My three most powerful memories of junior high:
- Finding a spot behind the cafeteria building at lunch and sitting there alone so that no one would see me and realize I had no friends to eat with or talk to.
- Carrying all my books and my dirty gym clothes around with me all day because I couldn’t work the locker and was petrified of asking for help.
- Walking four miles to school one morning because my dad couldn’t drive me and I couldn’t cope with the fact that no one on the bus was going to let me sit with them.
Reading about the latest high school shooting incidents (a disturbingly common pastime lately) always gets me a bit reflective about my own teen years. Why? Simply because, under slightly different circumstances, I could have been that unpopular, isolated kid doing the shooting.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have many friends in junior high. I could have dealt with that. My problem was that I didn’t have ANY friends, not even of the similarly unpopular “reject” variety. I even felt inadequate even compared to the loser kids on the ABC Afterschool Special; at least they had Kristy McNichol or Leif Garrett on their side.
At school, I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t go to after-school events or the mall because I didn’t want everyone to see me by myself. I looked up the phone numbers of classmates I barely knew (and would never call) just to write them down in an address book I was given. I never spoke to anyone first, and only mumbled responses when someone spoke to me. I was embarrassed by my voice, my walk, my clothes, everything.
I often feigned illness for a week at a time, because I just couldn’t cope with school. I thought about suicide, about ways I could make my parents move so I could “start over”, and about any number of ways I could make people notice me in any way at all, especially in a manner which didn’t involve snickering or open taunting.
I’m not sure why some kids turn out so isolated and bitter — and sometimes so angry. I was painfully shy and lacked social skills. I had no talent for sports and was a “brain”. But other kids like this manage at least to find a few like-minded friends. Why didn’t I?
And why did I somehow manage not to kill all my classmates? I hated them and I knew where to find my dad’s gun. But I’d also convinced myself that I was the one with the problem, not my school chums. And frankly, I was a bit of a wimp. I’d never even been in a fistfight. Still haven’t.
But if things had been a little different, who knows what might have happened?
Eventually, I coped by dumbing down a little, by getting in some trouble, and by hanging out with the bad kids. My “in” was smoking and a talent for forging sick notes and hall passes. It’s unfortunate that it had to happen that way, but I don’t regret it. Otherwise, I most likely would have done myself in before my sixteenth birthday.
I’m 36 now. I have friends. I sometimes even engage in social activities. I’m OK now.
But I’m still lacking in social skills and I still spend most of my time alone. I get embarrassed doing things like yelling “back door” when the bus driver doesn’t open it at my stop. I rarely initiate a telephone conversation except with my closest friends or for business purposes. I don’t like crowds, and I’m uncomfortable walking up to a group of people I know for fear I’d be jumping in unwanted.
And I sometimes still feel like a lonely 13-year-old who’s embarrassed that everyone is looking at him and laughing at him for being dorky and all alone. I’m just glad I no longer see this as a reason to kill anyone. Myself included.
I promise to return to my usual sarcastic tone tomorrow. Sorry if this was a bit of a downer…