Sunday, February 19, 2006

My school daze...

Kelly's post about finding old classmates got me thinking about school days...

Growing up in Miami, my sis, bro and I had lots of friends and played all the time, life was good. But then a certain bad element began infiltrating the nice neighborhoods and the day that this asshole named Ricky Alford beat me up in the schoolyard because he said I cheated on the spelling test, a test which would decide which student would attend the Dade County SPelling Bee. Let me just interject that if there's anyone who doesn't need to cheat in spelling it's me. Been like that my whole life. Spelling comes as naturally as eating or going to the bathroom. Yep it's that easy, so you can see that I was pretty freaked out when RA and RM both from my sixth grade class, threatened to beat me up after school because they said I cheated. I should have known that was a world to come....those who can't blaming their inadequacies on those who can. Anyway, RA had me face down in the dirt pounding on me (yeah I know it takes such a real an to beat up on women doesn't it?) and my sister ran down the block to our house which was only 5 minutes away. And then RA let me up and here comes mom, barreling down the street in my dad's pickup truck and aiming straight for the group of kids coming down the street, one of them being that son of a bitch who had beat me up.

After that my parents realized that we might not survive high school, so they decided to move us out of the city and into the country. They moved us to a small town in North Florida, and we attended a small school whose population at that time in 1980 was about 600 kids from K-12th grade. My parents had talked to the principal of the school and was told that bright kids get to skip grades (not once did I ever see that happen), and we were told that it was a really nice town in a nice rural area. It would help that my mom's folks had retired from Miami to Ocala, which is just an hour or so away, a year earlier and we were glad they would be nearby again, as an hour was probably the farthest they'd ever been from us.

So we moved. Two parents, three pre-teen kids, two dogs, a bird, two vehicles, and a very large Jartran moving truck containing all of our worldly possessions. We landed at our six acres of pure heaven in November 1980 and have been here ever since.

Let me just say that the first thing that happened when we started school was people called us "refugees" you see back then in the country, everyone was related to everyone else and strangers just weren't welcome. In fact, our being from Miami automatically labeled us Cuban. Strange though because even though we three kids had to learn spanish in elementary school, nobody in our family was Hispanic and the closest we'd come to Cuba was that we had lived some 190 miles from it and our best friends in Miami were a Cuban family. That was the extent of our ties. But it didn't matter. The kids in school who did this (and their parents who allowed it to happen) were just ignorant of anything outside this small town.

I recall the time one of the local rednecks talked about the "new Jew in town" and my father was in the store when this happened, proudly displaying his Star of David (symbolizing mom's Jewish heritage) with a cross in the middle (to symbolize his own heritage). There were a lot of people in that town who hated blacks, Jews, hispanics, and basically anyone not like them. You can't convince me the KKK didn't run rampant in some wild rural areas of that part of the country. So it seemed that my parents traded one sordid sort of people for another. But at least we kids would live through this, our future wasn't so sure staying in Miami. And overall looking back I'd say that while there were some great folks we left in Miami, the quality of the people overall and the environment made the move a wise one.

As we kids grew up in this small town, it was hard to make friends. Some kids were really critical and mean to us, some were really nice, and some were undecided. Once they figured out we weren't anything "special" we were pretty much just left alone. I don't recall anyone just jumping at the bit to get to know us. I tried so hard to be liked, I tried to fit in, I really cared about what others thought of me. Truth be told though, I was just a regular person, ordinary but not extraordinary, except for the fact I could kick the entire county's ass in spelling, and that helped gain me a few short-term friends. I mean I can honestly say the only time I had everyone in the school rooting for me was the two years in a row I kicked our county rival's ass in the county spelling bee. Before I came along, it hadn't been done in years. But other than that, I was really an unknown.

I'll interject here and say that when I was in the 6th or 7th grade, I used to stay after school and watch the older cheerleaders practice. Would you believe I still remember all their names? They graduated in 1980-82, nice girls too. Two of them were cousins, M and M and they even drove me home after practice. They knew how much I wanted to be a cheerleader. I think I wanted to be a cheerleader though so I could be popular. In a small town like this, if you were a cheerleader, everyone respected you.

As I got older, I got into trouble, mostly because I wanted things my mother wouldn't give me and then also because I wanted attention. We had a principal who frankly was more interested in punishing me than finding out why I was behaving like I did. I wasn't a bad kid, never did drugs, or hurt anyone or anything like that, I just did stupid things. If the kids in school were using that as an excuse not to like me, it was crap, pure crap. They never liked me in the first place. I suffered through the most miserable junior high school years, wishing it all would end. What made it bearable was well I don't know. Looking back my home life wasn't as bad as I thought it was, maybe that's what got me through it. That and just the grace of God, I think.

