What if this had all happened in “my day?”
I’d like to start this new series off by saying that I hope that this finds you and yours well, happy and healthy. These are unprecedented times in our world and that is my genuine hope for you and yours, just as it is for me and mine. And ours.
I was inspired to write this because of the situation that we all find ourselves in. I love alternative history. I don’t often read it, but I really enjoy it when I do. Harry Turtledove is a lot of fun to read, for example. I think I, like most people, often ponder “what if,” maybe more than I should.
So, as our world struggles with COVID, I’ve decided to do a little bit of a deep dive into my own personal history and try to discern how my life would have changed if the crisis we are experiencing now would have happened in my teen years.
For the purposes of this, I’m going to examine my journals and memory banks beginning in March of my eighth-grade year and finish my senior year. I will begin the examination as though it ran parallel in time to what our experience has been, so, with “stay at home” beginning on March 13 and assumes that the remainder of the school year is cancelled.
I honestly have no idea how this is going to look when it’s all done, but I feel like doing it. So that’s what I’m doing. For each year, I’ll give a summary of what was happening in my life and then I’ll discuss what might have been different had this pandemic happened then. I will also look into the months to come and postulate a bit.
I hope this is as interesting to you as it is to me.
Eighth Grade: March, 1987
Where I was:
I was an eighth grader in my final year at St. Paul’s School. I’d had a pretty intense experience there to say the least. I had some difficult years, but by the time we got to this point, I had found a bit of a niche and had matured a bit. I’d just finished a successful basketball season where our team made the CYO playoffs for the first time in forever. I’d gained some confidence; I’d gotten my acne under control (a little) and was beginning to really look forward to high school. Most of my classmates were headed to Notre Dame High, but I was headed to Hightstown High, and I was really excited about it the “Clean slate” aspect of that change. I’d been doing summer community theater for several summers and already knew a lot of kids at the school.
I was really looking forward to the eighth-grade class trip to Washington, DC. We’d been pen pals with a school from Florida all year, and I was looking forward to meeting Cindy, with whom I’d exchanged letters for months. I somehow had this idea that that trip was going to be a sort of jumping off point for me in terms of leaving SPS behind and starting a new experience at HHS. It turned out very much to be just that. It was a great trip that was a real watershed moment for me for a variety of reasons.
My grades were fine. There was a girl at SPS who I really liked, but she had no interest in me. I’d dated a girl from another school who I met at the Trinity Church Rummage sale, but we only went out a few times and she lived too far away for me to ride my bike to hang out with her, so that relationship had run its course. We’d really been more of a phone relationship.
I had a lead part in the spring play where I played the angel Gabriel. I have no memory of the show itself, but it was a chance to perform. We’d started rehearsals. There’s a picture of me in the yearbook in costume.
As March began, I was also on break from the Trinity Choir. My voice had changed so I’d stepped away while it did that. In the fall, the plan was to return as bass now that I was no longer a treble.
So, if the world had shut down on March 13, 1987,
how would my life have changed?
I think I can say with little hesitation that it would have changed dramatically. The trip to DC would have been scrapped, and the confidence and closure that I achieved on that trip might not have happened.
On a positive note, I don’t think I would have gotten detention and banned from the SPS St. Patrick’s Day dance for play-fighting with Jean in the hallway on the way to science class, so that would have been a positive. He still got to go. I didn’t. Sister K really had it in for me.
I would have missed out on graduation, which was a big moment for me. Sometime in April, I impressed my English teacher by completing my “Memorizing a poem” project in one night. I’d been assigned “The Road not Taken” by Robert Frost and I’d presented it, with great and theatrical aplomb, the day after it was assigned. She sent me to Father Dave, who was also impressed, to the point that he gave me the honor of reading aloud the “Desiderata” poem, which the class was presenting in song and spoken form at our graduation. After eight very up and down years at SPS, that moment where I led the got to stand in the pulpit and read the poem, which I still remember beginning, “Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence,” was a real moment of catharsis for me. I’m not really sure how I would have moved on from that experience without those events. I wouldn’t have lip-synched “You’ve lost that loving feeling” with Mike at the eighth-grade dance. Nor would I have danced with both Sister K (with whom, as I mentioned, I’d had a long and unpleasant history) nor with my math teacher, who insisted that I dance with her to “Lady in Red.”
