When I was ten years old I went with my parents to visit relatives in Europe. While in England, my parents left me with some friends to spend time with their daughter Anna, who was about my age. I was to stay with them for the week and go to school with her; she was in middle school at the time. This was the first time I can remember being immersed in a true public school. My other memories of the public school system come from peering through the chain link fence into Bancroft Middle School from the yard of my small private christian School and from biking past Hoover Middle School (the school of my older sister, but not me.)
So... I went with Anna to school her school outside of London. I think she forgot to ask for permission for me to be there, as I remember there being some confusion when I arrived as to what they would do with me. After some conversation they allowed me to remain and tag along with her. We began the day in the science classroom. SCIENCE CLASSROOM. I remember a poster on the wall, something about what can happen in the split second when a fly lands on one’s food. I remember the grit and the beauty of the school, an aged and dirty location where kids filtered in and out like slow clockwork through the halls.
The days were rather long and boring as I followed my friend from class to class, absorbing my unusual surroundings. After school a group of kids from Anna’s neighborhood walked home together, through the parks and alleys of a seemingly perpetually overcast England. Movies always take me back to this time, and the squish of wet grass beneath my feat.
There was a school dance while I was in town. This was the one and only school dance I would ever have the opportunity to attend. (I should specify: small, private, very conservative christian school.) I wore a “very” fashionable florescent yellow Micky Mouse shirt, a black jacket and black slacks. (I was 10. It was 1989. Give me a break.) Other kids were dancing, but we mostly stood around and talked. I remember having to go the restroom - the stalls were covered with graffiti and the floors stained with rust or blood (or both.) The smell and the feel reminded me of restrooms at the beach... though slightly cleaner overall.
When I imagine it in my mind, I think that’s what the “real world” smells like: concrete, rain and piss. Something I was mostly sheltered from growing up, but would come to discover in bits and pieces on my own.
A boy I met at the school and I wrote letters back and forth for a year. I told my father they were from "just a friend," though I doubt he believed me.