A reflection on my high shool days, and and the life of the world's miss fits
| But for the Grace of God
I arrived at school on the first day of my junior year completely soaked. This was a common occurrence, since I refused to ride the bus in the morning, and routinely walked the nearly two-mile distance from my home, even when it was raining. I told people it was because I had to get up too early to catch the bus but, the truth was, I didn’t like some of the people I knew would be on it. I was somewhat of a misfit, and was subject to ridicule and insults from the more socially adaptive students at my small, mid-western high school.
I was bigger than most of my classmates, so I was spared the physical bullying that my smaller misfit brethren were forced to endure, but I was constantly reminded, by students and teachers alike, that I didn’t live up to that much-admired standard of ‘normalcy’ that adolescents strive for as though it were the Holy Grail. I didn’t participate in any of the sports the school offered, I had no interest in singing or band, my grades were average, (except in history and social studies, in which I excelled) and I had no inclination to join any of the fickle and cliquish clubs that met after classes. My sole athletic endeavor was the martial arts, which I studied outside of the constraints of the school system, and my favorite pastimes were reading science fiction, drawing, and writing stories.
I cared little for the ever-changing quirks of high school fashion. I never had the latest designer jeans, or the ridiculously overpriced athletic shoes that were the symbols of ones high-school social status, or the lack of it. I’m sure that my mother would have provided those luxuries if I had insisted, but I saw little utility in making a single mother of four boys work harder than she already was. In truth, I made no effort to fit in; I saw nothing of value in the transient world of teenage tribal bickering, and social casts. For me, with the exception of three close friends, high school was filled with a mass of unimaginative, petty, and shortsighted people who, quite frankly, weren’t worth the time or effort to hate.
As I began my morning struggle with one of the school’s reliably stubborn locker doors, the cycle of verbal abuse began. It started with the jocks. They had made it clear that they didn’t like me but, because of my size, they would accept me into their august ranks, if I would play football that season. When I refused, the consistent, if uninspired slurs concerning my personal courage and manliness would begin. Following this, the clique of girls who made up the ranking class of social dilettantes, would begin their assault of my physical appearance. The third phase of ego assassination, came from the supposedly well-adjusted students who had the best grades, who tried to make me question my own intelligence. I ignored the taunts and walk away, confident that, if I chose to, I had the ability to cause them severe harm.
The school system, in its ongoing effort to fit people into easily defined categories, had labeled me “academically uninspired.” Because of this lack of academic inspiration, I was placed into a special class of equally uninspired students. I was just as much of a misfit in that group as I was before. What the councilors and psychologists failed to realize, was that it wasn’t me who was uninspired, it was they who were uninspiring. Rather than doing anything to prevent the constant stream of insults and harassment, they sought to make me more like my harassers.
My lack of conformity had manifested itself in junior high, and the emotional pressure had been building for years, but I had never resorted to violence unless physically attacked. This had happened twice, and the damage I had inflicted on my attackers had gained me enough notoriety to deter future assaults, but the social pressure never lessened. I think the school saw me as the problem. If I would just worship at the altar of conformity, they reasoned, then the normal students would accept me. I now believe that they thought the harassment was a good thing; they may have even have encouraged it.
Despite my best efforts to insulate my self from it, the emotionally brutal world of high school did take its toll. Toward the end of the year, I was in studyhall, working on a drawing that was coming out particularly well, when one of the jocks snatched the drawing pad away from me. He looked at me, smiled, and then tore the drawing in half. He was new to the school, and didn’t know me, and that made his act of cruelty worse that if he actively disliked me. He had destroyed my drawing simply because he could. It would have been easier to forgive him had he hated me, or if I had hated him. It was the very senselessness of the act that infuriated me. I stood, knowing it would be seen as a challenge.
The teacher, who was supposedly supervising the study hall, realizing that violence was imminent, finally intervened. He had seen the jock rip up my drawing, and knew that it was me who had been provoked, and still threatened me with detention, without a word about the destroyed artwork.
This time I couldn’t put the incident behind me. That night, when I was at home, the years of frustration manifested themselves by fueling a rage unlike any I had felt before or since. I began plotting vengeance, not just against the boy who had ruined my drawing, but also against anyone who had harassed me, and the teachers who had allowed it.
My family has always had guns in the house, and I had easy access to them. In an hour or two I had a detailed plan for killing my tormentors and their accomplices. I decided I would be striking a blow not just for myself, but also for the other misfits who had endure cruelty for cruelties sake. In my heart, I knew that I would never carry the plan out, but it was darkly therapeutic becoming involved with the details of it. The next day I went back to school and absorbed even more abuse as the cycle of harassment continued.
Years later, after high school was behind me, and the demons of adolescence had faded into mere bad memories, I heard about the tragedy in Columbine Colorado. Some boys, who had been tormented as I had, had not stopped at merely plotting a massacre, they had carried it out. As my coworkers struggled to understand how teenage boys could perpetrate such carnage, I understood. What I wanted to know was what had made me different that the boys at Columbine. Why had planning violence been enough for me and not for them?
The answer was apparent: my family. My father died when I was three, and my mother raised me and my three brothers with the help of my grandparents, while she worked long hours a registered nurse. My mother and my grand parents were devoutly religious, and had passed their religious faith on to me. It was not necessarily any kind of Christ-like compassion that allowed me resist the urge to avenge myself on my tormentors, it was the certainty that my tormentors would be punished. I knew that they would have to answer to God for the way they treated me, and those like me. Even if the school officials couldn’t or wouldn’t protect the misfits of the world, even if Earthly authorities looked upon schoolyard harassment as not worth serious attention, my harassers would eventually be held to account.
Frustration breeds violence. Many children (perhaps the children of someone who reads this essay) go to school filled with dread in their hearts knowing that they will be ridiculed just for being themselves. Some of them may have been suffering such ridicule since they were in the lowest grades, and have born the burden suffering in silence, after having been told repeatedly such harassment is normal and had to be endured as a right of passage. I know that feeling well, and I completely understand the forces that drove the children at Columbine. Had it not been for my belief in a force wiser and more compassionate than man, I would have no doubt killed many people years ago, and would likely be dead myself.
High school is nearly twenty years in the past, and I have forgotten the names of many of the people who once caused me so much misery, and I’m sure they have forgotten me. I’m sure they have lived their lives oblivious to how their youthful actions affected the misfits two decades ago. However, I do remember the urge to strike back at those who had wronged me. I remember those dark, primal thoughts that lurked at the edge of being acted on. I know that out there, alone in a room somewhere, is a miss fit thinking the very same thoughts. What I wonder about is rather or not that miss fit has a reason not to act; not to kill. Is there that source of strength and hope that will help him endure? For me, it was the grace of a just and loving God that let me face the abuse day after day. When I hear about incidents like Columbine I will always know that were not for God's grace my name would be spoken of in the same breath of the with those of the children who killed their classmates at Columbine.