I’m not sure where to put either of those last two things, really. But, I also would not likely have embarrased myself at a graduation party held at the home of the girl I had a crush on when I made one last attempt to convince her to date me. Yes, I remember what I said and no, I’m not telling you.
It’s likely my sister would have come home early from college. My father, who was a public-school teacher would have been home. My mother, who worked with senior citizens likely would have had her office closed. I wonder if she would have stayed home and not continued to look in on the seniors that she helped care for. I don’t know for sure.
I had a few kids in our neighborhood that I was friendly with, but most of my closest friends at the time lived further away. I imagine that Mom and Dad would have given me books to read and report on, much like I’ve done with the kids. I can’t imagine that SPS would have been equipped to do distance learning. This was 1987. The school had just gotten computers and they used cassettes to run programs.
What about the summer?
While much of that would have likely had an impact on me, as I look at the summer of 1987, which was to be one of the most important summers of my life, I’m genuinely anxious to think about what might have happened if things were shut down for that.
The summer of ‘87 had me in a small role in a production of “Brigadoon” at the OAT, but more importantly, I was headed to the high school version of the Tomato Patch Arts Camp at the local community college. On the heels of a successful end of my time at SPS, and the prospect of starting fresh at HHS, I was primed and ready for a Kugs reboot. (Although we didn’t have that word back then.)
The camp itself was a transformative experience for me. I decided that I was just going to be myself, but with one small difference: I would, for a change, no longer be afraid of anyone or anything. I decided that I was going to meet every single kid in the camp. I was going to make friends with loads of new people and I was just going to have fun. And I did. I met every single person in the program. I met some of the best friends I was to ever have in that time, so, so many of whom I am still friends with today. Many of them went to school with me at HHS. Many of them were at my father’s funeral in 1990. Some of them were at my wedding in 1999. And it was just FUN! It was a rebirth for me and I relished in it whole-heartedly.
And, I had a girlfriend, among my first ever and she was wonderful. We only dated for a month or two, but it was wonderful. We even exchanged “one-week anniversary” poems. I still have the one she wrote, and the friendship bracelet she made me. When the relationship ended, we remained friends afterwards and are friends to this day. Our families were friends for years and I remember that she was the first person to arrive at my father’s funeral years later and that she held my hand until I was ready to let go. If that summer hadn’t happened, I don’t know that we would have met in the same way. I might never have seen Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School,” with her and her parents, surreptitiously holding hands while her parents weren’t looking.
If the summer activities had been cancelled, there would have been so, so much disruption to the way that my life actually ended up going. As it happened, by the time school started in the fall, I was pumped and ready and confident to start my life as a high school student. The experience of meeting the kids from Florida on the school DC trip, graduating SPS and leaving in a positive way and my experience at Tomato Patch that next summer totally helped me reform and reshape who I was at thirteen. If I’d spent that time locked down in the house, I genuinely don’t know what version of myself would have emerged. There are friends I would never have met. There are live-shaping experiences I would never have had. There are relationships that might never have occurred.
All that said, I’m curious how my parents and sister and I would have managed that time. We’d finally gotten cable, so we’d have had that going for us, in addition to the sweet “Odyssey” video game system that I was the only kid in North America still using. That KC Munchkin game would have gotten some use. I used to spend a lot of time in those days in my room or in the basement, where I had a antennae-based TV, and all my comic books and a couch. I imagine my father, who was a PE teacher would have had me doing some sort of exercising with him. Mom and Dad were both into gardening, so I imagine I’d have been put to work on that sort of thing as well. I can’t imagine that they’d let me sleep all day. That aspect of this is interesting to think about. We had a pop-up camper that I think my mother would have used as her refuge, much as she did when she was trying to work on her college courses with me at her heels as a first grader.
So, in the end, if this had happened to me in my eighth-grade year, I think it would have been very disruptive to the life I ended up living, in ways that I can see very clearly. Then, as now, we’d have managed, but there would likely have been huge changes in the way the following years went for me, especially if the summer didn’t happen. Stay tuned for a look at ninth grade…which should be interesting since I have journals from then…
Until then, stay safe and let me know what you think in the comments section!