My St. John's Prep Senior Yearbook Photo
I originally intended for my blog to serve as a platform for original essays every few weeks, but a pair of important writing projects and numerous events in my life prevented that from happening. Coincidentally, I spent a lot of time this year unearthing papers that I wrote in high school and college and never expected to rediscover. Thus my blog became a virtual display case for my early work while I develop as a screenwriter. Until I have more time to devote to my blog, I share the writing that precedes everything I write about now.
A piece that I’ve been working on since June was intended to be my final essay of the year. In it, I offer some previously withheld insight into my ambitions as a screenwriter and how this blog, my Facebook page, and my flurry of childhood videos all play into these ambitions. Ultimately, I decided to delay posting it until the beginning of the massive year Madonna has in store for us all. Madonna’s incredible career accomplishments in the second half of the 90s defined my years in high school, and fueled my incentive to succeed during a time when such a positive influence was crucially beneficial. I have many long-simmering projects ready for unveiling in 2012, and once again having Madonna’s lead to follow throughout a vital year in my own life is something for which I am most grateful.
I offer one last “display case” essay as my thirteenth and final 2011 blog post. It deals with the unrequited gay love that I wrote about in countless papers in high school and college, one of which was posted on my blog over the summer. What makes this paper different from my previous post about the same person is that I inverted the gender of the object of my affections. I did this whenever I wrote about him in high school, but in this final paper I made no attempt otherwise to veil the fact that I was talking about a fellow classmate at an all boys’ Catholic school. I think this defined my approach to sexuality during those four years. I never lied to myself in high school about being gay, and I shared my identity with numerous people in and out of school, but I never came out of the closet far enough to eradicate “gender swapping” from my personal essays. It disturbs me to read it now and feel like a liar, yet the deception itself takes me back to that time and place in a vivid, immediate way. It was only during that era that I called myself “Bob” instead of “Robert”. It started as a new nickname, but by the end of my years in high school “Bob” had become more like a rewritten version of myself. It took an extended stay at Emerson College to restore myself back to “Robert” in both name and spirit, but in the years since graduating I’ve funneled that personal energy into an alternate persona for my cinematic work: “Angelo de Vries”. The process of constructing that identity, and the rationale behind it, are the subject of what will be my first blog essay of 2012.
Robert Jeffrey 5/12/00
English IV: A, Mr. Klein: Grand Finale Paper
Thoughts Frozen In Time:
A Look Back at 1996 And Beyond
Since being assigned this project, I was planning to write about my last four years on this night, the last night before my last day of high school. What a wonderful opportunity it would be to completely attack and degrade all that I so despises about St. John’s throughout the past four years. Yet this morning, as I slowly woke up and washed, I was struck with an emotion for which I had not yet braced myself: profound sadness. Sure, everyone always told me that I shouldn’t rush through high school, because I’d end up regretting it in the long run. Being the cynical old rebel that I am, I flipped the tables and made this sense of regret a benchmark to which I hoped to reach down the line. “I just want to grow up and get high school over with,” I would tell people. “That way I can be thirty-five and wonder why I didn’t do more with my youth.” Who would have thought that I wouldn’t have to wait seventeen more years?
As I brushed my teeth and combed my hair, I couldn’t take my eyes off of my eyes. As I looked at my reflection, I was suddenly shocked by the degree of age that showed in my eyes, a sense of maturity and worldliness that had always made me so proud. It was then that I realized that so much of my life over the past four years has been continuously built on a foundation of genuine sadness and discontent. There were so many dreams that flooded my mind in elementary school, and so many nightmares manifested within the confines of junior high school. Ultimately my aspirations and reality would cancel one another out, leaving a mere shadow of the person who once was. Then love came along. I am not sure if it was a blessing or a curse that I should fall in love with my own Beautiful Stranger at the same time I started a new path of life at St. John’s Prep. I fell in love, and that void that I should have learned to fill myself was instead filled by a creature more beautiful than anything I had ever seen before. When love left my life, I did my best to cling to it. For three years I clung, but with each day that went by I slowly—VERY slowly—realized that I would never share my life with this person. That realization not only tore my heart to pieces, it also left that void empty again. Thus suffering and romantic angst would dominate my own persona and outlook on life. I was not the person I was supposed to be at the age of sixteen. Nor at the age of seventeen, and even for most of eighteen. Rather, I was a walking and talking love letter, forever sent to someone who wouldn’t, perhaps couldn’t, love me back. Thus my eyes grew old, my face grew old, and my heart grew cold. Perhaps, all along, it was really this emptiness that tainted my outlook on high school. Of course that’s not to say that high school was perfect. If it was, I am not quite repentant enough yet to admit it.
