I read stories on this mailing list and others, and I think, "I understand."
I watch news stories of children killing children because they couldn't take it anymore, and I think "I understand."
This is the fourth time I've sat down to type this story into my email. I still don't know if I'll get through it all.
I can't say I went through the problems in Public School that you all went through. For me, Public School was a godsend, a haven. For I went to a small, private Catholic school, the oldest son from a large Catholic family. I attended this school - St. Mary's Catholic School of Owatonna, Minnesota, USA, for the first 9 years of my academic career, from Kindergarten through 8th grade. To this day, 10 years later, I am an agnostic/atheist, and my brothers attend public school.
My class was 23 students, total. There were 7 boys, including myself, and we were always together. Even the different reading/science/math "groups" were all in the same room.
In the third grade, the other students were taught that science and math were somehow wrong. They were necessary, to a point, but you didn't want to dwell on them too much, nor focus on them. Faith in God was the essential. Science or math might lead you away from that. This was, you understand, not what I was taught at home, where my father helped me build a model rocket at the age of six, and bought a telescope for my Christmas gift when I was 7. It was then that the other students decided that I was different, and that even the teachers had said I was "bad."
My nose was broken for the first time one month later. I lied and told my mother it was my fault, that I had fallen on the playground. I already had a reputation as a "troublemaker;" I had a quick temper, and the other boys excelled in starting fights - which I was doomed to lose - and then lining up to claim it had been my fault. Admitting it had been a fight would only have meant another lecture in the principal's office. That word always makes me laugh; I was taught, by those same teachers, to remember to spell "principal" as opposed to "principle" by remembering that the principal wanted to be "my pal." My pal. Sure.
By fifth grade, I had been suspended three times for fighting. Trying to claim it had been someone else's fault only led to more punishment, for lying. After the third time - when rage had led me to drive a pencil into my tormentor's side, which I have no memory of doing but do not actually doubt - I was ordered into psychological counseling. My priest had witnessed various events, and quietly told my parents what was *really* happening, but strangely, the school's administrators paid him no attention. I guess they didn't consider him an educator. At any rate, the shrink - sorry, "Therapist" - decided I was deeply disturbed, ADHD, and a Learning Disabled child, probably from low IQ. He recommended a special education school, Rydalin, and strong discipline at home. My parents decided to get another opinion. After testing my IQ - 153 - and "cognitive abilities" - very high - another shrink took a little more time, and decided that I was - *gasp* - not lying. But the school didn't listen to him, either.
Eighth grade. I had reached the point where I no longer cared who said what. My first reaction to any comment or touch was a fist. My only friend outside of my family, a student of the local public schools who had suffered much as I had, introduced me to working out. In addition to living on a farm, I rapidly became the strongest boy in the class, but still felt like the weakest. My father took me aside one day, coming home with yet another black eye, and broke his oldest and most-repeated rule. "Son," he said, "I've always told you that fighting does not solve anything, to turn the other cheek, and that someday they'd respect you." He stared off into the pasture for a while, then turned and said "From now on, when they come after you, give 'em hell." The next day I fought back for the first time and won. But that was a mistake. It meant that they took me seriously now. Two weeks later, one week before Christmas break, one of the larger boys - Pat - began a series of punches and shoves in gym class. I was holding my own, but the gym teacher broke it up and sent us - separately - to the showers and on to the next class. There, the battle continued, in many small ways, until I followed a shove with a curse and a solid punch. The teacher broke us up, and then, for some reason still not clear to me, left the room. I saw Pat get up from his chair and head back for me, and the entire class was completely silent. Everyone was looking away, pretending not to see.
I got up. I grabbed the back of my one-piece chair/desk, and I swung it back, then up and forward. I was reaching for another desk when he reached me and swung. I got out of the way and hit back. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his fist, too late to dodge. I tried to "roll with the punch." His fist drove my glasses down and through my nose.
Three days later, I came out of the second of three surgeries to find my mother crying more than usual. It seems I had been expelled from school for fighting and then lying. Every member of the class - every single one - swore that I had _without provocation_ hit Pat with the desk, then continued to attack him until he was forced to hit back. Since the story I told did not agree with this account, I was obviously lying. I was not welcome anywhere on the campus, and the police had been notified, with the recommendation that I be placed in a Juvenile Detention center for rehabilitation.
I spent Christmas in the hospital.
