atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#2561: What high school was like for me.

Reading the old journals (and being mortified by their contents) led me to realize that I--now that Mom's gone--can talk a bit more freely about how shitty my life in high school was.

This will take some explanation before I can get to the real meat of the story.

'Way back in the mists of time, I was an underperforming student. I had ups and downs throughout my grade school career. It turns out that my lousy performance in third grade was because of nearsightedness--the teacher had a fondness for giving us tests by writing stuff on the chalkboard--but the rest of the time it was just because we were being taught at a glacial pace...for me.

In fifth grade, finally one of my teachers suggested that my intelligence be tested. I think she thought I was a "special needs" student; well, I was, but not for her reason. It turned out that I--age 10--had a freshman college reading level, and that I was in fact incredibly bright. Being 10, I had no idea what the adults talked about in my absence, and I ended up going to Monee Elementary for a couple of semesters to take part in a program that taught kids how to study.

Fast-forward about 25 years.

After I moved back here from Cedar Rapids, several times Mom told me about how badly she felt about that. You see, one of the major discussions had been about this special school on the north side of Chicago--for "gifted students"--that I clearly belonged in. My parents didn't think they had the wherewithal to send me there; anyway it was 70 miles away and this was 1977, right in the middle of the Carter Malaise, and I don't believe it was a boarding school.

And so I was stuck in a shitty school system. Well, it's not easy to find a good system anywhere in our top-down, socialized educational system--particularly not in Illinois--but I am stating a fact: 201-U is not good, and it never was. Particulaly not for a "gifted child".

Mom felt guilty enough about incarcerating me in that shithole without me adding to the pile. She lamented that my life probably would have been a lot better if I'd been around kids that were as smart as me, learning from teachers who understood that spending three hours on simple concepts was an utter waste of time for all involved.

God alone knows how I would have ended up if I'd actually gotten an education when I was young. But instead, I was stuck learning arithmetic until age 12 and algebra in my teens, when I could have been doing calculus by 13. I learned more science from my own trips to the library than I ever learned in school. I never learned any history until after I was out of school altogether. I got to take German--finally--when I was 15, and the only languages which were offered were European (Spanish, French, German; not even Italian).

But the worst part of it was how my peers treated me. After second grade it became obvious that I was much smarter than they were, and I was already routinely being excluded by third grade; fourth grade was when the teasing started. It stopped for a while after I was at Monee; but once junior high began, it was back for good.

I say "teasing" but it was, in fact, bullying and emotional abuse. Now, back in those days, all that kind of stuff was regarded thus: "Well, kids will be kids!" (I notice that these days, now that the school system is doing everything it can to encourage homosexuality, now suddenly bullying is a national crisis...because gay kids come out of the closet and get bullied.)

An endless parade of adults--including my own parents--advised me, "Well, just ignore it, and it'll go away." One woman--I think she was a den monther in Cub Scouts--told me, "You're just egging them on!" The implication was that it was my fault the other kids were tormenting me.

Every once in a while, it would get to be too much; I'd snap and get into a fight, and the bullshit would stop for a while. But after I got into high school, I could no longer do that any more. You see, there were too many fights happening at Crete-Monee High School; so the administration enacted a "zero tolerance" policy for fighting: if you got into a fight, you'd be suspended for twelve days and recommended for expulsion. That had formerly been the maximum penalty, for repeat offenders; now it was the only penalty, and it was applied to both parties.

Now, my parents had put three other kids through the same school system. The other three had brought home reasonable grades and had never gotten into any real trouble. My Dad, especially, was pretty strict; and I can't imagine the kind of shitstorm I would have called down upon myself had I actually gotten expelled. So fighting was off the table; I could no longer afford to snap and unload on anyone, so I learned to bite my lips and crack my knuckles and close my eyes.

But of course there was no penalty for bullying, ever. "Kids will be kids," was the prevailing attitude.

Whenever I lost my temper, inevitably I would receive worse punishment than my tormentor did. "Sure," the administrator would say, "he started it; but your response was inappropriate. You need to think about other methods of resolving the conflict. Have you tried asking them to stop?"

