I had a meeting in Hyde Park this morning. Hyde Park is the part of Chicago where I spent seven of my so-called “formative years,” in middle and high school. Since I didn’t exactly enjoy high school, my feelings towards Hyde Park have been somewhat negative. Any time I found myself back there after high school, I seemed to remember the people and events that had made me unhappy as a teenager. Like the boy I had a crush on who was too cool to be seen with me. Or the trendy girls whose approval I’d so desperately wanted, but who just laughed at me. In those days, like so many other kids in high schools across the country, I wanted to be cool, to fit in, to be part of the “in” crowd. I wanted to be pretty and popular. Yet I didn’t really care about who got busted by their parents for doing whatever with whomever over the weekend. I wanted to talk about Rwanda or Chechnya or something that actually had social significance. It wasn’t until college that I grew comfortable with my blatant streaks of dorkitude and realized that big brains actually are cool in their own right. Getting back to the point, however, Hyde Park was a graveyard of painful memories of an awkward teenage girl.
So imagine my surprise when, walking down 57th street to catch a bus back to my office, I realized that I love Hyde Park. Sometime during the years since graduation, those painful memories have faded, leaving nostalgia in their place. The memories are still there, and always will be, but the pain is gone. The lingering bitterness towards those girls who made self-esteem almost impossible and the boys whose very existence engendered confusion and teenage heartache has vanished. So this time, as I walked down those familiar streets, the memories in my head made me smile. Suddenly I appreciated how picturesque the narrow side streets and big houses really are. Suddenly I realized just how much I love walking on the University of Chicago campus. It was a dreary, damp, grey, windy morning and I couldn't possibly have been in a better mood as I walked by the school grounds.
I don’t know when I actually let go of those high school demons, or why it took my brain such a long time to figure out that I had. It doesn’t really matter. I’m not that girl anymore. More importantly, I’m not ashamed or embarrassed over having been that girl. I wouldn’t be the woman I am right now if she hadn’t been the girl she was back then.