My mother is one stubborn lady. She had actually stood by me all these years, bathed my wounds, forgiven my suspensions, and tried, without much success, to understand what was happening. She called a friend of hers, whose daughter was one of the oppressed, and in my class. In fact, one of the taunts used on both of us was that we were "dating," if that's the word, when in reality we never spoke. Rachel, under questioning, admitted to her mother that I was, and had been, telling the truth. But she was afraid to say so in school.
Word spread. One by one, other students - all girls, who hadn't *technically* done anything to me, although they'd never helped, either - began telling their parents the truth, too. Finally, the parents went to the school's administration and demanded answers.
I remember, one day out of the hospital, my father coming up to my room. He came in with my principal and the only teacher who'd ever given me a chance, my math and computer teacher, Mrs. Wacek. The principal wanted to know why I had never "told him what was going on." I laughed, spit on his shoes (it is difficult to hit a tall man's face when you are confined to bed) and told Dad I wanted him out of my room. The principal looked astonished, and my father told him that he wasn't welcome anywhere else in the house, either. Mrs. Wacek left a two "get-well" cards, one from her, one from the class, and a book, "Rocket Ship Galileo," by Robert Heinlein. I still have the book and her card. The class' I threw away unopened.
My father explained that I had a choice. I could go back to St. Mary's for the rest of the year, or I could transfer to the public Junior High School. He would do whatever I wanted, but it had to be my choice. I knew what I wanted.
My first day back at school, with my freshly rebuilt nose leading the way, I went back to my old homeroom. I was ordered to stand up, and the class, one by one, was ordered to apologize. I then sat back down. When asked if I had anything to say, I laughed. "No," I said, "I've had enough detention."
I will admit. Some people actually tried to "be nice." Some tried to understand what it had been like. But it was far, far too late as far as I was concerned. These people had made my life a sheer, living hell for five full years, up to and including harassing phone calls in the middle of the summer. Those that had not actively participated had stood quietly by.
I didn't beat them all up. I was tempted. Lord, was I tempted. But I got my revenge anyway. I beat every boy in arm wrestling. I nearly choked Pat to death in a wrestling match in gym class. And I never said a single word to anyone outside of required classwork. And when the time came for class graduation, they called my name to receive my diploma and my letter (I was no jock, but I lettered in hockey and track. Yes, even Junior High has letters now.)
Jump ahead. High school was much better. I was accepted as a "brain," but in my school that did not make me an outsider. We had an advanced-placement style program called International Baccalaureate, and the captain of the football team was one of us. I wasn't an honor student - I have always been a solid "B" student, grade-wise. But I was the first in our school's history to receive the International Baccalaureate Diploma. I became a leader, someone accepted by my class as a front-runner, someone who would know the answer or at least where to find it. To receive your diploma, you must serve at least 400 hours of community service. I served mine by teaching children in a local school the basics of computer programming, after-hours, since this school had decided not to teach it as a regular class.
Which school? Guess. Call it more revenge, to smile sweetly to former teachers who'd predicted I would end up dead in a car wreck or fight and chatter about how WELL school was going.
In my senior year, someone new joined my circle of friends. Her name was Erin, and she had been one of those students back at St. Mary's who stood quietly by. We never mentioned our past, never discussed it, until graduation. At her graduation party, she made a comment about how different I seemed from back then. I got quiet, thinking about it. And finally, she was the only one from that school that I ever explained myself to. We never settled it - she could never understand my position, and I didn't WANT to understand hers. But I think she got a hint.
Today? Well, I am a 22 year old Aerospace Engineer (Why yes, I AM a rocket scientist) living in Mesa, Arizona. Currently looking for work, if anyone's interested. I am married, and although I have no children yet, I have three god-children that we spoil rotten until we have some of our own. In most ways, I have put my days in hell behind me.
But not completely. I still jump at any sudden noise or from such things as someone entering the room. I still have problems with anger; at least now, when I get angry, I get quieter, calmer, rather than exploding. And one change that is a very, very good thing. I am tough. Not so much physically, as mentally.
If you are in hell, or if you are still dealing with the effects of hell, try this. My father gave me a saying on a plaque. I have no idea if he made it up or where he got it from, but I still have it. It reads;
"So you fell off the horse. Either get back up on it, or leave. But remember, if you leave, the horse won. If you get back on, someday, you'll climb off when you choose, and leave a winner. And the horse will still be just a damn horse."
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