How did your high school friends impact your life? Or did they at all? Mine did, and here’s how.
I went to high school in a small town in Montana. Our graduating class numbered about 110. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, there weren’t many activities for girls—Title Nine didn’t exist until I left for college—so sports for girls were limited to track and six-person basketball both began when I was in middle school as AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) sports. Thank god for this union, or we would have been sitting around twiddling our thumbs. Never heard of six-person basketball? Ask anyone from Iowa as it seems they used that model, also. For the uninitiated, girls had to play six-man basketball because our delicate constitutions couldn’t handle five girls running up and down the court, so two forwards and two defenders had to stay on their end of the court, and two rovers could run the full court. The other activities for girls around sports were Pom Pom, Majorettes (baton) and cheerleaders. I was a cheerleader. One of my older sisters was a cheerleader, too. My three older brothers were football, basketball and wrestling athletes, so when the football coach approached a few of the cheerleaders at lunch one day and said we should be football players instead, I took it as a compliment, oblivious to the fact he was sizing us up as hefty farm and ranch girls.
Like so many areas of my life, I took my cheerleading seriously. I still have nightmares about showing up at a game in the wrong outfit, or forgetting the moves in the middle of the gym floor. Both of which I did in real life, neither were life threatening at the time, but how bizarre is that? I’m 66! Anxiety over stuff that happened 50 years ago!?!
But Mean Girls? I don’t think we were. But then I didn’t hang with one group of friends enough to get mean, or to get picked on. I was, maybe, a floater. I had also spent the entirety of my school years at the same school. I didn’t have to transfer in from a faraway place. I was a known commodity, and the status I had built in elementary school followed me. I also had older siblings who had opened doors for me.
I marched to a different drummer most of my school years. My friends changed depending on what I was doing, and what class I was in. And they changed depending on whether anyone had a boyfriend at the moment. Most of my closest friends were kids that I went from first or second grade all the way to graduation.
Even though we spent an inordinate amount of time together, I was like a co-worker rather than friend. I had a job to do, and I did it. Colleen, Denise, June, Dawn and I were the core cheerleaders in our class, and we were together at least three of the four high school years. My senior year I had mentally moved on, so I wasn’t as engaged in activities. Those four took me out partying after our last cheerleading event and we drove all over the county. They took me places I had only heard about! I had become pretty tightly wrapped. It was a good way to solidify our bond and close out our senior year, knowing our cheering days were over. They had hijacked me—I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. I think they wondered if they could crack the Koyama veneer, and they did.
I didn’t have the same group to lunch with all four years, but my Junior year was memorable because I had lunch with Bonnie every day. Bonnie and I were cheerleaders together that year—she was the lone upper classman in our group of six—and our class schedule was such that we had the early lunch period together. I remember having so much fun with her in the lunch line, laughing and talking as we waited for our hot lunch. Having lunch with an upper classman was also very cool, and I am sure raised my status. Plus Bonnie was really popular, so just being in her halo was a big plus!! She was not a mean girl…
The Fair Four
I have to include a group of guys in this friends discourse. Paul, Chris, Shane, Paul’s little brother, David. And Mark K, dubbed Nymph. So it should have been the Fair Five, but I didn’t make up the name, I just perpetuate it. These four/five guys were special because…I don’t know. Because they weren’t jocks, they were book smart or at least came across that way. In today’s world they would probably be the computer geeks. Back in those days we didn’t have computers, so maybe they were just geeks. I list them as high school friends not so much because I hung out with them, but because I liked each one of them individually and as this group. One week I had to miss a week of school to work on the farm, and when I got back there was a cardboard flower in my locker. I think it was from one of the Fair Four, but to this day I don’t know who it was from. OK, guys, ‘fess up!
Girls track was a sanctioned high school sport, the first while I was in school. June, one of the cheerleaders, and I participated in field events. June threw the javelin, and had a beautifully graceful approach and throw. I was a shot and discuss competitor. There weren’t many other girls in the shot and discus events, so during practice at the shot circle George and John, two of the guys in the field events, and I would laugh and joke while practicing our form. I loved being on the team. My senior year after one of our last meets was the Prom. I didn’t have a date, but Sheri and Shari, both runners on the team, wouldn’t stand for it. On the ride home on the bus they took charge of my life and set me up with Shari’s younger brother so that I could go to the prom. Not one of the highlights of my high school career, but definitely a move only best friends could do.
Our school participated in a student exchange program, AFS (American Field Service). It really wasn’t an exchange per se, since we received, but never sent anyone until I came along, but that’s not the point. I can’t even begin to express how important that program was to me. I was fascinated by every exchange student we had, going back seven or eight years before me. These students made me aware of the broader world outside the boundaries of Big Horn County, the state of Montana, and the USA. So it only tracks that my first true love was the exchange student from Sweden. Sven (yes, that was really his name) asked me to the Prom my sophomore year, and we wrote letters for over four years after he returned to Sweden. My parents never begrudged me the postage, which had to be extremely expensive in its day. They probably figured it was a cheap safeguard from other dangers for a teen-aged girl in a small town. Which is a natural segue to:
Which I didn’t have many of either—boyfriends or boy type friends. It may not have looked like it on the surface, but I was really shy about being around boys, especially around boys I had a crush on—which given I went to school with most of these guys for a decade plus two, meant I likely had a crush on over half of them at one point or another. I probably should categorize boy type friends, beyond the Fair Four mentioned above, in the General category below, because while I didn’t date a lot, I did have boy type friends that made up the patchwork of friends that influenced my youth.
Like Venn Diagrams, my circle of friends sometimes stood alone, sometimes overlapped. 4-H was one of those circles that had some overlap but was separate from my regular high school life. 4-H was important because it took me beyond my boundaries and gave me a snapshot of an organization and world outside of my normal sphere. Fairs were my way of getting together with friends during the summer when I was trapped on the farm. It was the first kiss, the first competition where ribbons and trophies were handed out. It was freedom from oversight when we ran wild at the fairgrounds. It was feeling happy for Sheri when her horse won a conformation championship, and when the other Shari (my track friend) won at barrel racing. It was going to 4-H camp at Colstrip and having my friends Donna and Patty’s parents as leaders and mentors.
OK, so being called a general friend doesn’t sound very cool, but I mean it in a good way. These were the friends who were always just “there.” They were the friends who went through every grade in grade school with me, who experienced adolescence and the angst that went with that transformation, and who were probably being picked on, or picking upon other kids without me having a clue. It was Debbie who sat in my car in her parent’s driveway debating about love, life and friendship as we were living it real-time. Carol, Kathy and I felt bonded because our dads were good friends. It was Cathy who lived 20 miles from town on a ranch where we would ride horses together in the sand rocks. The list goes on. And the more I write, the more I realize I leave important people out.
These childhood friends who became high school friends also became the fabric of who I am. They became the personalities–the arch types–that I leveraged to understand life. They were and still are the foundation of resiliency, curiosity and stability that allows me to venture onward every day. And they have become the model for lasting friendships that I try to adhere to still.
I can’t imagine my life without the people from my high school years. Good or bad, I learned life lessons from them. And I hope they benefitted from knowing me, too.
One thought on “High School Friends—Mean Girls or Not?”
I love this piece – of course I do! Reuniting with you is always a gift – and the history we share is similar, opposite, exactly the same – depending. The friendships you describe ring all the more true, especially since Carol and I just shared one of life’s hardest moments together – Memorial Service. The High School classmates that gathered together yesterday made me think of friendship all night long… Love you friend.