I still remember the first time I saw an episode of The Office.
Probably because it was also the only time I ever skipped out on a day of high school.
The memory is still vivid. It was the winter of 2003. I left my younger brother in the school parking lot -- being unnecessarily cagey the entire way -- and sped off in my big red pickup truck. I pulled into the local Starbucks and sat with the engine idling until I got a call from my friend.
"All clear," he said.
He and I and a few other people went to a girl's house. We watched British comedy. We drove into Philadelphia. We went to a vintage store. I bought a blue ruffled tuxedo shirt. There was probably consumption of hamburgers, or pizza, or some other delicious shit that young kids like to shove into their faces.
This was new ground. I was bustin' out of class. I'd never done anything "cool" like this before. Some of my friends were doing mushrooms and having sex. I was purchasing used clothes. I was behind, but in my mind ground was finally being gained.
In retrospect, this is sorta sad. But it's also beautiful, because I was there and I felt the exact opposite of sad. I bloomed late, which meant that around this time everything happened at once. I packed years into months, months into days. The littlest things were magnified, and the biggest inevitably blew my mind.
There was no immediate risk on that wintry morn, but there was very much an aura of wrongness. I hadn't yet been the type to do such. And maybe then I realized that there are certain types of "wrong" that don't hurt anybody. You can miss physics or gym and nobody notices. Your parents are flawed like everyone else. There is indeed a gray in between black and white, and it's an area you're occasionally allowed to inhabit. I think it's a good day when you learn that, late or otherwise.
To watch a recording of it now, you'd probably laugh at my seriousness. But this day, this event, was so all-encompassing at the time, so important to what I was and what I might become, that I can't imagine disparaging the memory with mockery. People were inviting me places. I was doing stuff. I've done other stuff since then, much of which has been more enjoyable. But very little has been anywhere near as exciting.
A few weeks later, my mom found the bag from the vintage store in my closet. We got into an argument. I told her that "I was gonna be doing things that she wasn't gonna like" from here on out.
My friends have made fun of me for that bit of dialogue ever since.
I was grounded for a few weeks. No harm, no foul...except it was harm, and foul. This was a day that mattered. A rare opportunity for me to experience a world outside of what I knew. I didn't always go to girls' houses. I didn't always watch foreign sitcoms. But I wanted to, very badly. To punish me for enjoying something so ultimately harmless seemed unnecessary. And hurtful. And remarkably out of touch with what I needed to live, and be normal.
This is no slight against my parents, who did a wonderful job raising me. But I do look occasionally to the future and hope that, when I have kids, I grow with them. I hope to recognize, in this hypothetical future world, that there are rules and regulations but also observations and understandings -- meaning none of the former must be ironclad -- and that the need for black and white dissipates over time. It's important to acknowledge the existence of the gray.
Most kids in high school are beyond lame. I've looked back at a few AIM conversations saved on my old computer, and they make me want to barf. But the emotions I felt that day, and what came before and after, those were real. To forget about them would be tragic; losing touch with a part of myself that isn't better or worse. It just is. I don't think of it as holding on so much as remembering a time when so little meant so much.
I own The Office on DVD now. Both seasons and the holiday specials. Unsurprisingly, I just can't get into it like I used to.