Consider reading Childhood interrupted (Part 1) before reading this post.
I remember when I first met the replacement guidance counselor, I liked him immediately. Unlike the former counselor who acted like a disciplinarian, this new gentleman had kind eyes, a soft voice, and unlike most school officials, seemed to treat me like more than just a kid. He was genuinely concerned about what had happened to me. He asked me what I went through, what I wanted, and said he’d help find a solution. And he did.
The new guidance counselor arranged to meet with my parents. I wasn’t nervous because I thought he might get through to them and offer solutions. Again, he did. When my parents came home, my mother talked to me privately. She said that the counselor thought I might benefit from a special private school nearby. The closest private school was considered an “alternative” school in that it offered a very liberal type environment, and unique activities that might interest and motivate me. It was called Woodbridge School, and had a unique campus on a lovely rural road, with a pond, and beautiful trees. The counselor was sure I’d be accepted. I was a reasonably good student with academic potential, a creative independent mind, and had an obvious history of achievement in extracurricular activities (ballet). Though it would be hard to afford, he thought that I might qualify for a scholarship for the remainder of my eleventh grade, and later senior year.
My ballet friend Brigitte went to Woodbridge School, and I remember she said she liked it. That gave me hope that I would perhaps fit in and be able to start something fresh. My mom took the lead in arranging my interview and application. Though I don’t remember my dad saying anything about the switch, he obviously didn’t prevent it. As a side story, years later my dad told me that the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, James Gould Cozzens (a neighbor of his growing up), suggested that my paternal grandparents send him to Woodbridge School when he was a teen. They didn’t, and my dad said he always wished they had. I’m sure that played a role in him being happy I went.
My tour of Woodbridge School was quite impressive, and it gave me great hope. It felt like a possible escape from my situation. I finally went from being depressed to being ultra-excited. Luckily for me, I was soon accepted, and the school provided an ample scholarship to attend.
Woodbridge School was an almost 180 degree change from my old public high school. It was indeed quite liberal and laid back, and less “institutional” feeling. All of the teachers asked students to call them by their first names. It was at this school that I really started to focus on school work. Actually, the curriculum was much more challenging and rigorous than the public school’s. It took effort to catch up to this new level of education.
I’m not sure, but I think at this time I transitioned into a mild elated bipolar hypomania, at least. My brain also opened up and I developed an extreme thirst for knowledge, and even the meaning of life. This might have also been the inspiration for a desire to find God. I had never been religious before this. Though my parents sent me to bible school twice in my early childhood, no one in my immediate family ever attended church except on major holidays, and they were certainly not attached to any particular church.
It is surprising to me now that when I expressed an interest in religion, my parents were happy to help me on my quest. They found friends at various churches in town that were happy to bring me along on Sundays. I went to the Baptist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, and even the Roman Catholic Church. It was at this last church that I felt the Spirit most strongly. As I attended there, week after week, I grew even more drawn to God. Before I knew it, I was attending RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) classes with my maternal grandmother’s Catholic best friend, Mrs. Wooden. Not that long after, I found myself baptized for the first time, and confirmed the same day in front of the church’s huge congregation. I must say that my entry into the Roman Catholic Church, at 17 years old, was a most enlightening experience. I also became a most fervent follower. The church even asked me to give a speech in front of the whole huge congregation about my journey into the church. I must have been hypomanic then, because all other times in my life I’ve had a great fear of public speaking. What I said during that speech seemed so easy to communicate at the time, but after my hypomania wore off, I was actually mortified at what I had said.
Meanwhile at Woodbridge School, I was an increasingly enthusiastic student. As enthusiastic as I was a new Catholic. I remember one day my Pre-calculus teacher, named Uncle Brucie, had the gumption to tell us students that religion was all a sham, and a means to control and take money from people. Well, I wouldn’t tolerate such talk. I remember yelling at him that he had no right to talk about religion in such a way, that he’d be best to stick to math. He yelled back, and told me I could leave the class if I didn’t like it. I did, and went straight to my guidance counselor, Betty, to wage a complaint. I don’t know what happened after that, but I don’t recall him bashing religion again.
Over time, I guess you could say I became quite an argumentative type. Hypomanic irritability can do that to you. I spent a couple of evenings and Saturday mornings at the school in suspension because of it. It gave me a lot of time to think about life, while sweeping leaves from patios.
In addition to having a temper, which I’ve had off and on throughout my life, I wasn’t really the best Catholic at all times. I started drinking on the sly, and smoking. Oddly, when I was there, Woodbridge School had a student smoking room that you could go to with parental permission. I told my mother that I didn’t smoke, but felt left out of the “group” by not being in the room. So, my mom signed the permission slip, and I started smoking my first cigarettes. Back in the late 1980s, you could easily buy cigarettes from a vending machine downtown. No ID required. One day I even showed up at school drunk, though I doubt anybody knew. Later in my life, drinking would become a bad habit. I stopped the smoking very quickly, but also kept a coffee habit I developed. Yes, Woodbridge School even let students drink coffee.
My moods eventually evened out, and I happily settled into a good place at the school. I ended up being the valedictorian of my class, though the class size was only 25. I remember enjoying good times with friends, developing the joy of writing and good literature, and exploring art and the history of music. Woodbridge School offered a great variety of classes unavailable at most schools. I remember taking a Science Fiction class, a class on the history of the U.S.S.R., and creative writing. I volunteered tutoring children in the New Jersey capital city of Trenton. I contributed to the school newspaper. When not in school or church, I immersed myself in music of all kinds. I’d regularly read full novels in one sitting, into the wee hours of the morning. I’d sit in the dark staring at the starry sky and meditate.
I remember in eleventh grade, I had to wait until late in the afternoon to be driven home by a van. That would be a while after our afternoon sports/exercise activity or study period. I always elected jogging/walking because I disliked sports. They’d have us walk about four miles on the beautiful country roads around the school. Eventually, I decided to rather just walk straight home each day. It was also only a 4 mile walk, though very hilly at times. I loved daydreaming while I walked, and enjoyed the walks through the two quaint towns along the way. But I didn’t always end up walking the whole way. Very often someone I knew would drive by and stop and give me a lift. That’s an advantage of living in small rural town areas.
I eventually went on to college after Woodbridge School. I accepted a spot at New Jersey’s largest university, which has over 37,000 students (in contrast to Woodbridge School’s 100). It was basically a move from the country to the big city. Again, an exciting and welcoming change.
To read a story about my first week at university, see my post Music Challenge, Day 4 – Pump Up the Jam.
A story series about my first love will follow in the future.