Leo Epstein: “Most likely to become a billionaire recluse a la Willy Wonka.” This is what I was voted in my high school yearbook. Although, now that I think about it, to be “voted” this title seems highly unlikely, and my guess is that the 2003 yearbook editor took some very generous editorial liberties in these pages.
I had forgotten all about this until I was organizing my closet last weekend, when I came across my old yearbook. Most likely to become a billionaire recluse a la Willy Wonka? What in the hell did that even mean? How had I merited such a weird future? And while the billionaire portion of the prediction seemed cool, the thought of living a solitary life in a uniform of top hats and velour tuxedo jackets wasn’t what I had in mind. This designation—was it a compliment or an insult?
Luckily, it turns out, I had avoided landing some of the more degrading categories. There was “most likely to paint lines on the highway,” “most likely to hit the person painting the lines on the highway,” “most ‘theatrical’” — yes, with “theatrical” in quotes — “most likely to have an affair with her college professor,” and, possibly the cruelest, “most likely to wind up confused not knowing what to do with all those brownie points he/she accumulated over the years.” Ouch.
As for the cool kids, they got things like “most likely to become a famous fashion designer” or “best smile” or the cutesy “most likely to have a ‘Saved By the Bell’-themed wedding.”
As you can probably tell, I was not a cool kid. High school was not an easy time for me. It’s hard now to understand exactly what being a teenager was like, but I do know “sad” was a good day and “miserable” was a worse one. I remember actually having similar anxieties to the ones I have today — deadlines, living up to your potential, figuring out your future, dealing with your parents — but back then everything that went wrong felt like life was over. The teenage me thought of myself as a dark, artistic, brooding loner, but it’s taken me a while to see that I put myself there willingly, and placed the blame for my unhappiness on my classmates. Why? Because I didn’t like myself and didn’t believe that others could like me. The thing is, they did. Sure, I wasn’t in the popular group, but had I tried harder, I may have found a better place for myself. All I knew was that college was the answer. That I had to endure being a loser until I was 18, and the hard part would be over. So I kept my head down, worked hard, and gave people the brush-off. Because this was the best I thought I could do.
When I now consider my Willy Wonka prophecy, I guess it at least means that people saw me as ambitious and headed for success, but that in the end, I’d be weird and shun the world. My bet is that whoever came up with that title saw it as humorous and lighthearted, but even now, it still feels hurtful to be the butt of a joke and it causes me to question if people still see me the same way.
As far as I can tell, they don’t. Thank God.