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high school & the promise it held
by heather m. millen

I'm fourteen years old, swinging from the front porch on the makeshift swing we put together from a board and some rope. The house is built on a hill and the porch is at its steepest incline. As I stretch my toes toward the moon, the whoosh of the ten feet below me makes me feel like I'm flying. My body arched backward, I look up and take in the night stars. A thousand points of light transfix the night and I too am transfixed. My future feels as vast and possible as this scene above me. I've never felt so alive.

School starts in the fall and I'm officially beginning high school. I've just made the varsity cheering squad, school's going well and I've fallen for my first love. My heart and mind are awash with emotion. I've never felt so much. Suddenly it seems like the world has opened its arms to me and curtsies at my feet. My entire life lies before me, ready to become everything I ever dreamed of. This sky before me is the limit. I am propelled by dreams and can't imagine anything more wonderful.

Looking back at this young me, I feel a twinge of envy. This girl was a dreamer and never for one moment had to think about reality creating obstacles that might diminish these dreams. Or at least make her fight for them. She was in love for the first time and never hesitated to give her heart. She wore her feelings on her sleeve. She dreamt without reservation and dove into those dreams without trepidation. She had found utopia and she hadn't even learned in school what that was yet.

Nothing that summer ended quite as I imagined it would that hot starry night on the porch swing. A few weeks later, my parents would announce that we were moving. I would cry endlessly and tell my first love good-bye, all the while feeling as if I were trapped in an epic tale of tragedy and romance. I would say "I love you" for the first time and know even now that, for what it was, I really meant it.

Weeks later I would leave the small Pennsylvania town I grew up in and move to North Carolina, a place that felt hopelessly far away from everything I loved. Far away from the fallen down oak that created a bridge over the creek in my back yard that I would try my best balancing act on as a child. The same fallen down oak on which I reenacted the scene from “Dirty Dancing” once the movie had come out and I’d watched it 72 times thoroughly. Far from the familiar town that would paint “Go Warriors” in red & white on all the storefronts come football season to root on the home team... the home team that never won but still gave one hell of a pep rally.

But, as things go, what had first seemed like an ending would be a new beginning. I'd have many more adventures and still hold that spirit that teenagers have the gift of holding-- the gift of possibility.

Each day was just one more opportunity to be happy. And never did anything of this world stand in the way. A career was something you simply chose, not something you worked at yet. In your mind's eye, you were already an executive in a power suit ruling a multi-million dollar corporation. You were a writer penning a masterpiece for the next generation. You were a nurse healing the sick, changing the world one person at a time.

And all of that seemed so far away. There were a million and one days I would get to live until the future would be here. For now, life was an endless barrage of new experiences. My first taste of alcohol. Feeling my lips go numb and my head start to spin. My first trip without any parental supervision. And finding myself in the Myrtle Beach Courthouse due to that early taste of alcohol. My first real boyfriend. My first time.

Each moment felt like it was made to be a part of some priceless scrap book and I wanted to get it right. I wanted each "first" to be perfect. Of course, none of them were. And looking back now, that's exactly what made them perfect. Everything was just as splendid and unexpected as it could possibly be.

My first prom. My first limo. My longest slow dance. The graduation rehearsal where my friends and I wore our bathing suits under our gowns and tried to convince all the boys we were naked. The graduation. My senior breakfast and our "eccentric" English teacher doing a Diana Ross impersonation that brought the house down. In retrospect, it plays like a "Grease" musical. Only without the poodle skirts and all the singing.

They're some of the most wonderful memories any of us can have. I look back at the pictures and you can almost see all of this gleaming from our eyes. We were untouchable.

I bought a yearbook. I had all of my closest friends and not-so-close friends sign it. I had it filled with B.F.F's and the Have-A-Great-Summers. I reserved the front page for my very best friend who filled it with priceless anecdotes and "in" jokes only we would appreciate. (Lead birds. HA!)

But you know what? I never look at that book. I never have to. It's preserved in my memory better than any paper and ink and awkward senior photos could ever enshrine.

Yeah, I'm sure there were bad times. But there's no need to remember it that way. It was one of the most magical times of my young life. Even the bad times were good, because they were new. I just want to remember it the way it really was... through those gleaming eyes.

Even now, when I look at a teenager, their head cocked to the side in a general apathetic gesture, I think about how wonderful of a time of life they are in and how they don't even begin to realize it. But I guess that's part of the beauty of that age. You don't have to worry about little things like that. It's the privilege of being untouchable.


Heather has a penchant for drama, both personally and professionally. She secretly wishes people spoke in song and wholeheartedly believes that everyone deserves a standing ovation now and again. She finds it appalling that people reserve champagne only for special occasions, when champagne is clearly best on a Tuesday, while riding the subway, accompanying a slice of kick-ass pizza.

more about heather m. millen


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by heather m. millen
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jeff miller
8.29.03 @ 11:21a

"It's the privilege of being untouchable."
Right about now, looking back on those years splits me in two. Wanna go back? You can't. Wanna change something you did? You can't. All you can do is try to squeeze the essence from the best parts of your past and drink it down. I take mine in quick shots, cuz lingering too long make smy head spin.

heather millen
8.29.03 @ 2:33p

It's finicky like that. I'm completely in nostalgia mode right now. My best friend from high school is visiting tomorrow and I can't wait.

Anyone else have some nice HS memories to share?

robert melos
8.30.03 @ 12:34a

No. No nice HS memories. If you read any of my American Gothic pieces you'll get an idea of what my HS life was like. However, you had the teen years I wish I had. Well, without the "dirty dancing" stuff, and the moving to NC.

samantha brown
8.30.03 @ 3:15a

I have some "crazy"mellow memories...my high school senior prom. Nothing like I thought it would be...everyone was talking like it was going to be this big party;but in reality no one,and I mean no one,did anything that was outrageously crazy...like drinking endlessly,etc. My prom date and I ended up falling asleep in the hotel room...that's all! Nothing more...but that's what made mine so memorable. It's because nothing "crazy" happened...just plain "youthful innocence". We were so sleepy that we just laid our heads down and before you knew it we were asleep...period. lol!


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