My sister and I attended an all girl’s boarding school in Richmond Virginia. We were there for our sophomore, junior and senior years of high school. Our parents were getting a divorce and our mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer that eventually spread to her bones. It was a difficult time for all of us. For our mother, trying to raise two teenage girls when she was so sick was more than she could handle. Sending my sister and me away to boarding school was her solution. I’m not sure that I would have made the same decision under the circumstances, but that’s hindsight.
In future blogs, I will tell you more memories and details of those boarding school years. As the famous author, Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
The consequences of spending my teenage years at a strict, all-girls, Episcopal boarding school, hundreds of miles from my family and friends affected my life in numerous ways. I am grateful for the excellent education I received there, and for many of the life lessons I learned. However, I am also resentful that I missed out on a normal social life that my friends at home were enjoying (dating, movies with girlfriends, proms and parties, high school football games, etc.) and I believe my early, ill-advised first marriage was a direct result of my lack of normal social interaction with boys. (More about that later.)
On a positive note, the main “take away” from those years was learning to be super organized. The students had specific time allotments in which to do just about everything. For instance, twenty minutes were allowed for eating our meals, signaled at the beginning and the end by the headmistress ringing a bell. Because of that constraint, I learned to gobble down my food quickly so there would be enough time left for “second helpings” (I was rail thin at the time) and to drink my morning coffee black. If I wasted precious seconds by asking the other girls at my table to pass me the cream and sugar, there would not be enough time left to enjoy a second cup. To this day, I am usually the first one finished with my meals and I only drink black coffee.
Another example was the mandatory two-hour study hall each evening. Students were required to remain in designated rooms during that time period to complete their homework assignments and required reading. After study hall ended, we were not permitted to bring our textbooks back to our dormitories, so organizing and concentrating on finishing our homework and studying for tests in that time period was imperative. My ability to block out distractions and concentrate solely on the task at hand is a direct result of dealing with “study hall.”
As with everything in life, times have changed. Today’s boarding schools are more lenient and less punitive. I suppose there is a need for them, and they serve a certain purpose. The experiences and challenges I faced there have shaped my life, and mostly for the better.
My sister loved boarding school and goes back to all her class reunions and keeps in touch with the many friends she made there. I, on the other hand, have never been back, except once to show the school to my husband. As I held his hand, and we walked up the front walkway to the main building, my heart raced. As I entered through those massive front doors, I again felt the pain of being separated from everyone and everything I’d known and the awful realization that my mother was dying.
In Despicable Lies, Darcy has the same anxiety and resentments about being confined at The Brandywine School for Girls that I had, while Danielle, like my own sister (not a twin), thrived there and looks back on those years with affection.