The last few weeks of high school were such a blur to me. My high school offered the IB diploma. International Baccalaureate was and is a very cool program. But it’s tough. Way tougher than Advanced Placement.
You have to study each course for two years, do a substantial paper for each of them (mine were English, French, Math, Biology, Chemistry and History of the Americas), write an extended essay, do a certain amount of creativity/volunteer hours, take a philosophy capstone class and then take these half day tests in each subject. You get scored on everything and then, if you score high enough, you get a diploma that can be used practically anywhere in the world. It was designed so that the children of United Nations diplomats could still get into Oxbridge and the Sorbonne regardless of where they were living.
IB required a hell of a lot of maturity. Our teachers supported us through the whole thing, but there was a lot of work and most of it I ended up doing on my own to supplement what was going on in class. Most of it reading. By this point, my reading skills had failed me and I didn’t know why and I was too scared to tell anyone. At the time, The Learning Channel and Discovery had legitimate educational shows on deep, deep stuff like James Burke’s Connections and I could remember everything I saw and actually integrate the information and make new leaps of my own. My thoughts were so big and overwhelming that I could lose myself for hours just staring at the particle board that divided my bunk bed from my little sister’s at night when I couldn’t sleep.
I just had no one to talk about this stuff with. My parents weren’t going to discuss philosophy. I’d eclipsed what they knew around seventh grade. My sisters were 12 and 10. My old friends, Michael and Dino, watched with slack jaws as I devolved into a burnout, my new “friends” were actual slack-jawed burnouts, I’d long stopped expecting any of my teachers to notice that I was showing up to school sleep-deprived, starving, on speed and sometimes drunk. I remember this conversation I walked into between Mr. Bender and Mr. Lopez, the IB math teachers. They were comparing notes on me. They thought I was the smartest kid they’d ever come across. I remember thinking to myself, “They can talk about me, but they can’t talk to me.” I don’t say this in a “woah is me” kind of way. It just was what it was, you know? I was that kind of invisible that slips through the cracks because everyone just figured I couldn’t help but succeed.
I spent practically all my time at home on the family computer watching porn and listening to Boston College radio broadcasts.
The porn was just a fascination of mine that came to a head because I needed to feel subversive and sex was the biggest taboo for a Mexican girl like me. I didn’t get off on the sex…it didn’t have a personal connection for me. I got off on the idea that there was a world beyond what was going on in Nogales and I was going to discover it as soon as I got out of that town. Sex was power. And I so needed to feel empowered at that time.
Porn, it turned out, was the key to my IB diploma and my entree into an ethos that served me well.
At the time, Congress was on a rampage to save American children from themselves by censoring the internet. They tried invoking the Comstock Act to get prurient content off the unfiltered internet. I learned about this stuff because pornographers–a delightfully wacko civil libertarian bunch–started filling their homepages with information on the history of censorship. These were the days when every website had that black starry sky background, annoying neon fonts and animated GIFs of mail boxes. Maybe some midi music and a page counter.
I was fascinated. I wondered how these images that made me feel powerful were dangerous to me. I now realize that porn is bad for most neurotypical people if they can’t see it for what it is. When they lose touch with reality, porn becomes real and that is when things can turn bad. But this little autistic brain of mine has never integrated outside popular culture pressure to be anything so I was really lucky. But at the time, all I could think of was…people will censor things that scare them…I need to see everything that scares people so I can make up my own mind. All thanks to James Burke and cable TV and the IB curriculum.
I wrote my substantial paper on the Comstock Act. And then during Spring semester, Mr. Cripe chose me to be one of the four students to go to a conference at the U.N. in NYC.
The conference theme was Technology In The 21st Century. There were hundreds of kids from all over the world, all IB students, all jammed into the actual general assembly of the United Nations. We got to eat lunch in the cafeteria with a view of U Thant Island and the East River (U Thant Island is about five feet in diameter and still probably covered in garbage).
The conference itself was bananas. But, in our free time, I got to hang out with kids my age who all had the same pressures I did, only they were free to roam the streets of Giuliani’s NYC. And they took me along with them. I visited Hector at Columbia, which my mother had forbidden. He walked us around Manhattan and gave us an architectural tour. We drank sweet ass wine at The Columbia College. We shopped in St. Mark’s Place when it was still grungy. We took the subway.
I was in heaven. Free at last from everything that made life hard in Nogales. No parents. No sisters. No jocks. No judgmental friends. No idiots. No cholas threatening to beat me up. No pretending to study for teachers who couldn’t see me. No pressure.
And then, I got selected to give one of the keynote speeches the last day. Out of hundreds of really brilliant kids who did go to fancy schools and had fancy futures. Me, this little nothing from nowhere who couldn’t get it together to read Steinbeck and was barely allowed to apply to college. Me. Up behind a microphone in front of that iconic green marble, talking to hundreds of kids in this historical building. Do you even know what that sort of thing would do for a kid like me? Talk about power.
Afterwards, boys came up to me to talk about my speech. There was this one cute boy, English and with curly brown hair (the best) and a blue blazer. It was the best reward. You could pay me exclusively in conversations with accented boys with curly brown hair for the rest of my life and I would never complain.
And then I had to go home. Imagine having to go back home after something like that. I couldn’t explain the change in me. First off, nobody cared. Secondly, they’d have to know what torture it had been to live 17 years in Nogales to understand how a week in NYC could have changed me so fundamentally. It was too much for anyone to understand. I went to a school where having any sort of ambition was reason enough to get your ass kicked. I’d just come back from the brightest heights anyone my age could possibly ascend and I had to come back to a town where if you wore a nice jacket you already thought you were better than everyone else. The trip only served to isolate me even more from my known world. But it also gave me another glimmer of hope.
Get out, I told myself. Survive. There is so much out there waiting for you if you can just make it through the next month.
I studied for the IB tests. I took them. I ditched school a lot. I hung out with the other IB students in the class, but I had already mentally checked out. And then someone said something that took me a long time to understand. This Mormon girl I knew found out I was dating D, and she knew about me having dated Michael. I guess it took courage, but she finally told me that I had dated the only two boys she’d ever loved. And I was living the life she had so wanted for herself.
The idea that anyone could have noticed me in my tiny corner of misery and wanted a piece of it blew my mind in layers, like surface detonations used in strip mining. I didn’t think I had anything that anyone could ever covet. I thought I’d been invisible.
Graduation came and went. D broke up with me that night. I went to a party at Michael’s, got drunk, sang Jewel with Steven, and made out with Michael in his walk in closet.
Most people from high school still hate my guts. I got threatened to get beat up if I went to my 20th high school reunion. No joke. I got told that I was still a stuck up bitch and that “some things never change.” It’s true, just not about me. The thing that changed for me is that I learned how to share what was going on silently inside my head, and some people caught on that there was more met the eye. I have more friends from high school now than I did when I was actually in high school. I even had this silly, strange fling with one of the popular jocks a few years ago just to see what everyone had been so crazy about.
If I could go back, would I have done things differently? I don’t think so. But God didn’t make time travel into the past possible. He only made karmic healing. So I just have to make up for what went on back then going forward. I fuck up all the time. But I’m trying, you know? That’s gotta count for something.
They’re ready to go now
They got their surfboards
And they’re going to the Discotheque Au Go Go
But she just couldn’t stay
She had to break away
Well New York City really has it all
Oh yeah, oh yeah.
Sheena is a punk rocker
Sheena is a punk rocker now.