Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seventh Grade: My Year In Hell

This photo is my school picture from seventh grade at Kennedy Junior High School (1971-72), which still rates as the single worst year of my life. I've experienced many difficult periods at different times of my life -- my freshman year of college, my church mission (still the most difficult thing I've ever done), law school and graduate business school, adjusting to being married, being without work after graduation, nerve-rattling courtroom work, having a rebellious child, having monumental tasks to do at work with almost no management support -- but nothing else has compared with the hell that was seventh grade. The difference between my last year (sixth grade) of elementary school and my first year of junior high was similar to growing up in a zoo and then being set loose in the jungle with no survival skills and no support structure. The kids from my elementary school were generally naive and relatively innocent; however, then we were thrown together with kids from the other "feeder" schools, who were street-wise, prone to ganging up on loners, and seemingly into "adult" vices (sex, drinking, drugs, street-fighting, petty crime, etc.) that I could only imagine. It didn't help that the teachers at Kennedy didn't seem to give a rat's behind about their students in general, never mind an individual who was struggling socially (and, consequently, academically). My brother Kelly was in his senior year at the local high school and was a pretty big man on campus due to his being the starting point guard on the basketball team; I can remember thinking that some of that status should have percolated down to me, but it never did (not that it mattered to Kelly). My best friend at the time was my cousin Randy Baca, who, similarly, wanted nothing to do with me at school despite the fact that he was still at Kennedy that year. I wouldn't have wanted to run with the rough crowd that he hung out with (who really were into all the aforementioned vices), but I could have used a little of their "protection," if nothing else.

I remember that some of the girls in my math class started referring to me as "Goggles" on account of my glasses (the plastic "aviator" frames and photo-gray lenses were way ahead of their time in 1971). Many of those girls were probably at the apex of their lives in terms of physical attractiveness and popularity; I can say with some confidence that most of them ended up (to borrow a line from the Hitchcock film Rear Window) fat, alcoholic, and lonely. As for the guys at the school, well, I'm certain that many of them ended up dead or in prison; I can remember feeling more than a little schadenfreude when I found out some years later that one of my tormentors had committed suicide while still a teenager. I'm not sure how many times I missed school in seventh grade -- every day I was gone only compounded the woe I was feeling -- but I estimate I was absent for fully one-third of the school year. (It drove my parents crazy, especially my father, who used to make me drink Geritol -- nasty stuff! -- in an attempt to cure my ills.) That I was allowed to miss that much school, yet still advance to the eighth grade with passing grades, is a testament to what a sh-- heap the school was. (I ended up attending a private SpEd school in eighth grade after finally deciding I couldn't stand Kennedy anymore, and then I attended another public junior school in ninth grade, which represented a stark contrast to Kennedy, especially in that low-life scum fell pretty low in the social pecking-order there.)

Irony: My good friend Rod Williamson's wife Barbara is currently principal of Kennedy, which has now long been a grade 6-8 middle school, and I think his daughter Jenny teaches English there.

[Update: Another irony is that the only school annual that I still possess -- I threw out all my high school yearbooks shortly after my mission -- is the one from seventh grade. Here are a couple of photos from that yearbook. The first is of the kids who played in the seventh-grade basketball program; we played on cold Wednesday mornings before school, and we had an intramural tournament during the holiday break. I also remember that a select few of us played in two "real" games, against seventh-graders from Hoover Middle School. I'm on the far right of the back row. The second photo is of the seventh-grade boys chorus, a class I didn't really like, in large part because I didn't care for the teacher, Mrs. Coupland. (It didn't help that the class contained several of the creeps of whom I make mention above.) I wasn't as tall as I look in the picture -- Duane Dalby, on the far right of the back row, wasn't much shorter than I was -- and thus I think I must have been standing on some kind of box as well as the top riser.]