Monday, April 23, 2012

Hometown Memories: Getting Through A Tough High School

“The troubles of adolescence eventually all go away - it's just like a really long, bad cold.”
- Dawn Ruelas -

My first year of high school, a very tough school to boot, brought with it a whole new set of kids and a whole new set of social rules. Elementary school kids were more easily disciplined and reigned in, but the high school crowd was, many times, completely out of control and totally unmanageable. There were numerous gangs, and these gangs seemed to run the show more often than the staff did. I witnessed a few disturbing scenes over the years, right down to a teacher brutally beaten by a student and sent to the hospital. The assault happened right on school grounds with crowds of students witnessing it – and cheering it on. I did not see it; I stood in the background, unwilling to watch. I suppose you can say I was a passive resister; not willing to wholly participate but not courageous enough to step in and protest. Fear is a great motivator. And fear motivated me to lay low. I wasn’t proud of this flaw in me, but I’d discovered the importance of anonymity in high school. Don’t make noise. Don’t get noticed. Don’t become a possible target to these thugs.

Haning out with friends in back of our school.
(I'm the girl on the right.)
The disturbing incident with the teacher - like many other disturbing incidences over the years - troubled me, but I’d come to realize that my academic world was flooded by such moments. And would continue to be. We had all swallowed a bitter pill and grudgingly accepted our dysfunctional environment and the bullies that shaped it. No one questioned what was going on or opposed the gangs and their leaders. You kept your mouth shut and minded your own business, or you were sure to face what ‘so and so’, the latest victim, was facing. Rarely, if ever, did someone stand up against the aggressive masses. And if they did, there were only two possible outcomes: 1) a physical beating followed by psychological/emotional abuse for the rest of the year (and sometimes for many years) or 2) respect gained by the aggressor if you managed to still be standing after your ambush. Your chances of the latter happening were minimal, if not nil, since the bully in question couldn’t afford to compromise his/her leadership status. So, students jumped on the ‘caution club’ bandwagon more often than on the ‘hero’ cart. The domineering ruled and the docile simply pretended they neither saw nor heard any evil. Living in denial meant living in peace – in one piece.

There were a lot of ‘bad boys’ in our school but it wasn’t half as alarming as the amount of nasty girls that kept pace with them, and often surpassed them. It rocked my very foundation how girls could be such vile, nasty and vicious creatures. They formed gangs, bullied other students, developed terrible reputations without a care, slept around, took drugs and basically lived an existence of decadence and total immorality. They were terrors, and the irony of it was these were the same girls that you saw at church with their parents, looking so innocent and refined. I often wondered if their folks had the slightest clue of the types of girls that the rest of us knew them as. Unlike the boys who fought when necessary or when provoked, these girls thrived on trouble. They enjoyed it. They went looking for it, and when they couldn’t find it, they created it. God help you if you just happened to be walking by their little group on a day when they were bored and looking for a little excitement, something to pass the time or someone to persecute.

Two of my closest friends in high school.
The girl on the left baptized my older daughter.
The girl in the middle is now living in Greece.
We're all still friends. (I'm on the right)
Thankfully, my friends and I got through our entire five years of high school without a glitch. It wasn’t only because we mastered the art of being invisible to these hooligans – we were popular enough to be known (and noticed) – but because somewhere along the line we became ‘okay’ in their eyes and they chose to leave us alone. We weren’t a threat to them, we weren’t of interest to them, and we just didn’t have the ingredient needed to satisfy their bullying addiction.

Maybe we were just at the right level; not ‘dorky’ enough to pick on but not overly ‘cool’ that we needed to learn our proper place. We were, I suppose, ‘tolerable’. And inconsequential. I don’t think we gained their respect as much as we gained their apathy. The boys that they liked also did not take an interest in us, which further fuelled their indifference. We may have dressed the part of ‘bad girls’ many times but we sure didn’t put it to practice. The boys, the hooligan types, knew this; they could tell the difference between those who talk it and those who walk it. Nice girls didn’t appeal to them and that’s what they saw us as – and ignored us. Their female hooligan counterparts were obviously satisfied with that and let us live in harmony.

