walked out of the building, and was at the airport less than eight hours later.
After that, I started one more part time community college semester online just to appease those who asked, “But what are you doing with your life?” It got dropped when I became too ill with what turned out to be mold poisoning, and I didn’t look back. After sorting out the mold, getting a relevant surgery, so on, well, that was when Dad died. And suddenly I was making money, a landlord, and the fact that I spent all day writing and being a housewife (finally fell in love with the right girl who wanted what I did) suddenly seemed valid.
So I felt like I could focus on that: being a housewife with my own projects. I published several books, and translated my nonfiction into becoming an alternative sexuality educator. I started taking a self paced online butler school course I was actually passionate about, couldn’t imagine dropping not matter how challenging it got. I talked about books with friends and did challenges together and journaled and volunteered at the library and learned and read and wrote.
And, no real regrets. School wasn’t for me. It’s for some people. But not for me. I found enough happiness and health and success and knowledge elsewhere.
I think a lot of people think of me as the academic, educated sort, using obscure vocabulary words and always having my face in a book or journal, teaching and learning. But really, I’m a high school dropout who hasn’t loved school since the fifth grade.
And I’m more than okay with that.