Escaping School

No, this isn’t another end-of-the year cat post. This is about being Odd and the designated target for four years and more, and what happened. There are reasons why I say that I escaped public high school, rather than graduating. I did learn things, and I had some really good English and science teachers who taught me a great deal that I still use, but oh, lordy, the other students and the administrators…

The summer between sixth and seventh grade, something happened. Dang if I know what, but for lack of a better term, everyone else suddenly became teenagers and I stayed a kid and Odd. I went from being mildly Odd but cool-ish to designated target in five months. I suspect being overweight and not wanting to labor to fit in contributed heavily. I didn’t see what was wrong with taking paper and a pencil with me on noon recess and sitting on the outside steps and designing a ground-attack aircraft for fun. Or day-dreaming about Robotech-like mecha. And I couldn’t tell why this caused problems with the other students.

All I knew was that people were suddenly picking on me, and the principal fussed because I brought a Voltron lion with me one day (toy, I think I was drawing it or something for art class), and that no one wanted to talk about science fiction stuff aside from one freshman guy who was a rabid Dr. Who fan. The usual gang learned about that and harassed us to the point where the big kid quit talking to me. And then the rocks and ice-balls started.

I retreated into the worlds inside my head and inside books. I suspect, looking back, that my grip on reality was exceedingly tenuous back in my teens, given the ease with which I slid in and out of my fantasies. Today I’d have been diagnosed as something and medicated, had my parents been willing (they would not have been).

The physical attacks and harassing continued through my senior year in high school. I managed to find a small group of hard-core sci-fi, science, and music nerds to run around with, but that didn’t stop the harassment. That culminated with getting backed against a wall groped during lunch until one of my larger male friends intervened, and then gave the guy a “talking to” after school. The harasser’s buddies then cornered me alone and I was very lucky to end up bruised but without broken bones. No, the administrators didn’t do anything, because I’d already learned not to bother them.

Then I had abrupt onset cool when I started winning academic and other awards left, right, and center. Yeah. Right. Pull the other one, it has bells on it.

But here’s the thing. I just wanted to escape. I dreamed about fleeing the planet and fighting evil, or joining Hammer’s Slammers (hover tanks – the ultimate equalizer!), or signing up with Falkenberg’s Legion, or otherwise joining the military and getting the h-ll away from everyone. Not blowing up the school – although I wouldn’t have been heartbroken if a gas leak over the weekend had leveled either my junior high or high school while they were empty. Not shooting my tormentors, because the thought just didn’t occur to me.

I had places inside my head and inside books that I could flee to. Those book-worlds were safe. The good guys won, the bad guys lost, and if the worlds were not pretty, well heck, I knew by then good and well that reality was dang ugly even off the battlefield. I read military history. I read Capstick’s books about Africa, and I endured junior high and high school. At least a pissed off Cape Buffalo can be stopped by large quantities of lead applied at high enough velocities in the right place. I’m not so certain “mean girls” and their male counterparts are so easily halted. But in books, and in military history, the world was simpler sort of, and cleaner mostly*, and it made sense.

In some ways I was lucky, because so much of the tormenting was purely physical. The head games played inside the pretty sets? I missed them completely because I was so far outside their circles and had not desire to be in them. I was short, fat, nerdy, dressed funny, had red hair, and leaned goth before I knew what goth was. Why bother making fun of me or making me think I might have a prayer at being a popular girl?

Yes, I’m still a little bitter. It took seven years after high school before men of a certain appearance stopped making me want to flee on sight. I still hate having people come up behind me, and more than one person has learned that my elbows move before my fore-brain can engage to stop them. Mostly I feel horribly bad about younger Alma and the misery and scars that were inflicted on her. And I wonder how many kids today don’t have access to safe book-havens, and are not permitted to escape into fantasy and star-ships and places where the bad guys always lose and the good gals win and couples get married and find mostly-happily-ever-after.

