By Derek Schlom
The time is early June. With a grand sense of accomplishment, I ceremoniously pen the last word on the last page of the last blue book of my last final of my second-to-last year of high school. Barely bothering to hand in the exam, I rush, beaming (I would imagine) with glee, into my last summer as a high school student, ready to kick off three months of self-discipline.
This summer, after all, is my chance to follow through on all of those plans Iâve set aside during the school year. Plus, the college applications clock has started to tick-freedom will soon come crashing to an end and long nights of worrying await. Sometime between now and my pile of rejection letters, Iâve got to squeeze in some education.
The day after school ends, at a bookstore in Westwood, I buy two items: Jack Kerouacâs “On the Road” (an easy read, I tell myself) and something I should have finished a long time ago-and a CD. Iâve listened to the CD all summer. The book â well, thatâs another story.
This thin, fairly user-friendly novel has developed into an unwelcome reminder of the disappointment that was the summer of 2008. Kerouacâs masterpiece, a classic of American literature, the Beat Generationâs Bible, sits on my end table on occasion; most days, itâs buried somewhere between old math homeworks and essay drafts. When I couldnât find it one day, I convinced myself that I had left it somewhere in Spainâ¦where the book hadnât left my bag for the duration of the trip. I later found it underneath a pile of clothes on the floor of my room.
I had imagined that reading this book, which celebrates American ideals and the wonders of youth, would be a swell beginning to my most productive summer ever. And why not? If I could ace my finals after one good weekend of cramming, surely I could read “On the Road” in a single afternoon, with time to spare to catch most of a “Rock of Love” marathon, all before dinner.
Instead, the bookmark is trapped in page 56, as it has been for months. My hopes, obviously, were dashed. And, as I write this in the dog days of August, Iâm starting to wonder where all that time has gone. Harvard-Westlake hasnât stopped working its crazy magic.
The events of the past couple of months are summer translations of the same anxieties and paralysis that all self-loathing Wolverines endure. Over the course of the hottest season, a recognizable pattern has emerged.
First, you head straight into denial. This summer, you say, will be different. This summer youâll read for fun. This summer youâll learn to surf. This summer youâll lose weight. And so on.
Second, reality hits, and it goes a little something like this. June 5: You donât want to check out that new LACMA exhibit today, you want to sleep instead. June 7: Go to the gym? Ehâ¦your arm is sore from channel-flipping. And the cycle continues.
Soon itâs August, and the third, crucial stage kicks in: angst. Only one month left to make all of that progress on the Common App, or to learn how to play poker. One month to finish what youâve started.
And, most importantly, someone in this world is doing just that. In fact, somewhere in Los Angeles thereâs a Harvard-Westlake student who has pre-read their textbooks and published a short story in the New Yorker this summer. This isnât a neurotic nightmareâat this school, we lazy bums have met the enemy: the overachievers, the people who actually follow through on their plans. When we return to school and hear all that theyâve accomplished in June, July and August, the rest of us will sink back into despair.
Or relaxation. While the constant anxiety may reach a fever pitch during senior year, Iâve never underestimated my own ability to stave off that guilt with a healthy dose of denial. We live out our lives in the same pattern, and for some reason, after driving us crazy for five years, it works.