Anyway, it wasn't till I hit the 11th grade things began picking up. My folks were almost forty and going out on Friday and Sat nights occasionally. My sister and I would go skating those nights, I was living with grams next door to mom and dad so I had more freedom, it was getting better. But school itself, well it still sucked. I'd had a few teachers along the way who cared about me, well let's see, there were two--Mrs. J who taught me to share my feelings in our private class journals, Mrs. A, who taught me how to express myself through art (when I wasn't even an artist), and Mrs. B who helped me express myself through journalism. I hate to say it, but throughout my entire high school career, four years 9-12 grade, these are the only three teachers who gave a damn.

I was a smart kid but hating my teachers and many of the students didn't make me exactly excel in school. My teachers labeled me and that was that. I hated PE because my teacher was a bitch, I hated regular math because our teacher used to preach I was going to hell and he treated me like a second-class citizen, I hated home economics because the teacher was a bitch, I hated biology because the teacher was a bitch, and I hated algebra because I couldn't understand it, though Mr. P really tried to explain it. I hated the teachers and the students. I hated the way some girls pretended to be my friend and then turned on me, I hated the way the boys wouldn't be nice to me. It was j

My parents frowned upon too many extracurriculars. My sister and brother played in band but I didn't have any extracurriculars---except for journalism my junior and senior year. Fortunately for me, I was made an editor of the high school paper in 12th grade. I was the news editor and I wrote editorials that were really progressive and really enlightening. Looking back, they needed work but not many seniors were writing about the things I wrote about. I also wrote a few sports editorials, and I even did the play-by-play of the 1986 WorldSeries in the post series edition. I had finally found a way to express myself. And it made me popular. People read my stuff, finally I had a way of making other people hear me.

I also worked on the yearbook, I was the editor of the clubs and organizations section. It was an outstanding yearbook and I know my old pal "ST" here who comments frequently on my blog will recall the long hours we all put into it. It was by all means, SUPERB. And when we sent it to print, it was like this big overwhelming feeling of accomplishment.

So imagine my sadness when I received a letter from my journalism teacher/yearbook advisor Mrs. B, while I was in boot camp, telling me that the damn yearbook company LOST the original we sent them. They lost it, it was gone forever. Mrs. B and her current class had to recreate a new yearbook for us but it didn't matter, it could never be the same, and it wasn't. The photos were blurry, outdated, things were misspelled, the layout sucked. It was horrible. I don't think I ever got over that. Those of us in that class had created a work of art, that could have been up for big recognition, and it never came to be. My big moment was sitting in a warehouse somewhere collecting dust because it didn't get delivered to the right place.

That still just chaps my hide!

Once I joined the military I left town and kept in touch with only one person who claimed to be a friend but had really been two-faced towards me. Her mother didn't like me and had forbidden her from being around me, like I was some sort of plague. Like HER daughter was an angel?


Later on when I returned to the area I made friends with a couple of the people I had known in school but not hung out with. I got in touch with ST ( I just can't remember how it all came about) who I had known in school and we got along but we weren't friends. She was quiet, had a boyfriend (RT), and kept to herself. She was on homecoming court and was popular but she wasn't a cheerleader and she didn't play sports. Everyone liked her though. Then there was her boyfriend, now darling husband RT and his brother RT who I had gotten along with in school but geez Louise those boys loved to argue--about ANYTHING. I used to watch the way they picked on one another!! I enjoyed becoming friends with them. There was JJ, who was also from Miami and had moved here a few years after me, and even though our dads worked together, we hadn't been good friends in school, now we keep in touch and it's nice. And then there was JB who I had really just disliked in school and later on when I ran into her she was so nice and pleasant, a real genuinely nice person and we became friendly. Sadly she died in December so I never got a chance to say I really appreciated getting to know her. There is one more person too, MK who like me, wasn't well liked in school, but they disliked her for different reasons. She never got into trouble, in fact she was a straight A student, and a nice girl, a little bit of a thing, but she was different, dressed different, acted different, and the popular girls made fun of her. Oh when they needed help on tests, they asked her but other than that they could give a shit less. The boys were the same. Later on I found her, we corresponded and she was happily married to a police officer and has two beautiful children. She's really an awesome person and it was nice to see what I missed out on not knowing her. I do know the alienation she felt in school, I should have been her friend.