I’m afraid the headlines tell the story. The system seems set to punish introverts, outsiders, really imaginative kids, those who don’t want to or can’t blend in with the rest of their age cohort. It ignores bullying and abuse by fellow students, or punishes the innocent as hard or harder than the guilty under “zero tolerance.” One review of Shikari complained because they could not imagine the adults in a school allowing things to get that bad for so long. Sir or madame, I’m glad your schools are much wiser and less responsive to parent pressure and psychological fads than mine was and other current schools are.

I have to wonder, without the safety valves of private school, home schooling, and a few other escape hatches for the Odd, how high the teen suicide and murder rates would really be? I shudder to imagine.

*Keep in mind. Back when I was a teen, PTS and the like were not known, and a lot of things in books like With the Old Breed and other memoirs went past me. Yes, I know better, now, but I was reading semi-expurgated histories, or things like Samuel Elliott Morrison, which were long on unit and ship actions and short on personal accounts and the years after the wars. I figured out that not everyone could cope with what they did or saw, but I was in my teens, and I thought I would be resistant to that sort of thing. *shrug* Teenagers – going to live forever.

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12 thoughts on “Escaping School

  1. > The system seems set to punish…

    As far as I can tell, that’s public school’s main, and possibly only, purpose. Hammer you down until you don’t stand out.

    “Education”, in the sense of learning anything other than rote obedience, is certainly not part of the system.

  2. It’s bad when elder siblings fit in fine and you don’t and no one explains the rules! I was lucky that I lived in my head so much and my parents insulated from all that. Side effect was my unwillingness to leave the nest.

  3. Agreed. I just wish it’d only been high school. About a month into first grade the teacher admitted I’d done all the work, and the school, in its infinite wisdom, put me into 2nd grade half the day and first the rest of the day. Everything went downhill from there. I think. Or maybe it was when the school thought I was “barely average” and parents had to bring in a psychologist to prove I was – ahem. Probably brighter than all the teachers put together. Or maybe it was the incident where broken bones resulted and the school thought I was faking until they were shown the X-rays. Or….

    …Well. You get the idea. Blow up the school? Oh, I would have loved to do that… when it was utterly empty. The right to be left alone is incredibly underrated.

    Things got somewhat better in college, but – I can’t take people walking up behind me either.

  4. I watched the most recent episode of Gundam Build Divers last night. After having read a lot of the discussion on According to Hoyt.

    One of my reactions was “Kid, she’s got problems. You’ve talked her down, and her guild is probably going to handle her in game issues. She probably needs some help to find some place in RL that isn’t toxic. Her guild isn’t necessarily up to that. That’s not something you are up to either. You are in contact with some adults who want intelligence relating to some stuff she knows, and may have some judgement and ability to help. This isn’t a ‘friendship speech’, problem solved, problem staying solved, roll credits situation.”

    Of course, I understand that the real point of the episode is reaching the heart of his own guild mate who is concealing unresolved issues.

    I’m very much of the public schools are a toxic dysfunctional mess school.

    I maybe wasn’t bullied, I’m not sure. I did find most social contact very stressful. I’ve been very fortunate in a number of ways.

    I can’t help but take this in, correlate, and see ingredients for an interesting story.

  5. Thank goodness I have a natural “person who just DOES stuff*” tendency, and a mom who terrified those who might have wanted to “do something” about me.

    I so obviously do not plan out any of the embarrassment I cause that it’s a natural defense against all but the most shameless, and a good tool for those who are annoyed with the shameless enough to try– say, when I sent the guy who tried to steal my backpack rolling across the waiting area by grabbing my (much heavier than he expected) bag back, and I just walked back to where I’d been and sat down. My mental summary of it, if anybody had bothered to ask, was that he was screwing around. With adult eyes, paying attention to the whole dang situation with some “accidents” that had happened about that time, he was the trial run for physical bullying and I accidentally signaled that I’d fight back without thinking about it. IE, I was a dangerous target. Even though if you ask me, I’d lose– I still wouldn’t back down from someone who was being foolish, and I’d ignore it.

