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.