Chapter Eight: High School Horrors
I struggle to concentrate as Ms. Raine describes our first lab experiment for her biology class. Though I try to take notes, I cannot stop staring at the back of Tyler’s head. His thick, shoulder-length hair beckons to be touched. He sits so close to me that I can smell his shampoo. I close my eyes and imagine my face in the nape of his neck, breathing in the scent of his skin and the hint of cigarette smoke clinging to his T-shirt.
“The substance most important to sustaining life, Jodee, can you tell us what it is?” Ms. Raine asks, jolting me out of my romantic fog.
“What? Oh, yes… um, what was the question?”
“The stuff of life dear, what is it?” she repeats.
“Water, it’s got to be water, right?”
“Good. And what’s the chemical symbol?”
“That’s easy,” I reply. “H20.”
Though I smile and pretend to be interested, my mind drifts once more, this time to my favorite movie that I saw over summer break, Grease with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. I fantasize that I am Sandy, the character portrayed by Olivia Newton John. The new girl at school, Sandy is initially rejected by the cool crowd, who think she’s nothing but a goody two-shoes. Even more heartbreaking, she discovers that Danny, the kind, sweet boy who she fell in love with over the summer, is their leader. He turns his back on her when school starts because he doesn’t want his friends to know that he cares about someone they’ve deemed unacceptable. Eventually, Sandy not only wins the affection and respect of Danny’s clique, but some of the girls in her class give her a makeover that transforms her into the epitome of cool. In the end, she gets Danny back, and becomes the most popular girl in her graduating class.
As I drift deeper into my daydream, Ms. Raine begins to sound like the adults in those old Charlie Brown cartoons, as if she’s talking through a kazoo. Though I try to focus on biology, it’s no use. The pull of the fantasy is too strong. It also protects me from facing an unpleasant reality. A lot of the kids I went to junior high with have also matriculated to Samuels. I thought I could handle it. I was naïve. I underestimated the enemy. I didn’t realize that overcoming the bias of a handful of freshmen would be this tough. It also never occurred to me how much influence they could have on my new classmates.
Biology period is the worst, with A.J., Greg, Emily, and several others from Northwest sitting just a few feet away. Each afternoon, they gang up on me, riding me about what I’m wearing or how I’ve done my hair. They snicker behind my back, sharing jokes with the rest of the class about how I refused to dissect the pig in Mr. Blatt’s class, or how I went crying to the principal over a silly “snowball fight.” I feel as if I’m trapped inside a stereo that’s playing a broken record…
“Blanco, you suck.”
“Don’t be nice to her. She’s gross. We hated her so much in junior high.”
“Too bad you weren’t a miscarriage.”
If I don’t find a way to stop them from publicly belittling me, their disdain will become contagious. I’ll carry the stigma of being the class misfit again. At first, I make an effort to reason with them. “Come on, you guys, we’re not in junior high anymore. Let’s start fresh.”
“Fat chance,” they proclaim, rolling their eyes conspiratorially.
I know cruelty is currency in high school. It can buy power and popularity. My former classmates sense my desperation and amuse themselves by taking advantage of it. They need me. They’re just as scared as I am about making friends at Samuels. They have to prove to the in-crowd here that they’ve got what it takes. I’m their best hope. All they have to do is make everyone see me as the outcast. Then they can say to the popular group, “We have a mutual interest. None of us likes Jodee.” It confirms their social status. If I weren’t so furious about it, I’d laugh.
“Hey, Tyler, I bet Jodee’s never necked with anyone,” A.J. remarks, smirking. “Why don’t you give ugly little Ms. Priss a mercy kiss?”
“I’d rather suck on garbage,” he replies, proud of his clever comeback. Clark, the class jokester and Tyler’s best friend, turns around and gives his buddy a high-five.
I don’t understand. Tyler and I ride the same school bus. He’s never been unkind to me before. He ignores me if his friends are around, but that’s because he’s protecting his reputation. It wouldn’t be cool for him to be seen talking with someone who’s not a member of his clique. But when we’re alone, he’s really nice. I suppose I better get used to this. All the freshmen are jockeying for position now. This is especially true for people like Tyler, who have never known anything but popularity. The idea of going through high school without it is their greatest fear. If I can just keep my old classmates from Northwest at bay, I still stand a chance with the new kids.
