Seeing all the pictures of high school grads on social media has got me nostalgic for my own high school days, in the way that one might be nostalgic about food poisoning or breaking a bone….
I was first introduced to Dante’s Inferno my sophomore year of high school, which I thought very fitting as I was just beginning to realize the truth about my educational prison. As much as I disliked being forced to “read” Dante’s description of hell, I did allow that it was useful to be able to point out my current location on a map. As I looked at the drawing of hell’s many circles I imagined a pin with “you are here” stuck somewhere around the middle. But that was just english class.
Farther down, around circle eight was physics class. It was presided over by one of the hideous, horned demons of Dante’s creation. He was a bully and he hated me for the obvious and just reasons that 1) I missed class so much and 2) I wasn’t good at physics. He acted annoyed every time I approached him about needing to make up an assignment and he offered very limited after-school hours in which I was expected to do so. The only thing he communicated to me clearly was that he had no interest in helping me. In a subject I was already uncomfortable with, I was left completely on my own to learn weeks worth of material in a matter of hours. When I was there, he had no qualms about showing his dislike for me in front of the entire class and seemed to relish handing back assignments covered in derogatory red. He was hardly the first teacher to be unkind to me because of my health, but he was the worst. His class is the only one I have ever failed.
That was just circle eight though. The deepest depths of my high school hell was the attendance office. Not to be overdramatic, but if I had to choose a Satan from amongst the Tabb High School staff, it would be the attendance lady. I missed over 60 days of school my senior year and for every single absence, every time I came in late or left early, I had to face her. Every. Single. Time. Walking to her office with note in hand was like walking across the frozen lake right into the jaws of Satan himself. I never emerged from that grotesquely orange room without having been thoroughly chewed up and spit out by her gaping, drooling mouth and razor sharp teeth.
Boy oh boy did she hate me. To this day I don’t understand it–why or how any adult could harbor such antipathy towards an adolescent they hardly knew. She seemed to take it personally every time I was absent. She certainly made it VERY clear that she did not believe I was sick as much as I was. She put extra effort in several times to get me suspended for all my absences, and found any tiny loop hole to rule an absence “unexcused.” My parents had to go over her head to the principal to prevent this, but nothing they did could prevent the persecution she heaped on me any time I dared miss school–even if I had a 103 fever and double infection documented by a doctor’s note. If she could’ve, I’m sure she would have printed and distributed posters throughout the school with my face and “UNDESIRABLE #1” stamped on it.
The worst part of all this was that I wasn’t even diagnosed yet. I got asked all the time by kids I barely knew “why do you get sick so much?” It drove me crazy that they asked and even crazier that I didn’t have an answer. But at least I was only annoyed, not outright bullied by my peers. It was the adults that bullied me. They bullied me because I was sick and didn’t have a name for my sickness. They bullied me because they didn’t believe a teenager could really be that sick. They bullied me because they didn’t understand. They bullied me because I couldn’t fight back–because I was a kid and they were adults.
The thought that there are other kids going through the exact same thing right now kills me.