I had been trained not to mouth off to my elders. I did not say something like, "Sure, the same way Carter tried asking the Iranians to let the hostages go." Mostly it's because I was never fast on my feet, not in any sense (which is just as well) but even on the rare occasions that saracasm occurred to me, I did not employ it.

"You should tell a teacher when this kind of thing happens." Oh, sure, because there are always teachers around! There's never a situation where the teacher leaves the room for a few minutes, and of course there's a teacher monitoring every hundred square feet of hallway. (Do I need to explain that much of the time I was bullied, it happened within teacher supervision?)

So one day, in a study hall--I believe it was some time in early 1983--this particularly brainless extrusion named Clinton Urnez was sitting behind me. I got called up to the teacher's desk for something; and while I was there, I happened to see him leaning over my chair.

WTF? I wondered. But owing to the fact that someone had put tacks on my chair in 4th grade, and I'd sat on them, I had already long since learned to look at my seat before sitting down. When I returned to my seat, there was a puddle of spit on it.

"Clean that up," I told him.


"I saw you spitting in my chair," I said. "Clean it up."

"Suck my dick," he retorted.

"Suck your own dick, asshole." --teacher called us up front.

Result: I got detentions and the other guy got a stern talking-to.

"Huh?" You may ask. "He started it!"

Sure he did. But, you see, I said "asshole". I swore, so I got detentions.

So fast-forward a while--a week, a month, I don't even remember--and I'm sitting in the same study hall, in front of the same turd burglar...and he starts spitting on me.

The first couple, I didn't know what was going on. I was wearing a vest over my shirt, and that's what he was spitting on, so I couldn't feel any moisture. I could hear a "ptt" sound and feel something hit my back, but it was quiet and slight, so I couldn't really tell...but after the fourth or fifth time, it became obvious what was going on.

And there wasn't a goddamned thing I could do about it.

My options:

1) Stand up and slug the bitch, which meant being expelled from school. Perhaps that was an option for that shitpacker, but I feared my Dad's wrath more than I feared the fires of hell.

2) Stand up and yell at him. Well, I'd seen how that turned out; I got detentions and he got off with a stern warning.

3) Sit there and take it, and try not to start crying in humiliation, because I really couldn't afford to get in trouble now, anyway--not after the earlier incident--and it wouldn't do me any good whatsoever to try to do anything about it, anyway.

I kept thinking I've got to do something! but then I'd ask myself, What can I do? I knew how Dad would react: first he'd be really mad. Then he'd be hurt, saddened that I had turned out to be such a lousy kid.

Then I'd be bussed off to whatever shit-pit you get shuffled into when your regular school system has expelled you, because by law you have to go to school until you're 17. The government will not allow anyone to escape the socialized educational system. The chances of getting any kind of education in that craphole would be infinitesimal, even compared to the liklihood in my home system; certainly I would not be among smart kids. I'd be among criminals and total fuckups; probably I'd end up being picked on even worse there than at CMHS. The idea was a nightmare on many levels; it was something to be avoided--but if I were to be expelled, it would be my only option.

I saw all this as I sat there, in study hall, being spat on by Clinton Urnez. The potential actions and their consequences all neatly lined themselves up in my brain; and I carefully thought my alternatives through, giving careful consideration to each possibility.

In the end, I had closed each door except the "ignore it and hope it goes away" door, because the consequences of action were too dire.

Yeah, I'd finally reached the state of learned helplessness: there was nothing I could do about my situation. I had no power to fix things; my efforts would--at best!--merely make things worse; and at worst they would get me expelled from school and cause a lot of other problems for me and my family.

So I sat there and let it happen; and at the end of the day I took off that spit-stained vest and never wore it again. The previous time, when I'd gotten punished for swearing, that was the last time I ever tried to do anything about the constant torment.

About eight months later or so I had my first real anxiety attack; and I started seeing a psychologist for depression.

* * *

These days, I realize that I should have said fuck the consequences, turned around, and fed that pussy his own goddamned teeth. They should have needed three teachers and a crane to pull me off him, and afterwards he should have left the school on a backboard with blood-soaked gauze wrapped around his face, and he should have been eating his meals through a straw for the next two months. (And quite possibly sing castrato for the rest of his life, to boot.)

