Saying that I went to a fiercely competitive all-girls’ high school is like saying that I am going to graduate in seven months and be thrown into an unfriendly job market full of people who will laugh openly when I mention my creative writing portfolio. In other words, it’s true, but the horror of that truth is difficult to convey on the printed page.
It’s not that I didn’t like most of the girls I went to high school with, I just liked other things better. Like applesauce, for example. Especially since applesauce didn’t spend four years asking me, “What’d you get on the Biology test? Uh-huh. Oh, I got an A.” If it ever did ask me, applesauce would probably add something like, “Well, that was a really hard test though. I’m pretty lucky; I totally guessed on a lot of it.” Truthfully, applesauce probably would have stood a good chance of doing better than I on a Biology test. Especially if it had actually studied, and not just flipped through its notes and then wandered off to watch The Simpsons.
Every year in March my high school had EXAM WEEK. A few months before Exam Week, teachers would start referring to how certain things they were teaching were going to be on the Exam. (Cue thunder, shrill screams, fainting of strong men.) A hushed silence would fall over the room, and everyone except me would take a moment of silence to tremble over the imminence of Exam Week, the Armageddon for neurotic prep-school girls who had been taking practice SATs since before they could focus their eyes. I was usually too busy composing haikus about how I wanted to be eating lunch or making out with David Duchovny instead of sitting through double history.
Ooo, Exam Week. I’m so scared, I’m trembling. Don’t let Exam Week get me! That was my reaction to Exam Week when I was listening, especially after I read in the student handbook that the Exam for any given class counted for not more than 1/7th of our grade in that class. One-seventh? I wasn’t one for numbers, but one-seventh seemed like not very much. If you divided a dollar up into seven equal amounts, each amount was only about…oh, forget it. The point is, nobody else in my class seemed appropriately impressed by my discovery that we really didn’t need to worry about these exams, as they didn’t count for much. Although now that I think about it, I have since taken Finals in college that counted for a healthy 25% of my grade for a class (now there’s a percentage I can both tabulate and respect) without getting too worked up about it. Perhaps I just lack a healthy fear of education. In any case, despite my protests, Exam Week continued to inspire fear and anorexia in those around me.
There was no middle ground. Either you gloated over your academic achievements and measured your self-worth by them, or you gleefully showed off the reading quiz you failed in English class because you hadn’t bothered to read Wuthering Heights and had written that Heathcliff was Catherine’s cat. I was the only girl in my grade to drop Math after two years of hard-earned 69’s on all my tests, which gave me five extra free periods all to myself each week. My comment that ‘Not taking math is like having a 40-minute orgasm every day’ found its way into the yearbook, where I hope the math department enjoyed it. I’ve generally found my failures to be funnier than my successes. And, you know, I’ve learned more from them. Or something.