“That’s enough, Tyler,” Ms. Raine declares, fixing him with an angry stare. “The next high-five I see, you’ll sit in detention.”
I sink into my desk. Here we go again. So much for believing I could make a fresh start at Samuels. The hardest thing about being an outcast isn’t the love you don’t receive. It’s the love you long to give that nobody wants. After a while, it backs up into your system like stagnate water and turns toxic, poisoning your spirit. When this happens, you don’t have many choices available. You can become a bitter loner who goes through life being pissed off at the world; you can fester with rage until one day you murder your classmates. Or, you can find another outlet for your love, where it will be appreciated and maybe even returned.
Samuels has a nationally recognized special education program. Most of these students are victims of Down’s syndrome and other developmental disorders. They often stop to chat with me in between classes, to show me a picture they’ve drawn, or to sing a new song they’ve learned. They sense my loneliness the way a blind person can hear sounds the rest of us can barely detect. They possess a grace of spirit and clarity of feeling, for they are unencumbered by petty desires and shallow concerns.
Every day, the special ed kids endure abuse from many of the other students. They are mercilessly teased and called names such as “retard,” “spastic,” and “head case.” These children are so innocent that they often don’t understand the maliciousness of the insults. They smile in response, and offer their assailants a piece of chewing gum in return, thrilled that one of the “big kids” spoke to them. Many of the teachers turn a deaf ear. It reminds me of Holy Ascension and Marianne, only this is much worse. Holy Ascension is operated by nuns and priests who practice compassion. At Samuels, apathy is the norm. Most of the teachers here arrive when they have to and leave as soon as they can, doing the bare minimum. The special ed instructors seem to care more, but it doesn’t make them any braver. They watch as their students are degraded day after day, but they rarely fight back. Nobody at Samuels likes to make waves. Boy, am I ever in the wrong environment.
Ms. Raine is still going on about H20. I feel a little guilty. She puts so much effort into trying to excite her students. But let’s face it, water just isn’t a provocative subject. The entire class is bored stiff. I wish she would switch topics. If my classmates grow too restless, they will pick on me to pass the time. Come on, Ms. Raine. Pull something out of a hat. No luck. In her own mind, she’s on a roll. “There are a wide variety of pollutants in our water, as you can see from the photos on page one hundred of your textbooks… ”
I keep glancing at the clock on the wall. Only five more minutes before the day is over. Finally, the bell rings. As I gather my books, I hear Tyler and Clark playfully arguing about which one of them Jacklyn, the hottest girl in school, would rather go out with. Petite with dark brown eyes and beautiful auburn hair, Jacklyn tries to look and act older than she is. She wears mini-skirts, high-heeled shoes, and jeans so tight you wonder how she can breathe. Jacklyn’s not only popular with the boys because of how she looks. She has a reputation for liking the backseats of cars.
“I’ll bet you ten bucks that she won’t be able to resist me,” Tyler declares, pulling a comb out of his back pocket and running it through his hair.
“You’re on,” Clark replies, slapping Tyler on the back. I listen to their exchange, wishing it were me they were competing for.
POIGNANT MEMOIR PUTS A FACE ON A BULLIED LIFE
“The bullies never remember, but the outcasts never forget.”
That telling line from a poignant new memoir best summarizes the hurt and frustration that results from bullying … hurt and frustration that can follow a child into adulthood.
In Please Stop Laughing at Me … One Woman’s Inspirational Story, Jodee Blanco tells it like it was … and it was horrible.
Using the backdrop of her 20th high school reunion, she chronicles the unrelenting verbal and physical abuse that followed her from the time she was a 10-year-old fourth-grader. Her story puts a face up for her principles, telling the truth and befriending children with disabilities. It was a life of contradictions between what adults would say and the reality of how she was treated by her peers.
