Coming of Age

by Alec Harris

I entered seventh grade with a mustache that made me look like I was 30. My thin legs made me ripe for the nickname of Frog. Then my height turned me into Godzilla. I can’t forget the flat feet that forced my uneven walk. On top of it all, I had a stutter. I felt like a misplaced piece of a puzzle carelessly thrown in the wrong box.

The struggle to fit in left me on the edge of a cliff, and as J.D. Salinger says in Catcher in the Rye, “Led me to a special kind of fall.” Every time I looked in the mirror, my seventh grade self hated the curse of puberty that turned me into a boy with the appearance of an adult.  But when I looked past my physical appearance, I saw something others could not see: the fear of being rejected for my true self. I pushed myself into conversations that did not really interest me: Gossip Girl and New York nightlife. There were those parties I did not attend, yet I found myself sharing the details of them as if I were The Man.  In order to feel a sense of association, I tried creating exuberant hand shakes when I said “Goodbye.” As I grabbed the hands of others, they would look at me with a stare that said:  “What are you doing?” I would respond by saying, “I don’t know.” What was I thinking?

I heard the words “boarding school” slip from my father’s mouth as my parents talked in the kitchen. My hands began to tremble. For the past ten years, I had grown accustomed to waking up each morning to the great smell of my mom’s breakfast. But, like Holden was told, it was time to take my leap of faith, and it would not be long until I hit the ground. My first boarding school was a single sex school like the one I attended in New York. It was not a new experience. I found a home when I transferred to Pomfret my sophomore year. I still remember my first step out of the car on Pomfret’s campus. I caught a glimpse of my reflection on the side mirror. I was ready to start over with a blank slate at a new school. As I shook the hand of my new dorm parent and prefect, they embraced me with only the knowledge of my name.

I was the only sophomore in a senior dorm.  I feared not being accepted because of my lack of maturity. Over time, I felt more comfortable, even though the seniors loomed over me with their strong physiques and their relationships with girlfriends which I had yet to experience. For the first time ever, I was in a coed educational environment and found the atmosphere more diverse and more humane in so many ways.

Unlike Holden, I embraced my life at a prep school. Outside of class, I defied my parents with a newfound independence and joined the football team. I truly discovered my position with the older guys at the school’s championship football game. The sounds from the crowd seemed to echo off the distant mountains and the ferocity of each play made it a game to remember. It was the seniors’ last chance to leave a medal in the school’s trophy case and it all came down to one play, in which Tony Campione made the game winning catch. As all the players raised their helmets up to the sky in joy, Tony ran over to me and lifted me over his shoulders. I began to tear up under the majestic stadium lights, because it reminded me of a feeling that I thought I had lost many years ago.   Many who saw my tears said, “That’s true school spirit right there!” But it wasn’t, it was me feeling like a kid again.

I also felt at home in the classroom for the first time in years. In Geometry, it was the transverse proof that made me fall in love with math. In Biology, I couldn’t wait for class each day especially as we dissected frogs. In English, I saw a part of myself as we read Catcher in the Rye.  “Its a process you cannot rush,” as J.D. Salinger wrote. “We will all fall off the Rye on our own time, and what is created when you land is the person you will naturally become.” During my first few months at Pomfret, whether it was the independence, my roommates becoming my new brothers, or the natural progression of my growth, my fall began. I was no longer a piece of a puzzle in the wrong box.

Alec Harris is a freshman at University of Pennsylvania and a graduate of Pomfret School in Pomfret, CT.