Even though we inadvertently laid down the groundwork for tranquility right from the beginning, there was no telling if the tide would ever turn. There was no guarantee that your good fortune could not be reversed overnight. If just one member of those callous girls decided, for whatever psychotic reason, that they just didn’t like you all of a sudden, your serene existence in that school would quickly shift into a nightmare. Sheer dumb luck sealed our good fortune.

It was a very bad high school when I first got there and continued to be that way until my final year when it started to quiet down because the worst of the worst had graduated (not very likely), dropped out (more likely) or gone to jail (very possible). Was I afraid during those years? Sure. I was as afraid as anyone could be in such a school environment.

Graduation ceremony. I made it!
It wasn’t that there was holy terror reigning in our school every day; it was occasional. The problem is that you just didn’t know when that ‘occasion’ would be or who the unlucky candidate was that would be victimized. Despite the thugs need for that ‘occasional’ dispensing of terror, almost like satisfying the thirst of a drug addiction, none was as satisfying to them as dealing it to outsiders (students from other schools) rather than the locals. For the most part, local students faced the cat and mouse games. After all, the bullies didn’t want to bother fellow students more than necessary – calling attention to themselves by administration or parents of the bullied. They just wanted to have a little fun; slap their targets around a bit, but keep them healthy enough to be able to keep tormenting them. But if outsiders, students from other schools, decided to pay a visit, that’s when the real fun began. Where the most satisfaction was gained. Especially by the female bullies.

I was never really aware to what level of nastiness the ‘bad’ girls could climb – I’d never needed or cared to find out – until it hit close to home and was literally shoved in my face. Until that day I was living in my idyllic world where ignorance truly is bliss.

...

And I will share that story with you - next week on: Face To Face With Mean Girls

18 comments:

  1. Your High School experiences would have terrified me Martha! I was educated by nuns, and they were scary enough.At least you had good friends, who were going through the same thing. It makes me angry when I hear of the terrible bullying that goes on in schools. Gangs of children can bring out the most disgusting behaviour in each other.

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    1. They sure can bring out the most disgusting behaviour. I always wonder how much their parents know. And if they do, do they care?

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  2. I was fortunate enough to get my education in a rural school. The school didn't have a lot of the situations that you had to go thru and it was extremely strict. We couldn't even chew gum in school. Of course back then you still got the paddle in the states and it was a decent deterrent to bad behavior.

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    1. I lived in a big city and went to highly-populated schools. You can imagine how many things administration never knew about. There were too many kids to keep an eye on.

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  3. I think you'd like Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. It might help explain some stuff you might be wrestling with.

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    1. This was a long time ago, so it's pretty much just a whole lot of memories. But I took a look at the book and it looks really interesting.

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  4. I was a different generation and grew up in a small town. We had a few bullies but they were fairly easy to avoid. Your experience sounds dreadful!

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    1. Perhaps smaller schools were easier to keep under control. We were so many kids that it was hard to keep everyone and everything in the spotlight.

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  5. I can relate. I remember school like that too.
    I was the sort who hated injustice(still do) and of course constantly fought against it. You can imagine how THAT turned out.

    On a positive note, I LOVE your photos! I kept thinking to myself-thems my people!,lol

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    1. Our school wasn't the only one like that. A lot of other high schools were the same way. The more students there were, the worse it seemed to be. I had a really good group of friends - boys and girls - and I am grateful for that. We had a lot of fun without hurting anyone, or getting into trouble.

      Love that last comment! It would have been fun knowing each other back then.