At the ten year reunion in 1997 things became interesting. Now I had sworn I wasn't going but my mother said "you should go and show them all how smart and gorgeous you are!" Yeah yeah yeah. Now of course years later mom and I were so damn tight and finally I decided to listen to her LOL. And so I showed up at the afternoon picnic and had fun, people kept saing "wow you look great" they asked about my military duty, college, all that stuff. Wow, most of the were interested in me and I could care less about most of them (except the few I mentioned previously). I felt like I was in a foreign world. They were all married with kids and there I was single and living it up. Later on we all went to dinner and I noticed that all the same old groups gravitated towards one another. For whatever reason I could not bring myself to sit with the popular people in a closed setting. All I could remember is what bitches most of them were, . The funniest thing about that day was that the guys really talked to me, they were just real friendly. A guy who had called me names, terrible names in school and publicly degraded me was there with his wife, his much younger wife, and he was being nice as if nothing ever happened. And then one of the guys who had been popular, played sports and was more a well-liked guy than anyone other guy in the class (always the mister nice guy, was nice to me in school but never really got to know me), was being his same old very nice self.

ST and I have often discussed this, about how people change when they get older and it's true. And it's important not to hate or hold grudges for stupid things people did long ago. When I look back at my school days now I am not angry,and I do recall more of the fun times I had. Weird isn't it? There were actually good times in school, I just didn't see them back then because the hurt was so blinding. It's like now I remember that much of my life back then in school and at home was really good, it makes me feel warm now to recall it, but living it back then was hell.

But isn't it like that for all everyone? It always seems worse when you're living it.

Long ago I did finally forgive those who were mean to me and treated me like crap, that goes for the teachers and the students. I would not go out of my way to be nice to the people who were mean, but I certainly don't wish them harm. I know that kids do stupid things but the thing is that they made a conscious choice when they clearly knew better. It makes me wonder...did their parents act this way? And do these people still act this way? I hope not.

I will admit, the town changed, people got older, it's a nicer place now. And looking back, I am sure that things appeared much worse than they might have been. That's what retrospect is when you're an adult, when you look back you realize it wasn't that bad. But there are some things that were, and you can never forget them.

Our experiences make us who we are. Had it not been for the experiences of my school days, I may not be the person I am today. And what kind of person am I? Well I am a good, decent, honest, hardworking and sincere person. I love my family and I am devoted to the few good friends I have. I am fair and balanced, I believe in equal justice for all. I am opinionated, outspoken, and sometimes so very insecure. I am well-liked by most, disliked by a few, and I'm sure the jury is still out on everyone else.

And yes, I still care what people think of me. I might talk tough and say "oh screw 'em" but really I do still care.

I guess some things never change.


  1. Anonymous2/20/2006

    Hey Jess, I'm glad to call you my friend. You are a blessing to my life. And you are right. I was never a cheerleader. I was to shy and to uncoordinated, but I did date and marry the cutest guy in the class;) I suppose that is my claim to high school fame. --ST

  2. You uncoordinated? Now that's something I NEVER knew! By the way I should have added the other "RT" in my post, because I always liked him, he wasn't ever mean (neither RT was like that), we just argued all the damn time.

  3. Anonymous2/21/2006

    They both still love to argue. Funny, our middle daughter loves to argue too. We call her fencepost sometimes, because she would argue with a fence post. I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.--ST

  4. Wow, that was awesome Jess. You mentioned some things I never knew about, but I know from experience we don't tell our moms everything. I went through some very similar experiences in high school, and all I wanted was to be accepted. Now that I look back on it, those jerks weren't even worth the tears.
    You have grown up to be someone worthy of praise. It's just a damn shame that a wonderfully bright and intelligent young woman who had so much to give, wasn't appreciated for all she was at the time. It's their loss.
    As for me, I thank heaven that I was blessed with such a daughter.

  5. Anonymous2/21/2006

    School sucked. I never liked it. At least the academic part. I REALLY REALLY liked seeing ST every day. I enjoyed playing football. Other then that it sucked. You are right about Mrs. P. I have not met any one in my life that I disliked more.

    I some times regret the way I acted in high school. I don't remember that I was ever really mean to anyone. I just was indifferent. When others picked on "the unpopular kids" instead of objecting I ignored it.

    When we experience unpleasant things in this life, it often makes us better and stronger individuals. It also gives us somthing to look forward to in the life to come. "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any pain: for the former things are passed away." RT

  6. Robert, you were never mean to anyone. You, RT, Brian, Carl, Mark H, Rich, and Randy P. (and Stan--remember him!) were really the good guys (did I miss anyone?). The rest of the guys--class A jerks. Do you remember Art class? I used to love that class, you and RT, and BR always had me laughing my ass off. You guys sat at the table across from me and OMG your brother and I used to argue constantly. I am so glad I got to know him later on, he's such a wonderful guy.

  7. Anonymous2/22/2006

    If you can believe it, we heard from Stan a couple of months ago. He is an associate pastor in Texas. He is married and at the time his wife was expecting their first baby.__ST & RT