How I Survived High School

Everyone I've ever spoken with says they had a lousy high school experience. I've never had a reason to disbelieve them. All I know is that my four years were likely much worse than most folks' (due to nigh-countless tumultuous economic and emotional distresses that I'll keep to myself), and that it's a Christmas miracle I didn't come out of the experience a stark-raving lunatic, a dropout, a criminal, or all of the above. I credit two things that saved me back then -- and even at the time, I knew they were saving me:

  • My best friend, Aaron
  • Storytelling

Aaron and I were thick as thieves back in the day. We were very mischievous, but rarely unlawful -- while we were both dealing with serious shit at home, our parents had raised us right enough, and had armed us with mostly-functioning moral compasses. We did, however, fuck off in school, were far smarter than we ever let on, coasted (and slept) through classes, and very likely exasperated every teacher we had.

We weren't bad kids, but we were remarkably bad students.

I spent much of those years feeling psychically bruised, due to my personal misfortunes. I had few friends, and fewer still with whom I hung out after school. I worked a lot after school, sometimes helping keep the lights on at home, and didn't have a car. It was a lonesome, lonesome time, and I'm glad much of it is gone from my mind.

But I can easily recall my adventures with my friend Aaron, and my love for storytelling. To escape from my lousy circumstances, I sank nearly everything I was into writing, drawing and coloring comic books. My heroes weren't Superman or Wolverine. They were Aaron and me.

Inside those poorly-drawn panels, we could be anyone we wanted to be ... and we were. Aaron and I slayed school bullies, traveled to the Amazon, got laid, were wrongfully arrested (but we busted out of jail!), traveled to the past and the future, died, came back to life, and -- in the "final issue" of the series, which I never completed -- led a cadre of student warriors in defeating an alien invasion.

This was absolute escapism, my therapeutic way of coping with what I rightly perceived to be a fundamentally rotten and unreliable world. I had enough sense at the time to know this, and took quiet comfort in it, penciling page after page, probably hoping that things would get better someday -- maybe as good as they were in the stories I was writing and drawing. They always had happy endings.

I unearthed these comics after my recent cross-country move from South Florida to Denver. I thumbed through them, smiling at memories of making these things in World Civilization, Biology and many other classes. I can't remember a single lesson from those cinderblock classrooms, yet I reckon I was learning anyway. I was teaching myself how to tell stories, and showing my affection for my best friend the best way I knew how.

Aaron and I keep in touch, though it's far too long since we spoke last. Things are great for both of us. We can't complain, and yet we do, because that's what being friends for 20 years is all about.

Here are the covers of those comics -- I'm the blondie named "Chris," Aaron's the better-looking longhair. (Not that any of my characters were much in the looks department ... I was, and remain, a lackluster artist.) There's nods to my favorite stories here: Back to the Future, the Bill and Ted and Indiana Jones movies , even V (represented by the spray-paint graffiti). They were a helluva lot of fun to create, and a hoot to read many years later.

You're looking at what saved me back then. I, more than anyone, am grateful this story has a happy ending.

--J.C.

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