High school is a blur, a drunken haze you’ve allowed to dissipate, but not entirely— nothing is ever fully gone. Memories bleed into one another and blend or have missing reels like a black screen between events. You blame heavy drug use, alcohol, head trauma from accidents or just not caring, but you hold onto the memories you like and try to forget the ones you don’t. Like most people do, you’re no different.
March 2007, colleges sent you their decision. Senior year at City-As-High School, you remember taking a shot with Blue in the stairwell before opening the envelopes. You waited until all eight colleges you applied to sent their decision before opening them. You remember your long curly hair, down and in front of your face, and having a full beard, but this is when you started tying your hair back, straightened maybe, and you shaved the dirt on your chin to look less Indian and more Native American. One after the other, words like “unfortunately,” and “after much consideration I regret to inform you.”
You don’t remember what Blue said, but he said something that made you laugh and you made a joke about his mom being fat or lazy, or both. You told him you didn’t care, and told everyone that asked that you didn’t apply.
You cut class to smoke up in the park with someone, Oscar, maybe. Then you went home and got trashed. You felt like a statistic. Another Mexican-American not going to college. You regret taking your SATs on mushrooms, but you knew your score wouldn’t have been better sober. Words, letters and numbers dance like assholes across the page with or without magic mushrooms. Words still appear as other words as if they’re in disguise and are plotting against you.
You couldn’t decide if you drank too much or not enough.
At graduation you were happy to be the first in your family to graduate high school, but it wasn’t enough, and decided to hate everyone on stage that was starting school in the fall. You would go on to work at Five Guys and drink every day on the job. You would pretend not to care when looking through friends’ MySpace photos of their time away on campus, at parties and with their new friends. You would add another job as an animal handler at Radio City Music Hall and ran over to the liquor store for a bottle of whiskey before your night shift at Five Guys.
It would be a year before you walked into LaGuardia Community College to take classes. You were surprised how easy it was to enroll. Another year and you were at Hunter College. Five years later you would be at Vermont College of Fine Arts getting ready to graduate with your Master’s dressed as Pancho Villa.
Drug use had stopped around your second year at Hunter. You’re drinking habits didn’t subside, but became more regulated: A shot in the morning and a few drinks at lunch and after classes or work. And you maintained that drinking schedule until you became a teacher. Then all drinks were reserved until after work. Because alcoholism isn’t a demon you slay, but toast with, respect, and allow to occupy the space you’d fill with love— if you could.
Your failures have become lessons for your students. After countless retellings of your story, because like you some students didn’t get acceptance letters, you can articulate to your students when they ask why you failed, that you realized it takes you longer to prove yourself than others. And like most children they follow up with another, "why?" That’s when you contemplate in private that maybe you’re just dumb. Maybe because you’re a person of color, maybe not, but you know it doesn’t help. You take your loss and add it to your story you tell over drinks.
Jesse Davila is a writer and high school English teacher living in Brooklyn, New York.
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