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  6. Oh my goodness, Martha. You made it through some very frightening and upsetting experiences in your past. I'm so thankful you did make it through your high school years with your friends. I didn't got to a big school and I grew up in a very small rural town, but I know bullies. I was bullied, teased, beaten up a lot growing up. I was too different for the likes of a lot of the folks in my school, including the teachers who enjoyed rounds with me too. It was very difficult and I never miss it nor do I ever go to any reunions nor stay in touch with folks from my past back there. Not worth it.

    Where you live now looks so peaceful and your posts sound so happy and fortunate. I'm glad you are where you are now and thankful that you were able to become the person you became after having grown up in a school situation like that.

    Hugs and bright blessings to you,
    Bird

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear that, Bird. What a terrible time that must have been. It upsets me so much to hear stories like that. I taught my two daughters to respect their peers. I explained that it's okay if you don't like someone, sometimes the chemistry is not right, but it's NEVER okay to hurt anyone, in any way. Never. Thankfully, they have both grown up to be kind and compassionate, and they've never hurt anyone. And as far as I know, they are - and have always been - happy and safe in school.

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  7. Thanks for sharing, Your posting today sure hit me in the gut. I was one of those not cool kids who was picked on by the "cool" (i use the term roughly) kids despite my best efforts to be invisible. Although it is rather hard to be invisible when I was part of the Audio Visual Club and at that time that was like wearing a target, (probably still is) One day I was in the computer room, our school was blessed with 2 Commodore PET computers. The bully(s) came in and started to push us around, their method was to poke you in the back of the head with a finger, it only took 2 pokes of my head before I swung around and clocked the guy in the face. He promptly promised to get me after school, I said any time and place,I always and still do have to have the last word. Anyway he and his posse never showed up and the abuse continued until I graduated. I look back now and know I was and still am a better person than all of them put together.

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    1. I'm sorry to hear that, Scott. Yes, you are a better person. Funny how he never showed up. Not surprising, though. Most bullies are true cowards. But they travel in groups to strengthen themselves. Anytime I saw a bully picking on someone, they were never alone, always with their pack. In our school there were a lot of those packs. They all knew each other, and at times they would team up to make themselves stronger. If you were going to take one group on, you had to be prepared for the possibility that you'd be taking on more. It was a tough school.

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  8. Loved the post dear friend, it took me back 30 years. You made me visualize every moment and I applaud you for this. This is you... You have to continue writing these types of articles.
    As for "the good old days"... hmmm... I had my share, and I remember them well. Luckily for me I was a plus size and people thought twice about picking on me physically, but the mental part was always there... and you know how they bruised me in that department. Yes we were good kids, because we might of skipped a couple of classes -okay a lot of school- but that is all we did!
    They tolerated us because we were diplomats, but it took us a couple of years to actually win this "I'm OK with you" attitude. Up until then I remember going home at nights in tears... Trying to understand why people would not accept me.
    The most fascinating part for me is that we were attracted to the "bad boys" we actually liked them!!! Go figure... and yes, we were terrified of the girls.
    Thank God we made it out in one piece...
    Looking back, it sometimes pays to be a class clown, because even the tough ones can crack a smile, and when they do.. you got them. Now you understand what I mean by diplomacy... hahaha.
    Loved it... can't wait for your next post.

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    1. Well, no matter what the others thought, you and I were always the best of friends. I never cared about your outward appearance; I never do with anyone. It's the person you are that matters, and I saw a nice person in you. And that's why we were friends from the beginning of high school. Do you remember how me met? We were in the same biology class, started talking that first month there and have been friends since. And even though you've moved away, we're still so connects. Years could pass without us contacting each other, and then one day we hook up, and it's like we just spoke the day before. High school was a tough time for you in many ways, but you had our little group of friends that was very special.

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    2. I know dear friend... Why did I think it was cooking class, or home-ed? I must be confused. Old friends are like watching an episode of Days of Our Lives... you might miss it for a couple of years but after one episode you totally catch up... lol. Can't wait for your next post.

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    3. Ha ha...love that explanation... Yes, like watching a soap opera.

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