I can’t remember much about my eighth grade year other than the school photo which looks like a wore a shaggy dog on my head on school picture day. My hair trials continued throughout the year.
I hardly remember any of my classes, obviously the uniqueness of being in junior high had worn off by then. I remember band the best. I was in marching band and I really liked that a lot. We had no uniforms like the other schools in town. Mr. Ashley didn’t think the uniforms were in good repair and had tossed them into the garbage. He then requested new uniforms but the administration said no. Mr. Ashley grumbled something about all the money being used on the football team and a hot tub for the football team members. Mr. Ashley was young and idealistic I suppose. I guess he learned his lesson: Arts and music matter little to schools; athletic programs are paramount. It’s obvious when you think about it. School mascots are blazoned across the walls and on articles of clothing. In schools, athletics is a religion and every knee must bow. So Mr. Ashley did not get new uniforms and we marched in white jeans and green t-shirts, the colors of Tibbetts Junior High’s gods – The Titans. How appropriate that titans should be the school’s mascot!
I had a crush on a fellow band member toward the end of the year. My best friend had a crush on him too and we would talk or writes notes back and forth to each other discussing his dreaminess. Somehow or other one of the cheerleaders found out about our crush and she harassed us about it. We should have just ignored her. That would have been the mature thing to do, but we were not mature. Instead we resented her for it and this resent began to build against her and the beautiful (read that: popular) people of Tibbetts. Who did they think they were that they would persecute us if we had a harmless crush on another student? This resentment continued to build through the summer break.
My mother had had enough with my crooked teeth and sent me to an orthodontist who sat me in his torture chair and applied scratchy brackets to my teeth and interlaced them with wires which he tightened every few weeks. I sat quietly while he did this but in my mind I called him terrible names and complained bitterly. My teeth didn’t concern me as much as my hair did.
I decided to tame my hair over summer break. First I submitted it to chemical treatment which turned it shockingly blond. I loved being a blond. I still do. But in the early days of my blondness I noticed something happening which had never happened before. Males noticed me, both teens and adult men. I was ecstatic. I would go walk the mall just to enjoy all the attention I got in the way of looks and glances from guys. I felt that I could perhaps join the ranks of the beautiful people the following year at school. My mother made sure that didn’t happen.
She wasn’t happy with my hair color, preferring a dark ash blond to my shocking blond. She insisted that I tone down my hair color and she purchased a hair color that had a bluing agent in it. She has always hated red hair with a vengeance; it’s a form of prejudice really. I guess my shocking blond had a bit of red in it which she despised. She was sure the blue would take care of that. It did take care of the red and it left my hair a shocking color of what I call “granny blue”. My mom loved it.
I began ninth grade with this hair color and immediately all the beautiful people swarmed me with derision and cruel jokes. They were just having fun, at my expense, yes, but they were just doing what was in their nature to do. After they had their fun, I’m sure they forgot me right away and went on to enjoy some other perverse pleasure. But I resented it. I hated them with every ounce of meaning that the word “hate” implies. If I had been the character of Carrie in Stephen King’s horror, I would have enacted the same vengeance on them that Carrie did on her enemies. I am glad I did not have Carrie’s power and I am glad that my parents did not have any guns I could have gotten my hands on. Today I watch stories of school shootings and think, that crazy gun-toting kid could have been me in the ninth grade.
Things only got worse after that. My anger began to rise to the surface and I openly ridiculed my attackers to their faces which only brought more derision by them my way. At one point I was accused of starting a rumor about one of them being pregnant. I didn’t start the rumor but they were convinced I had.
One day I was surrounded in the hallway by a group bent on revenge for the rumor they said I started. They threatened to beat me up. I would have willingly fought with any one of them but not a whole pack of them at once. I was truly frightened. I managed to evade them everyday, but soon I started developing an ulcer and my stomach hurt terribly.
My mother tried talking to the principal about the kids who had threatened me. I said his hands were tied and there was nothing he could do. But there was a bright ray of hope that appeared toward Christmas. My parents had put our house up for sale. The power plant my dad had helped build was completed and he was out of a job. They planned on moving back to my hometown. My mom disenrolled me from Tibbetts before Christmas break. I breathed a sigh of relief. But then they delayed our move till summer. I didn’t want to go back to Tibbetts!
My mom enrolled me in a Christian school which was ran by the local Assembly of God church. I had had a good experience in the Christian school I had attended in Alpine, Texas and so I had high hopes for this school. I didn’t realize that kids who get kicked out of public school for being troublemakers often get enrolled in private Christian schools by parents who are at their wits ends.
But my experience there was not all bad. Sure I was singled out again by the girl who ran the school. She wasn’t popular or beautiful; she was a thug and she had her group of toadies which followed her. When I first met her she cut me some slack. I think she was feeling me out, trying to see if I would make a good toady. I didn’t make the cut however and that was when she began to pester me on a regular basis. The worse she ever tried to do to me was drop a two-by-four on my head as I was coming up the back stairs of the school one day. A senior boy caught it before it hit me. This heroic gesture earned him my favor and I developed a bit of a crush on him. He actually scolded Lisa for nearly hitting me in the head! She said nothing in her defense that I recall.
Lisa also picked on the teachers. She sent one of them crying out of the schoolroom one day. Lisa was suspended for that. I had hoped she was gone for good but she was back the following week. Her parents were big shots in the Assembly of God I was told. After that however, the principal and the teacher seemed to take compassion on me because my desk was next to Lisa’s. I was in the junior high room; there was an adjoining high school room. I was told that I could move to the high school room which I gladly did.
The school was like the other Christian school I had attended. The students could make their own schedules concerning how many pages they completed each week. I had little else to do there and so I started flying through my worktexts with a speed that shocked the principal and teacher.
Still, I didn’t like being there all day long. It was tedious. So, toward the end of the school year, I got brave enough to ask if I could go home for the day at noon. The principal said it was against school policy (and probably state policy too)…but, it was the end of the year almost and I was several weeks ahead in my worktexts…so yeah, I could go home at noon. Yes!!!!!!!! What joy! What rapture!
Something else happened to me that school year. I had begun the year with an ever-deepening hatred toward certain students at Tibbetts. Sometime after my mom had disenrolled me from Tibbetts I sat down to read my Bible. I don’t think I had done that in a long time, maybe not since I attended the first Christian school in second and third grades. We didn’t go to church anywhere ever since the end of second grade. My parents had had a “supernatural, charismatic” experience and no regular church cut it for them after that. Instead, they watched TV preachers like Fred Price, Robert Schuller, and a variety of word/faith teachers on Sunday. I hadn’t had any solid Bible teaching in years.
But I sat down in my room and read one of the gospels one day. I read about forgiveness and I thought that I needed to forgive the kids at Tibbetts. I did and I prayed about it too. Something began to change in my life after that and I wonder now if that was when I became a Christian. I had made a profession of faith at the age of five and I was baptised at the age of seven; I suppose it might have been a true conversion then, but something makes me doubt that…so maybe it was that day in my bedroom when I was fourteen with me just reading the Bible and for the first time that I recall, actually understanding what it was saying.
I wouldn’t have any real biblical training until I was an adult, but I did have a hunger for God’s Word from that point in my bedroom and onward. It changed my attitude and I was able to deal with other kids whether kind or mean which I encountered the remainder of my school days.