    Add in that people were terrified of my mom, stuff didn’t GET as bad as for most folks. I’m not sure if the girls trying to be kind were worse than them trying to hurt me, because the ones trying to be nice were pushing things that would’ve hurt me a lot longer, and they didn’t understand what I value so the attempts to hurt…missed.

    Did teach me that you for damned sure don’t let people know what you care about, because they’ll destroy it.

    * Example: we needed shelves in the kitchen. I texted my husband if he minded if I built shelves in the kitchen. He texted no, fine, go for it. He was really not expecting me to take out a 5×4 square of drywall and build the shelves out from there… awkward space, so that’s the only way to have a shelf that isn’t three to five inches deep.

  6. I’m sorry you had to put up with that. Being a small, female nerd in a public school sounds truly awful I am glad that though I didn’t necessarily fit in well with most of my classmates, it seldom got anywhere near that bad. Bad enough to seek solace in books at times, but not too terrible. (And I will not admit to the Robotech self-insert fanfic. It never happened.)

  7. Elementary school has two purposes: crowd control and conformity.

    Middle and high school has four purposes: crowd control, conformity, social events, and sporting events.

    Any education that happens, happens between the above.

    In the middle of my sophomore year, we moved from Northeast Texas, where I was relatively happy and included, to a small town in the west central part of the state. My grandfather had died not too long prior, and we moved to be closer to my grandmother, whose helath was starting to fail.

    The high school there was sheer hell. I’m large enough that I wasn’t physically bullied, and I did have a few friends, but I most definitely did not fit in. There is a reason (over 90 of them, actually) why I’ve never attended a high school reunion. Assuming my class has had any. I”ve never been informed if there were.

  8. I didn’t want to go to the graduation ceremony. Why would I celebrate that place? As said, escape. And you celebrate escape, elsewhere.

  9. Sorry to hear that. I was lucky in that I had the woods, and a driver’s license at 14 with my own car. Drag racers could care less what one looked like/acted like, as long as they could race safely.

  10. I got very, very lucky. None of the high school teachers wanted me in their classroom (not unreasonable. A bored, smart brat can be a total PITA, and I’m sure I often was) so they adopted a policy of letting me sit in the back of the room, memorize the textbook, take an exam, and pass on to be somebody else’s PITA. I went through most of the academic courses in that high school in two years (not that much of an achievement; it wasn’t a great school) and then escaped to the university, barely in time to save my sanity.

    And yeah, I still don’t like people coming up behind me, or being touched by people I don’t know very well.

  11. I was tiny, and geeky, and introverted (Aspie much?) through school. There was one kid (out of 400) shorter than me – and he was less than 5′ tall at graduation. And he outweighed me by 20 pounds. (Food? What is this food I keep hearing other kids talk about?)

    (Side note – My Mom taught me how to cook. On Saturday, make dumplings in chicken broth, with the leftover bones and the wilted carrots and soft potatoes the grocer sold us for half price. On Sunday, boil stew beef for eight hours, or roast a chicken for three. Serve leftovers all week with day-old factory seconds from the Wonder Bread plant.)

    In 4th grade, four other boys thought it would be fun to attack me with pocket knives, clothes line, and a length of cable. I was fairly passive until they started damaging my bike. Then I sent them to the hospital. I gave their knives to the cop who showed up at my house a little while later, and showed him the cuts on my hands, arms and back.

    I was absolutely tormented through middle school. Even one of the teachers got in on the psychological abuse. Until this one girl just walked over to me in gym class and punched me in the crotch. I knocked her out. The teacher sent her to the office for starting it – he had watched the entire incident (all 5 seconds of it). I didn’t get physically picked on after that.

    In high school, thank goodness, I found a group of other outcasts. We really didn’t have much in common other than nerdosity and loneliness. We played chess and talked about The Destroyer (Remo Williams) novels at lunch, played D&D after school, and went to the local Bell Lab to play with their computers once a week. It was wonderful.

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