Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Tomorrow was a big day. It wasn't just the first day of school. It was the first day at a new school. Everything in my closet had already been in and out at least three times to be paired with at least three other things. Normally, I was not indecisive about these sorts of things, but this was the first day. First impressions are critical. This first impression might be the biggest of my life. We moved here a year ago, and I hadn't particularly bonded with any of the kids I went to elementary school with last year. I was pretty good friends with the girl down the street, so I felt good about having one friend. This was junior high, and there were going to be a lot of kids at this school. I didn't know how many exactly, but kids from several elementary schools were going to be coming here. And there would be 8th and 9th graders, too. It was a lot of pressure. I finally decided on the shirt that buttoned at the collar with blue flowers. It had some yellow in it, so I paired it with my yellow skirt. Normally, I am not much for skirts and dresses, but this was the first day. I felt my stomach muscles unclench a bit now that the choice was made.

The next morning, I walked down the street to pick up my friend, and we cut over to pick up another girl, and we all walked to school. It was a lot of nervous talking. No one knew what to expect. When we got there, I was shocked. It was chaos. There were people everywhere. The halls were filled with kids. The school was three stories, and there was still no room to move. As that fact took root, something even darker became apparent very quickly. There was nothing in my closet that would have been "right" for all of the people confidently taking up space in the hallway. Did they carry hundred dollar bills in their purses and wallets?

My goal became just to get through the day. I hung on to my schedule like a lifeline. Each time the bell rang, it was a nightmare. It was a wall of bodies coming toward me. Terrifying. Reflexively, I held my breath, closed my eyes, and held my books to my chest, preparing to be trampled. When that didn't happen, I opened them realizing that they walked around me. I slowly let it out. Knowing that would not stop this reflex from happening in the future. As I moved from class to locker and back, I heard things and the pieces fell into place about this place. All of the kids who lived within walking distance of this school, like me, were from lower middle class-middle class families. The other kids were from the hill and they came in on buses. They were from upper middle class-rich families. In fact, they were from the wealthiest families in the entire town.

Standing outside Health class, waiting for the teacher to arrive, one of these kids from the hill started to talk to me. She wasn't like the rest of them. She was obviously one of them, but she was nice. Her name was Jennifer and she was my first "Instant Connect." We became best friends. Not that day, but just about. She didn't fit in with them, either. In our own ways, we were both navigating these shark infested waters completely on our own. No one had our backs. In my case, I didn't grow up with my fellow grade schoolers, and she grew up with the sharks. We didn't know it, but we started building a raft that day. In the future, other people would hop on. People from other elementary schools that we didn't yet know. There was blood in the water all of the time. Sometimes ours.

I mistakenly thought that first day that it was safe if you were in class. Only at lunch and in the halls were you really in danger. It is thinking like that, that can cause some serious injury.

Everyone had Music class. I thought I would like it. The teacher was really cute. First impressions. I sat down with eagerness. I opened my notebook anticipating finding out what this class was going to be about. A broad outline of what we were going to cover this year. This semester. This month. Whatever. The teacher started off calling the roll. Not surprising. Once the person raised their hand, he looked them up and down, and then provided commentary on their appearance. I felt the blood drain out of my face. Could this really be happening? Yes. On and on it went. Each time everyone laughed. Of course, the rich kids got the nicer comments, because their was less to nitpick with them. Less to find wrong. Less ways to make them feel badly about themselves. I was at the end of the alphabet. I started praying fervently that the bell would ring before he got to me. That didn't happen. I braced myself for it. "Living example of a JC Penney Back To School Sale." I smiled as big as I could. Everyone laughed the required laugh. Some people laughed the for real kind. Some people thought he was hilarious. Mostly the rich kids who liked to see everyone's self-esteem blown to hell. It was fun to watch a teacher do it for a change. It validated all of the bullying they did.

Never was I more ready for a day to be over. As I walked out the doors and looked up at the engraved stone over the entrance announcing to the world that this was WOODROW WILSON JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, I thought that they really should rename the place. WELCOME TO HELL was my first choice and much more appropriate.


  1. wow, that's nuts. What kind of teacher does that?
    I don't even know to say about that.
    Glad you made it through. He should have been fired. lucky you weren't my kid. I would have ripped that dude a new one.

  2. I wish I could go back to some of my teachers also and rip them to shreds.

    What a wonderful description of your feelings! I find it amazing how some of the strongest and attractive women I know had hard times at high school. You're one of them!

  3. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was junior high school. High school was actually sooo much better. Junior high school was miserable.

  4. Ah, I love reading about American high-schools. Honestly, I've always regreted that high schools in Poland are NOTHING like this. Because as much as you can describe it as Welcome to Hell place, in my country it's worse. My first day in high school was terrible, too. Our principal told as: "well, kids, brace yourselves because these are going to be the worst four years of your lives". And on our last day in high school we all talked about what she had said and we, of course, came to the conclusion that she was 100% right. Worst 4 years ever. However, as the time passes by, it's all becoming prettier, memories are just like this, you forget the bad things easier and the good things become brighter, better and so on. All in all, my biggest tragedy was reading Harry Potter right when it came out, haha. I wish schools were like Hogwarts! :)


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