I realize that now only because I have the adult perspective: getting in trouble in high school is nothing. One friend of mine put it into perspective: "In high school you only have to worry about getting detentions; in the real world you have to worry about going to jail." Yeah.

* * *

Even in 1983, getting expelled from school was a serious black mark. I had designs on going to college, and an expulsion does not help you in that regard. No one in my family had ever been so much as held back a grade; getting expelled--Jesus.

And no one believed what I said about it, anyway. I got into a fight in junior high school; my parents were out of town and my oldest sister was in charge while they were gone. I was told that I shouldn't start fighting because of teasing; after all my brother had been teased when he was in junior high and he hadn't gotten into any fights.

(It was one group of girls that teased him. Not the whole school. Yeah--try explaining it. I love my oldest sister dearly but she's one of those people who simply stops listening when she thinks she's right and you're wrong.)

My parents weren't any better than my sister. "Just ignore them!" Pssh. It doesn't work; it just makes getting a reaction more of a challenge, and more fun when the target finally reaches his limit. And the target will reach his limit eventually. Torture will always elicit a reaction, sooner or later; it's just a matter of intensity.

I tried to explain, time and again, how crappy everything was--why I was so miserable, why I faked being sick so often, why my grades were in the toilet--but nothing I said ever got through to anyone, because after all my siblings had never had those kinds of troubles, so it must be all my fault. Ed's just lazy!

And after that incident in the spring of 1983, I gave up trying to explain it to anyone. I realized that I was stuck with it; there was no point, no hope, no changing it. I still got angry when I was tormented, of course, but having realized that there was nothing I could do to stop it or alter the situation, knowing that no one was on my side in this, knowing that anything I did would only jeopardize my future, I retreated into science fiction and computer games.

* * *

I've refrained from discussing this stuff here because I didn't want Mom to know about it. Her burden of guilt over my education (or lack thereof) was great enough. She realized that I had been short-changed, that I'd been ill-served by my incarceration in the Crete-Monee shithole--and whenever the subject came up, she inevitably apologized to me for it. (WTF, my parents did the best they could with the information they had. I don't blame them.)

But last night I was thinking about high school, and I realized that I now could tell the story here without having to worry about Mom seeing it.

Even now, people in my family dismiss this stuff as unimportant. I told my brother the story once; he brushed it off: it happened twenty years ago, it's not important. Bah.

(Good thing he's an OB-GYN and not a shrink, with that attitude. Jesus.)

But it is important; it's very important. I'm talking, here, about one incident; but it was not isolated and it was part of a larger pattern that had persisted for my entire life, just about. It wasn't this one kid suddenly deciding, one day, to spit in my chair; it was this one kid spitting in my chair about an hour after I sat through twenty minutes of teasing from two other unremediated shitheads in Geography, and an hour's worth of abuse from crapfaces in PE, and some kid trying to trip me in the hallway between classes; and it came before the dicklicks in German and the fucktards in Composition and fudgepackers in American History and the walk home from school where I ran the risk of being tormented by groups of kids far from teacher supervision. Every day.



Prior contretemps had demonstrated to all concerned that if they teased me and I tried to do anything about it, I got into more trouble than they did. For them, it was win-win: if I did nothing, they got the amusement of picking on someone. But if I did do something, they got to laugh about how I got in trouble for it; it gave them twice the amusement.

* * *

I went to the "senior awards banquet" in 1985, even though I wasn't going to be graduating with my class. You know the kind of awards they hand out: "most likely to end up in jail", "casanova award", etc, etc.

I got "class grouch".

Yeah: pick on a kid for his entire life, then chide him for being angry about it.

One guy, who was obviously going prematurely bald, got the "Hairline Creations" award (a local company which specialized in various remedies for baldness) and he said, "I hate everyone who voted for me," which got a laugh.

When I got my award, I said, "I'm going to do Steve one better: I hate you all." That did not get a laugh, though I'd said it lightly and had intended it to be funny. Well, I don't really care.

* * *

Well: on the plus side, I can look back at all this and marvel at a few things. First, I never did drugs or alcohol. Second, I never contemplated suicide. Third, I never killed anyone.

