Though we're all different, there are some sensations that everyone understands.
One of them is "the heebie-jeebies."
Clinically speaking, the heebie-jeebies are those horrible tingling sensations that result from an unpleasant realization or encounter (and, yes, I did just make up this definition).
I know all about the meaning of "unpleasant," and I promise you this: There is nothing heebie-jeebier than feeling like you're no longer welcome. I'm not pretending to be superperceptive, but I know the look someone gives you when they don't want you around. It's a look that's subtle, yet jarring; tolerant, yet decidedly frosty.
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It's remarkably like the look my parents are giving me right now, almost six weeks into my "brief" Christmas holiday (fortunately for everyone, I'll be back in Chicago by Friday).
But as I reflect on this, my most recent of many stays in Modesto since I left for college, it occurs to me that the places that once seemed so friendly now feel almost hostile. I've had more than my fair share of chances recently to stumble onto this realization.
Aside from working as a reporter for The Bee part time during my stay, I also picked up a job at a photography studio to polish my PhotoShop skills and keep gas in the car (which, on an unrelated note, is not long for this world).
In my first week, my boss sent me on an errand to Davis High School. A former Spartan, I wasn't sure how to react. I knew I was already too removed from high school life to derive any pleasure from surprise visits, but it wasn't until I actually had to fight my way through the crowd during a busy passing period on my way to the yearbook room that I realized how few freshmen and sophomores I knew when I was a senior. Not a single face was familiar to me -- it could have been a completely different school.
Cue those heebie-jeebies ...
Part of my job involved working with pictures of elementary schools for the company's promotional materials, which meant a recent trip into the field for reshoots.
About midway down my to-do list, wedged between two other meaningless work orders, was a name I recognized: Lathrop Elementary, another alma mater of mine, but during a much darker period of my past.
With one of those flashes of bad memories in an equally bad movie, it all came flooding back: every neurotic teacher, every tetherball defeat, every lap around the soccer field and slab of fake mashed potatoes smothered with runny turkey gravy.
I slowly pulled up to the front of the school, noticing how tiny it seemed to a taller (though only marginally so) version of myself. Camera in hand, I skirted the fence that ran the perimeter of the yard (an addition since my heyday, probably to keep out dangerous intruders like drug dealers and photographers).
I snapped a few shots of the sign and the front of the building, but as I stepped onto the grounds to get a better angle, I noticed a man standing in a shadowy doorway, staring -- no, make that glaring -- at me. I don't know who he was, but he was clearly poised to whip out his hidden night stick and/or his Taser if I came within so much as a telephoto lens' view of an actual child.
It was then that I decided the shots I had weren't so bad after all, and that I should leave Lathrop School, as quickly as possible, and never, ever return.
On the way to my next school, I took a detour through my old neighborhood. Rounding the corner near my old house, I noticed the street was full of kids playing. But this wasn't just any street -- this was MY street. These kids were the most recent generation to inherit it. They were drawing on the same sidewalks, racing through the same gutters on scooters and in-line skates, and climbing over the same utility box that my friends and I started beating up more than 10 years ago.
As my car squeaked down the lane, these new kids halted their hockey game, cleared the street and watched me pass. A few of them actually met my eye and scowled, much the way I used to when an unfamiliar vehicle would dare interrupt my play.
It was all just a little too poetic for me to stomach.
Within seconds, I was gone, leaving only a fresh skid mark on the asphalt to prove I had ever been there at all.
The kids shook off their heebie-jeebies and went back to their game.
Davis High School graduate Thomas Pardee, a member of the Teens in the Newsroom journalism program, is a sophomore at Columbia College Chicago.