the clenched fist never receives


Last night, Tessa and I attended a very swanky black-tie fundraising dinner for her very swanky prep high school. Included in the evening was the now-ubiquitous 10-minute video showing the school grounds, ageless teachers, and various other luminaries waxing romantic about their salad days in the wilds of Connecticut. Also present were pictures of fresh-faced prep school kids from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s all hugging each other and looking into the camera with the baited lust of youthful hope.

You’ve seen these pictures from pretty much any school (so I won’t find a random one and post it), but it’s always about 4-5 friends outside on a crisp fall day, smiling, awash in each others’ unending friendship. I’m always struck by this image, because in our prep school, my friends would never have allowed it to happen.

I’m not saying we were mean-spirited or anything; we just weren’t big “huggers” and besides, we didn’t look the part. I’d like to say we were gothic or of the freak/geek subset, but that wasn’t true either. We weren’t marginalized, certainly not hated, and none of us were particularly sullen. We were mostly guilty of Not Being Lacrosse Players.

Believe me, my school had tons of those happy pictures: cheerleaders, the tennis team, kids whose parents had divorced and married each others’ parents, even the Model U.N. Squad and the Debate Team. Lynn Barco and I spent three years in the darkroom with our hands steeped in stopbath, developing those negatives for the school paper. When the yearbook came out, their faces were there, but not ours.

I don’t know why I carry such shame from my high school years and early college: I was such a combination of Entitlement and Cluelessness, and I still shudder at some of the things I was thinking. I like to fancy myself a true wit, and then I remember some of the things I said in the mid-1980s and wonder how ANY of you stood by me. This is something I have to release – the Alcoholics Anonymous people do it right, as they do not forget their past, but never let it get in their way.

I wish I’d been Friend #3, left center, in those happy pictures, but it took several more years for that to happen. My high school clique had to get out of Norfolk, they had to sing in a cappella choirs, visit Amsterdam, come out to their parents, and let the long nights at William & Mary, UVA and Princeton do their work. For my own part, I had to go to Carolina.

Only then was I able to settle into a pile of like-minded souls and have the spirit – and the lack of paralyzing self-consciousness – to take the kind of picture that makes you want to dig into your pockets and actually give money to an idea. Sometimes your careless youth can only happen when you’re older.


some cool kids including Benji, Kendall, Tracy, Jon, Kit, Vic, Toni, Chip, etc.

2 thoughts on “the clenched fist never receives

  1. Anne

    Yet another variation of Late Bloomer Syndrome… congrats for landing on your feet,
    I wasn’t a total nerd in HS, but like you I had to wait for college to come into my own… or at least accelerate the process. The great thing about going away to college where no one knows you yet is that you can start from scratch and reinvent yourself. I saw this happen with many quiet kids from my public high school… once they moved out of Cliqueville, they blossomed. Many are now way more accomplished and, well, COOL than the varsity princes and cheerleader princesses of our teen years. The in crowd could coast on its looks and popularity; others of us had to Try Harder, which is a desirable trait out in the real world.

  2. Josie

    I actually think everyone relates to these entries; I know I do. I never tire of them.
    It’s the same phenomenon that compels EVERYONE to believe they are middle class. You can have one home and own a trade-based business, or you can be a pair of surgeons with three homes – You still think you’re middle class.
    I bet even those smiling faces in the pictures has an adolescence fraught with doubt and self-loathing.
    I don’t think you get as many comments b/c 1) not everyone is into bearing their souls on the internet at this level, 2) they still dont want to admit their were a dork, or 3) they dont want to bogart your post and make it about them.


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