School shootings hadn't been invented yet, but I'm positive that the "zero tolerance" bullshit is why we have them now. It certainly made my life a living hell.

As for me, the idea of coming to school with a weapon, and exacting vengeance, simply never occurred to me, ever. I would have been hard-pressed to find an appropriate weapon, anyway, as this was the 1980s and serious crime simply didn't happen here. (Again, I feared my Dad's wrath more than the fires of hell; if I'd been caught trying to get into his gun case....)

In any event, I didn't want to hurt anyone; I just wanted to be left alone. I was never a violent person; I usually lost the fights I got into because I never made a rational decision to fight--the fights always happened after my animal hindbrain got so steeped in adrenaline that all higher-order functions were cut out of the loop. Heck, there was one fight I had where I recall the very beginning and the end, and the middle is a blank: one moment we were in the gym, and the next we were in the hallway, and I have no memory of anything in between those moments.

* * *

The fallout continues (despite my brother's "20 years ago" nonsense).

Trusting people comes very hard, even now. Too many people tried the, "Hey, Ed, I'm your new bestest buddy!" trick on me; it only worked once.

Dating women: forget it. High school is a crucial time for social development; I rarely even spoke to a member of the opposite sex after August of 1979. Things that most guys learn to an instinctive level by their 15th birthday, I never learned; and owing to the way the human brain develops I now could probably never really learn them all that well, even if there were a way to teach such things. It shocks me when I learn that a woman finds me attractive, the same way I'd be shocked at an over-unity heat engine.

Depression, temper, and anxiety: learned helplessness leads to all three. These are now kept in check with Paxil and Xanax. I used to think that the symptoms would diminish as I got older and the experiences which prompted them became more distant; but in fact they get worse--before 2002 I didn't need drugs to help me cope with them.

"Stone face": I learned not to show too much emotion, either positive or negative. Getting angry or sad was out because that was just the kind of rise the bastards were hoping for. If I appeared happy, one of the cunts would take it upon himself to ruin that happiness. So when I'm at a party and having a good time, people come over and ask me if I'm having a good time, or "Oh, what's wrong? You look like you're not having any fun!"

Parties: I do terribly at them. Social occasions were never really my forte to begin with.

Career and finances: I ended up dropping out of high school. By graduation time, in 1985, I had failed a couple of required courses and would have had to spend one more semester in school. Rather than subject myself to more of that horseshit, I took the GED in October of 1985 (and, predictably, got a really high score on it).

GED looks bad to all and sundry; so my choice of colleges was limited. I ended up in DeVry, about a year after my friends had already graduated from college, and so I got a late start on my career. Worse, the degree ended up being worthless after 9/11/01 killed my technical writing career. And because my career was shit upon by islamist bullshit, here I am.

* * *

Are there any positives?

I always have to struggle with that one. There are no upsides which are definite advantages to me, in any material sense; almost all the advantages are spiritual. None will put food on the table or money in my pocket, nor will they get me laid.

One upside: my niece in Maine was having a horrible, horrible time in high school. I wrote her an e-mail advising her to try dressing like everyone else, to try to fit in; she tried it, and her life improved. There were other factors I am not at liberty to discuss here, but she herself told me that my advice really helped her improve her situation.

I learned how to do a lot of things by myself.

I am still amazed, to this day, that I never turned to substance abuse. That led me to realize that I have an inner strength that few people have; I certainly don't think the peers that heaped so much abuse on me could have withstood it without booze or pot or whatever, most of them. They needed to heap shit on me to make themselves feel better; they for damn sure couldn't take what they dished out. Absent that strength, God alone knows how things would have worked out.

Mostly, the sole positive from all this is wisdom--knowledge of human nature; the understanding that you can't afford to ignore evil; the fact that too many people only recognize strength, that they mistake forebearance for weakness. Knowledge that actions always have consequences, and some of those consequences cannot be foreseen without careful thought (and some can never be foreseen). The realization that bad people will be bad regardless of how many rules you make against bad behavior. Contempt for liberalism and the notion that humans are infinitely perfectible.

* * *

So in case you were wondering, after reading #2559: Was I a GIRL when I was in high school?? why I couldn't have had a girlfriend in high school--now you know.

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