The High School Result (And the winner is…)


In October 2017, it started: high school fairs, open houses, auditions. When it was done, we handed in our application. All twelve slots were filled and there was nothing left to do but hope, because I’m afraid to pray. Seriously, I think the wrong God hears and answers me. Like the God of practical jokers or something.

In a way, it’s my son’s future in their hands – in a way, it’s not.  I did my best to avoid stoking his first choice, but then I realize, it might be the only time he can associate himself with that school. “I want to go to Frank Sinatra,” he proudly admits. He works harder touting that tune than he did the trombone.

After months of dreaming and agonizing, fantasizing and doubting – it’s Judgment Day.

In my day, they handed us the acceptance letter during school. It was a disaster. We all opened ours in homeroom – the last period. You heard envelopes ripped open, the unfolding of paper and then – some of us, including me, screamed and jumped for joy. Others fell deathly silent. Euphoric with my own news, I turned to my best friend and thought – shit. Her head was buried in her arms on her desk. She didn’t get in. Suddenly, my outcome felt immoral.

Nothing anyone said or did would make her feel less shitty. In turn, the bearers of better fortune felt contemptible for having, well, better fortune. It made me think, this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, is it?

Fortunately, my son’s school takes a different approach. Once the results were in, appointments were set to see one of the school administrators and the envelopes would be opened with them, and parents, in private. After the results are read, the parents take the kid home – giddy or grief-stricken.

Even with organized appointments – it’s chaos. To top it off, it’s snowing – the kind of snow you sit at a bar and watch miserable people pass by. They’re miserable because they’re doomed to be somewhere other than a bar. Somewhere, like a middle school to get the goddamn computer generated selection to an application filled out by a human.

So, I’m wondering, what’s the appropriate drink to chase down the answer: a Moscow Mule or a Saketini? He is only 13, after all.

Parents can be assholes, but when we’re all teetering on the same razor’s edge, we’re cooperative assholes. In addition, the school administrators see us in appointment order, and nobody fights it. I reserve the third time slot because Chris Rock’s advice makes sense: you don’t want to be “the first” anything.

My son and I sit next to Nina, a schoolmate he’s known since second grade. “Can you believe it?” I say to her mom, “Yesterday, they were losing their baby teeth – today we’re waiting for high school results.”

Outside the office, we watch the drama. At the room next to ours, another friend goes in with her daughter. My son sees them too and gulps. “Just think flexible,” I tell him, as his knee jerks up and down a mile a minute.

“Don’t worry mom, I’ll be okay.”

Two minutes later, my friend’s daughter bolts out of the room in tears. Her mom chases her down the hall. That could be us, is what we think to ourselves. My eyes meet Nina’s mom’s and what pops into my mind is – Meatballs. The movie. Bill Murray chanting, “It really doesn’t matter!”

Our administrator pops out the door, “Nina?”

We watch Nina and her mom go in. My other friend and her daughter pass us on their way back into their room. Both doors close and the rest of us sit like tense little ducks.

Five minutes later, Nina leaves and her mom gives us the thumbs-up sign. No tears.

Now, it’s our turn.

I’m acting super-Asian and I can’t stop. Bowing, smiling like Pennywise, apologizing for breathing. What’s wrong with me? Ms. Kay goes through the disclaimer, “Whatever the decision is, it has nothing to do with you being good enough.” He nods and she continues, “The choice is computer generated…”

He is presented with the envelope.

He opens it, painstakingly slow. At any moment, I’m expecting the Geico commercial voice saying, 8th graders think envelopes are puzzles – it’s what they do. But there’s no voice, no drumroll either. With shaky hands, he manages to tear off both ends, the letter itself and gets the damn thing out.

He reads it in silence. He puts the letter down.

“Well?!” Ms. Kay and I ask.

It must’ve felt like receiving that box. You know, the jewelry box in the size of a diamond ring? But when you open it – it’s a watch.

“Television and Film Academy.” He says and gives us a smile.

As his mom, I want him to be happy and his smile is a relief. Only, I know when it’s genuine. This time, it’s not. He signs the paper anyway and we leave. As soon as he hits fresh air, or snow in our case, he starts to cry. I am in my homeroom, again, consoling my best friend.

He isn’t the only one. Many of his friends announce their result with quivering voices and vow to appeal, but their reasons for disagreeing aren’t making much sense. Careers? Lives? Ruined? Honey, you’re merely a babe – you reached for the stars and landed on Druidia. You’ll get over it!

And like the snowstorm that accompanied their news, it does blow over. At least for my son, anyway. Sometimes, you look a gift horse in the mouth and out pops Brad Pitt (or more preferably, Chris Evans). Hey, with the Academy of Film and Television as his school, you never know.