Monday, April 30, 2012

My Life Story: 1995


My senior year in high school started out with me burning my bra. It was Homecoming week and the homecoming bonfire was a *decades-old tradition, the night before the big game when the student body met back in the parking lot at night to ignite the flames of school spirit both literally and figuratively.  My friends thought of it first, bowing down into the crowd, unclasping through their shirts, hoisting their bras right into the flames.

I thought it was brilliant, so I reached inside my shirt, pulled out my bra and threw it sailing. I could see it fall through the fire and land on the burning wooden crates. As I watched it melt I felt a sense of pride in myself, an empowerment almost. It was really significant somehow and I thought it might have to do with being a Feminist, but I didn't know for sure.

After the bonfire sizzled down into embers and car lights flashed at the remains of our celebration I turned to see a freshman boy kicking through the ash. He picked up the remains of my bra--singed wires of what once held my chest together--and put it in his pocket.

By the next morning I was answering to the Vice Principal.

"I can't believe you would do this Courtney," he said to me, lecturing me about how I was a Student Body Officer, an example for the entire school. In my mind I countered by saying, Yes but I am the Girls President which is perfectly in line with burning my bra.

"We're going to have to watch you," he warned.

But I was done, frankly. I had thrown my bra into the bonfire and my submissiveness right there with it. I decided I was done feeling little in my life. I had worked up some pretty powerful man/authority issues and I was ready to show my world that I was no longer interested in being less than anybody.

I told my parents about the bra burning. My mother (who I will always credit with my feisty side) was pretty quiet about it, but my dad was thrilled. His daughter showing independence and attitude made him proud. Even now, my bra burning stands as the first thing he tells people about me.

This made me really like my parents. A lot.

Over the next few months I got into more trouble. My friends and I had a fundraiser at the school one evening during a school dance. When one of the administrators bossed and belittled us around to the point I couldn't take it one minute longer I screamed at him, and when his wife butted in I screamed at her too. Then the crowd started getting excited--moshing and dancing to the angry music--and he shut down the dance entirely.

The next Monday in school there were more meetings, our student government advisor was livid, our principals were upset. They made me sit in a meeting across from "the administrator," in a room full of men, and asked me to apologize. I didn't want to apologize, I felt I had nothing to apologize for, but I felt so intimidated I did what I had to do to get out of that room.

"I am so sorry," I said, sobbing, not because I was really sorry at all, but because I was sorry I wasn't strong enough to tell them all to shove off.

After it was over, not a word from the administrator back to me, one of them said to me, "That was a good girl Courtney. We were thinking of suspending you, but now we'll just put you back on warning."

My parents were on a vacation together when this happened, when their car pulled into our driveway I ran out and spilled the entire story to them, helping them carry their suitcases inside and continued on as they unpacked.

They were both unhappy. But not with me.

My dad offered to go back to the school to have a second meeting with all the same people, this time with my parents in the room. But I knew my dad had clout at my school and I didn't want to make things worse by involving him. I just wanted them to know how I felt.

The next week an underground, anonymously written paper came out in print and the entire school was reading. Terrible things were spouted about "the administrator" including sophomoric jokes that made everyone laugh. Of course, I was the first student they thought of--I wrote for the school newspaper, I had a grudge, I had friends that would help me.

Back into the principal's office I went. Only this time I was entirely innocent and I could prove that by pointing out the fact that I would never write so poorly. When the students were finally caught, they were suspended for the entire semester. I thought the punishment was far too harsh, that bothered me until one time when they showed up at school wearing Mexican blankets and huge sombreros to disguise their faces. Then I knew if they weren't taking it so seriously, I shouldn't either.

This gave me an idea though, I started to write my feelings about the administration in the school newspaper. I questioned the choices and politics of the administration. I spent time pointing to the new attendance policy which I felt was a failure. One time I had to wait in "the administrator's" office for some reason. I saw on his desk my editorial which he had highlighted in yellow marker. To me, it was success.

I thought a lot about my bra burning that year. I really didn't know what it meant to be a powerful woman but what I thought it meant was belittling men and challenging female stereotypes. I encouraged the girls of the school to grow out their leg hair. I quoted Feminists during morning announcements. I filled the halls with pink balloons. I invited all the girls at lunch to play "Pin the brain on the boy."

That one got me in trouble. Again.

Then at the very last of my senior year there was a wide investigation into how students were cheating the new attendance policy. Hundreds of students were caught, lists of names from freshman to seniors were logged. I watched students, nervous and shaky, heading into the principal's office, leaving with pink suspension papers in their hands and wet eyes. I knew my time was coming.

I had also cheated the system, but not in anyway I was ashamed of. Instead of having my mother call in to excuse me, I'd have my friends in the attendance office excuse me. I knew my mother knew I wasn't going to class, she always knew anyway. Or, instead of having to get official papers to be signed out of class for a student body officer/journalism project, I'd just have my friends skip due process and excuse me instead. However, I had a few tardies I asked to be wiped of to avoid the bane of my existence: tardy make up.

When my name was called I had learned a few things about entering in the principal's office. I first called my dad. I had already warned my parents this was coming, instead of suspending over half the entire student body, the administration was picking out a few students to make examples of. They started with the cheerleaders, went onto the football/basketball/baseball players and now they were on to student body officers, me.

My dad showed up and told the principal he knew exactly why I was in there and furthermore he wasn't allowing me to sign the pink paper until there was a concession from the administration that the attendance policy was idiotic (it was so strict it was nearly impossible to adhere and yet it was simply too easy to cheat it). There was no concession made, of course, so my dad cleverly told them I was not allowed to sign the pink paper until a day before spring break. This way, while my fellow students were having two days of spring break, I got to tack on an extra three days, making my spring break a week long.

This made the principal really mad, which excited me so much I started crying, again. I felt I had finally found my triumph, only a bit disappointed it had to come from my dad stepping in. There was no recourse, I continued to go to school until the day before spring break when I went into the office and signed the paper.

With my friends who were also suspended, we spent the week lying in the sun, eating and lounging celebrating the last month of high school. My mom took us shopping in Salt Lake where I found my first pair of wedge jelly shoes. We also instituted our favorite pastime, driving my mother's convertible at night, around town, top down, with our shirts off. On the last day of school my friends took off their shirts and ran down main hall, through groups of surprised students and on out the south doors. I was done with trips to the principal's office, so I clapped them on as they dashed passed me. We ended high school the same way we started, in flames of braless/shirtless glory.

I had a good relationship with my parents, they had boundaries and rules, curfews and expectations but I felt they knew I had a good heart and honorable intentions. They could see my view and they shared it and supported me in having a voice and using it for what I saw was important. I also had a spiritual awakening that year, I felt like Heavenly Father knew I was a fighter, and He loved it about me. He loved that I knew I was better than being belittled and He was proud of me for recognizing it in myself and demanding it from others. I had friends I adored, both boys and girls, I had made enemies along the way but for the most part, I went to school with people I genuinely enjoyed.

Then, we graduated and it was all over.

I had grown so tired of public school at that point I made a grand effort to close the door with finality the day I graduated. I started college one week later, summer semester at Utah Valley State College, drove my forest green Rodeo across town to campus and I never looked back.




*this would be the last Homecoming bonfire, it ended with the class of 1995.