“It seems that if you are mean or cruel to another kid, that was ‘okay’ because it was just a normal part of growing up,” writes Blanco If you are on the receiving end and allow it to bother you, you were the one who needs help. What kind of logic was that?”
From cover to cover, Blanco reasons through what happened to her, laying the groundwork for what may become an anti-bullying Bible. Within this 273-page, easy-reading, soft-cover book, she paints a stark picture of fear, hatred, loneliness, frustration and disillusionment – a picture many adults will recognize, either with empathy from having experienced similar traumatic events, or sheepishly from knowing they were the bullies. Putting the face on the problem of bullying as no other can: the face of experience.
Despite changes in schools and changes in communities, Blanco always seemed to be a target for bullies, mostly for doing what, by adult standards, would be the right thing: standing Blanco’s book has been described by other reviewers a “must read for parents, educators, and everyone concerned with the health and well-being of our children” (John Bradshaw, author of the New York Times bestseller Homecoming) and as a book that “will do for survivors of school bullying what Dave Pelzer’s book A Child Called ‘It’ did for child abuse” (Jack Canfield, coauthor of the international best-selling series Chicken Soup for the Soul).
Because of its easy style and riveting storyline, this book is appropriate for middle school and high school students, as well as parents, teachers and administrators. If any child can be given hope of surviving being bullied … if any child can see the bully within themselves and stop … if any parent or teacher can see a better way to handle bullying situations before they escalate, then Blanco’s years of mistreatment will have an element of triumph.
Linda Dawson, The Illinois School Board Journal
…Blanco was once a troubled child, tormented by her school mates. In this moving account, Blanco describes how she was first victimized in a Roman Catholic grammar school because she defended some deaf children when they were picked on by hearing students. She gave the names of the ringleaders of this cruel activity to one of the nuns, and was subsequently ostracized by former friends for being a tattletale. After Blanco transferred to another school, she continued a pattern of reporting bad behavior to authority figures and became a true outsider. According to the author, her parents were sympathetic, but they made things worse by forcing her to see a therapist. He prescribed medication that made her sleepy and told her that “kids will be kids.” In high school, she was physically abused by students who also objected to her “goody two shoes” attitude. During her teen years, Blanco’s emotional problems were compounded by a physical problem that caused her breasts to grow at different rates (later corrected by surgery). Blanco does feel, however, that those painful early years gave her the strength to become a successful adult. Although the text is overwritten in parts, the author’s courageous and honest memoir of the years she spent as the victim of her contemporaries points smartly to the inability of adults to deal with issues of serious bullying.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Blanco relates her hellish experience, which began back in grade school. Unable to maintain her friendships with the “cool” group because she befriended a younger deaf student, Blanco was ostracized and, worse, tormented. Her parents sent her to a different school, but after an initial promising start, Blanco was again ostracized after she called her mom to pick her up from a party that got out of control. Another school switch and a psychiatrist did nothing to better Blanco’s situation. She hoped high school would improve upon junior high, but the kids continued to torment her, even going so far as to beat her up. Blanco chronicles in detail her feelings of depression and how difficult it was for her to face her cruel classmates on a daily basis. Blanco’s story is often painful to read, but her eventual success and triumph over the past are inspiring.
Kristine Huntley, Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
MAPC Library, Winnipeg, Manitoba – Canada
Reading this book gave me the opportunity to experience life in the shoes of someone who had a school lifetime of being bullied. Definitely an easy read book and a book that I found very hard to put down because I wanted to see if it resulted in hopefully a happy ending or the type of ending that no one wished for any child. I was not only moved by this book, but it gave me a deeper awareness of why children and teenagers (especially teenagers) can be so cruel to others at times and how many barriers there are for the bullied to go to through to solve their situation.
This new addition to our resource library explains the characteristics of bullies, bystanders and the bullied through the eyes of a bullied female.
What amazed me the most was how the educators, parents and medical professions handled the barriers this girl expressed to them.
If you have concerns about your child/teenager being hurt and tormented by others, have an interest in the topic of bullies or would like to gain an awareness about this topic I would recommend that you read this book.