In 1965, Sandy Springs High School in Atlanta was a new school with about 1,200 students.
Eighth graders were called sub-freshmen and were neither segregated nor protected from the upper classmen. To a 13-year-old, the seniors looked like they should be meeting for martini lunches at the Sans Souci Lounge instead of dissecting frogs in biology lab.
They dwarfed us in every way imaginable — height, self-assurance, accomplishment, wit, charm. It was a harsh mirror to hold up to our pubescent misery.
The girls at West Hills, so glamorous to me, were rubes in comparison to the Sandy Springs girls. That matching top and tights fad? So last year in Atlanta. How did I know that? I wore a red diamond-patterned top and tights with a navy skirt my first day of school. I stood out like the jack of diamonds against the pastel sweaters and equally subdued wool skirts.
Changing classes at West Hills meant walking across the hall. At Sandy Springs class changes involved running up two flights of stairs to my locker then running back down three flights to my next class, all while trying not to trip, drop anything or move in any way that drew attention.
Eating in the cafeteria with literally hundreds of kids was an introvert’s worst nightmare. Some days I hid out in the rest room, examining my flaws under fluorescent lights.
My first friends were C., who wore her orthodontic head gear to school, and P., who was “going” with Bobby. Think “The Middle’s” Sue Heck and her flamboyant first boyfriend Brad. P. wore white go-go boots and patterned black tights. Do I have to say more?
Then there was D., who was weird, but not as obviously weird as the other two. We were “best” friends, but all we shared was the same taste in music. D.’s home life was a mess. She was a good girl, but she had no supervision. If I spent the night at her place, it wouldn’t be unusual for us to be wandering the streets at midnight, just talking.
D. rarely went to school, and we didn’t have the same classes, so I was often alone. I was shy, fitting in was difficult, and I became very unhappy. My mom commented during this period, “You used to be such a happy child. What happened?” Sandy Springs happened, that’s what.
I did not like the person I’d become and finally got sick of it. Toward the end of my freshman year, I tried out for a play, I joined the Thespian Society, Spanish Club and Young Life. I made new friends, though I still hung out with D. Between freshmen and sophomore years, I was liberated from my braces and got contact lenses.
My friends and I went to football games and basketball games. We had slumber parties; we went shopping at Lenox Square. Life was good.
In late fall of 1967, I came home from a basketball game, excited that we’d won. My parents were waiting expectantly in the living room.
“We’ve got good news,” Mom said. “We’re moving back to Knoxville!”
Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.