I started my junior year of high school in 2008. It’s the year that everyone fears for some reason. It’s the year where everyone is loading up on Advanced Placement classes if they’re willing to take on the challenge. It’s the year where everyone is thinking about college and taking exams knowing that every score will land them closer to or farther from the school of their dreams. Me? I did my work. I didn’t take my exams for college until senior year, except the ACT, which I got a decent enough score on that I didn’t bother to take it again. I learned how to procrastinate effectively. I tried to put in the least amount of effort I could possibly put in to get by with decent grades. Elementary school and middle school taught me that I was “gifted,” someone who was smarter than the average, and I put that to the test in my junior year of high school. I must be smart if I did the bare minimum and still scraped by with an A or B in every class, right?

Growing up was strange. All throughout elementary school and middle school, I was placed on the “gifted” track for the subjects that were offered. Teachers gave me rave reviews, saying things about how I was a joy to have in class, about how my quality of work was excellent, and all this stuff that went to my head. Middle school was a breeze; high school must be the same deal then, right?

I have no doubt that the first year was easier, academically, than what my grades showed. But no one tells you how traumatizing it is to be in a class where you don’t have any friends. There was a break in my continuity. Comparing schedules with old friends showed me that none of my friends were in my classes with me. And especially when the high school that I entered was filled with people who already knew one another, I felt even more isolated. The first year made me dread group projects, even though during middle school I loved doing them. The first year made me afraid to join any clubs even though I was so pumped during the summer to join as many as I could. I didn’t make those connections with people until much later, until after 2008.

In 2008, I tried to make friends. Many of the friends I made started off as friends of previously established friends. And to be honest, there haven’t been many who have traversed the line that separates friends-of-friends and friends and stayed there. There are one or two that have crossed the line after college and stayed there, and I’m so grateful for them and they are wonderful people. But in 2008, I am sure that my unflattering haircut and my ignorance about the world didn’t help me at all. Now, being away from my hometown for extended periods of time and deleting all manner of keeping in touch with those people doesn’t help them to stay friends with me now.

If I could redo 2008, this is what I would do.

There was a boy that I had a crush on. Actually, there were several boys that I had crushes on. Funnily enough, most of them were named Daniel. But that’s not the important part. There was a boy that I had a crush on. He may or may not have been named Daniel. He had a girlfriend during the first part of 2008 that moved away during the summer. From what I saw of them, they were really cute together. I don’t know how that relationship ended, or if it’s even ended. For all I know, they could have made the long distance thing work, and that’s awesome if that’s the case.

In junior year, his locker was one locker away from mine. I would get to school early in the morning; I abhorred taking the bus because I was just so uncomfortable around people. I would ask my mother to drop me off to school early in the morning whenever it lined up with her work schedule, sit in the hallway in front of my locker, and do homework before the first period of the day. Whenever this boy dropped by his locker, then I knew it was time to pack up and make my way to my first class. We shared a class, during the second period of the day if I recall correctly, but we sat in different parts of the classroom.

Anyway, I had a crush on this boy. That was back when I spent too much time getting sucked into Facebook and into clicking on the profiles of people that showed up in my feed. Whenever I would click on his profile, it would be filled with links to news articles and his comments on their contents, and I would read them and feel like I learned more than what I learned in the classroom. There would also be interactions between him and his friends, and I would sort of just gloss over those. As a result, I have a good idea of what he stands for and hardly any idea at all of what his personal life is like.

In 2008, or maybe it was 2009, he talked to me once. I was waiting for my friend to get out of band rehearsal after school and I was sitting in the hallway outside of the band room. He was walking through the hallway and he came up and initiated a conversation.

And, typical Caroliena, I ran away. I don’t remember what the conversation was about, all I know is that it was short, my heart started beating way too fast, and I leaped away when I saw my friend come out of her rehearsal. My entire mind was this mass of static that made me short-circuit and lose all coherency.

I think I may have scared him away with that interaction. Either that or listing Atlas Shrugged as a book I liked on Facebook because I wanted to seem smarter than I actually was. (For the record, I recognize the fact that I’m an idiot and my favorite book that isn’t a Harry Potter book is Ishmael by Daniel Quinn; something about people named Daniel.)

Anyway, the reason why I’m talking about this crush that I had on this boy is because I realize now, in retrospect, that this boy was doing a lot of really good things, and he would have been really good for me if I allowed myself to not be afraid of getting to know him. If I wasn’t so damn afraid, then I would have been a lot more comfortable in my skin throughout high school. If I were more comfortable in my skin, I would have been able to at least have a coherent conversation with that boy and maybe made friends. Just friends. That’s enough.

And it’s not just this boy. It’s with every person that I thought was really cool in high school. There was this group of them that I was tangentially connected to. I would share a subject or two with them, but I hardly interacted with them because I preemptively shut down the possibility of friendship. I felt stupid and unworthy even though they maybe would have been perfectly fine with who I was, and with who I have become. I wish I made friends with these people.

But going beyond the making friends part, my fear is what held me back from seeking out people who would change me. The fear is what defined me in 2008. If I didn’t allow it to grow to this paralyzing thing, I would have been a much better person. I would have learned a lot of what I know now earlier.

But whatever. 2008 happened. I entered into a very strange period in my life, and all that was necessary to become the person that I am right now. I’m happy, I’m healthy, and I’m trying to undo the eighteen years of damage that I’ve inflicted on the world as a result of all the things I did because I “didn’t know any better.” I know better now.

I still want to talk to this boy, though. If he’s stayed on the path that he was on in high school, then he’s a really awesome person. I still wouldn’t be able to contribute much to a conversation with him; years of staying silent around people I didn’t know has made me more of an active listener than an active contributor. But I would like to listen to him. And I wouldn’t run away this time.

I’ll work up the courage to ask around about him.

This post was inspired by the Daily Prompt: Buffalo Nickel.

The first coin I picked off my desk. A 20 cent coin from 2008.

The first coin I picked off my desk. An Australian 20 cent coin from 2008.

Yes, it was inspired by a prompt, but this post was long due and I am serious about wanting to get in touch with this boy. So, yeah.

Edited on 26 Feb to clear some things up.