I learned that not too many Americans graduate High School at 16 years of age. My friend Donna and I discovered the California Proficiency Exam, which gives you a Certificate that is legally equivalent to a High School Diploma in the USA. It can be used for Application to any college in the state.
We did not need our parent's approval to take the Exam. We only needed permission from our High School Counselor, whom we never met. So we made an appointment to meet him together, and we walked in at 2:00 pm sharp on a bright sunny day in October of 1975. He laughed at us. He said that no one had ever passed it before so, "Sure! I'll sign for it. But it won't mean anything. No one's ever passed it before." He scoffed at us, tossing us out of his office rather flippantly. In fact, I can still see his face. On the way out, I said to Donna, "Don't worry about it. He doesn't know us."
Three months later, we took the Exam. It was so easy that I kept looking at the pages ahead, to see when it was going to get harder. It never did. I think the whole point was to make sure we could survive in the outside world. There were checks to write out, and we had to know where on the check to write the date. We had to know which line was to sign on a check was to sign. We had to figure out 253 x 155. It was the easiest test I ever took in my whole life.
I had to wait until I was actually 15 1/2 years old to stop High School. That would happen in less than a month. In the meantime, I was in Granada Hills Alternative School. Yes, I was. Showing up for school was 'elective'. I had a Pass in my wallet so that if the Los Angeles Police Department stopped me walking along the street on a School Day, I had permission to be off Campus whenever I wanted. I was becoming a grown up and I liked it.
I was on Granada Hills High School Swim Team. I walked from Northridge to Granada Hills every morning, then walked to Swim Team at Petit Park, then walked the entire distance home again, about 3 miles. So all in all, I walked 6 miles a day and swam 1500 meters, too. I had no idea how good my shape was, but I knew that my waistline was 24".
Boys were noticing me, of course. I ran away every weekend. I spent the night next door between a wall and a gate, safely nestled in the crusty bushes with leaves, sticks, and soft debris that smelled like a fireplace.
Eventually, I ran away for good. I didn't wonder who would make 35 sandwiches on the weekends. I didn't think about my siblings and who would do the laundry. It just wasn't even a blip on the map. It was only until years later that I realized what I had done. I had been a second Mother to them, a big sister akin to Martha Stewart who made triple-decker sandwiches for lunch, home made cream puffs, French Toast on school mornings, and I fed the dogs. I don't know who did it after I left.
I attended Pierce Junior College the same semester that I graduated High School. I was the youngest student in the class, and then I came down with Chicken Pox. It invaded my skin, and I itched like I had a million ants all over my body. I suffered. I was unable to finish the Semester in college, and no one told me that I was supposed to drop my classes. I had no idea.
One day, I checked the mail and received a letter from Pierce College, like it was just another day. They were writing me about my English Proficiency Exam. They liked it. In fact, they told me that I could apply for scholarships and write for the School Newspaper. I recall that my assignment had been to write an Essay about living any time or any place of my choosing. So I chose a farm 100 years from 1976, when the air was polluted, the food was all plastic, and there was nothing like home-grown (today they would call it organic). That is what they liked, and that was the first time that any one told me that I was talented at writing. If it had not been for this, I perhaps may never had known. But the Chicken Pox tormented me.