Yesterday I went to a small reunion of those who survived Kelmscott Senior High School in the mid 1980s, thanks to facebook (and A!). My memories of the place, which were largely unflattering, found their (fictionalised) way into my first novel, Obsession. Since the publication of Obsession, I’ve wondered from time to time if I’ve been a little unfair, particularly in the depiction of the fear-inducing kids who roamed the school, untempered by bullying policies or reliable intervention from teachers. (And I’m sure it’s probably quite different now: even the scariest schools I’ve been into as a writer haven’t had the Clockwork Orange-like menace I remember from my days at KSHS).
So, I’ve made a conscious effort to remember the positives: the couple of teachers who tried to save me from myself, and who encouraged me to be creative and not head down the self-destructive path I nevertheless wandered down for a few years after being ‘permanently suspended’ at the beginning of Year 11. The musicals, and the escape they offered from the tyranny of lunchtimes. Being given the opportunity to audition and be accepted in the WA Youth Theatre Company, which I believe was funded by the Education Department of the day. The teachers who encouraged me to write. Being sent on a Rotary Leadership Camp in Year 10, possibly to try and stop me from becoming seriously naughty (it didn’t work). Tne teacher who had the vision to ask me if everything was all right at home – which, of course, it was not.
I was therefore a little nervous to meet up with some people I knew well in high school, and others who I only remembered by face or by name. Was it just me, I wondered, who remembered KSHS like that?
No, it was not. And it wasn’t just the girls, either. I was mortified to hear one of the guys describe the vicious beatings he received at the hands of one of my highschool boyfriends, and to listen to others’ stories of trying to avoid being randomly descended upon by the bullies, male and female. (I was even more mortified to hear that one girl had been scared of me – not because of me per se, but because of my less savoury associations. And to hear that one of my friends had been harrassed for an entire term because I happened to mention to one of these less savoury associations that I’d had a fight with this friend. Ugh).
Then there were the sad stories of those who had died – through misadventure, or their own hand – or had ended up in jail (and can I say, there were no surprises there).
But for the rest of us, life has been a mixture of sorrow and joy, difficult times and personal satisfactions, and everyone there seemed to have sieved some wisdom – and some humour – from the unexpected twists of our fully lived lives.
It was delightful to be able to reconnect with my old schoolmates – and to be able, ultimately, to laugh at it all (thanks, D! – and apologies to our fellow diners at 2 Fat Indians).