This morning, I looked into the mirror, I cleansed my soul, and I was suddenly flooded with memories. Not the homework and the projects and the strict guidelines. Not the disappearing parking spaces or the friends who left each summer or the massive conformity movements. Instead, it was the beauty underneath all of this that filled my thoughts; the friends I had never appreciated, the people whose influence I had not acknowledged, and the one person I had to learn to let go of. These emotionally driven thoughts were rapid but wholly significant. In a matter of seconds, I finally appreciated the people who were my classmates, and realized how greatly I would be missing them in a matter of hours.
From there, my mind became less focused on what happened on the St. John’s campus. Instead, my world briefly became a supernova of thoughts and dreams and milestones, all of which were given birth to while I was in high school. I remembered lying on the floor of a hotel room in Disney World during April Vacation of 1997. The Spice Girls were enjoying concurrent chartbusters with “Wannabe” and “Say You’ll Be There”. Every ten minutes there was another TV spot for Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. Box office analysts were astounded that a little slasher movie called Scream was continuing to dominate the box office some four months after its initial release. I flashed forward a year, to Brother Borgia’s sophomore math class. The Spice Girls were vanishing from the pop culture landscape upon which they had made such a seemingly indelible impression. “Romy and Michelle” was enjoying a fruitful second life on video after having performed disappointingly in theaters. Scream 2 was only a matter of weeks away, and EVERYONE was practically in line.
The memories kept flooding in their deliriously non-linear fashion. I was scanning through a bookshelf at the mall in January of 1997, when I stumbled upon a little paperback book I had never heard of before. The book was called “Pretty in Pink: The Golden Age of Teenage Movies”, and for the rest of Freshman year it would become a second Bible to me. Its affectionate assessment of the high school films of the 80s sparked in me a whole new realm of fantasy. How wonderful it would be to be a high school student at a time when pop culture was shaped around teenagers. The closest that the Class of 2000 had were the films Clueless and the newly released Scream, and these were only two films spread apart by eighteen months. That hardly defined an era. Then it was August of 1998. I sat in the smoking lounge of O’Hare Airport with my father explaining my concern that the teen genre would burn out again as a result of too many similar films being released.
Yet it is the most secretive and mysterious aspect of my life that I consider my most defining moment throughout this whole era. “She” has been reincarnated so many times in my writing projects and film ideas that, at times, I almost forget who it was that I originally fell in love with. Yet I will never forget her. Perhaps she is the “Jenny” to my “Oliver”, the one true love whom I have to thank for all of the joy and inspiration in my life. Or maybe she was really the Bette Davis interpretation of “Mildred” in Of Human Bondage; a force so destructive and demystifying that she would forever seal my fate, if only through crimes of the heart. All I really know is that, when I look back on the past four years of my life, it is her face that I will always see. She was the star of the film that was my life while I attended St. John’s. It is she whom I have to thank for both my strength and detachment. I may never see her again in person. For all I know, even the faintest glimmer of romance was never meant to be. Yet for four years she has lived on in my heart, and has become, somehow, subconsciously linked with my experience at St. John’s. Every time I look up to the spire or walk past students waiting for a teacher to arrive, I see her face. When I glance at the bulletin board or check a book out from the library, I hear her voice. And when I say good bye to St. John’s Prep on May 21, 2000, I say goodbye…to Her.
I wrote this essay as a final assignment for a great teacher: Mr. Klein. I have applied a few of Mr. Klein’s grammatical fixes to appease my post-collegiate cringing, but this is still 99% identical to what was originally written. I have only the vaguest recollection of writing this essay, but I vividly recall his comments on the last page. I won’t reveal what he wrote, but I will say that in a short statement he instilled in me a tremendous sense of confidence and optimism that had a truly profound impact on my life ever since. Prior to that last day of class, I had looked at Mr. Klein’s English class the same way I looked at every class in high school: as a vehicle for my expansion as a writer. I was not a great student, and not least of all because I was one of those types who only ever read Cliffs Notes. But my writing apparently made some small impact on my teacher, enough for him to see me off to life after high school with an encouragement that I have held close ever since.