Friday, March 30, 2012

High School Confidential by Matthew W. Turcotte

High School Confidential

High school was one of the worst periods in my life, and I want to move on from that time in my life.

And, in order for that to happen, I have to just get it out there.

I'm not saying that my entire high school career was all that horrible. I can recall some good moments from the whole experience, and actually have a couple of people from those days that I still keep in touch with today. On the flipside, there are some memories that not necessarily scarred me for life, but they did affect me in a negative way.

I need to talk about both. My goal is to be as real as can be, because I hold no secrets, and am not ashamed to admit my emotions during those five years.

Everyone survived high school in their own different ways. Here's how I survived my time at Brockville Collegiate Institute.

So, to begin, let's take a trip back through time to Tuesday, September 5, 1995...the first day of grade nine.

I always say that everyone is their ugliest when they are fourteen. And, guess how old I was when my school picture was taken. Yep! 14! To tell you the truth though, the actual picture in black and white initially wasn't that bad. Back in 1995, wild printed shirts with bright colours were in, so I chose to wear one that was blue, white, and green. But, what I didn't realize was that in high school, the idea of dressing up in our Sunday best didn't necessarily apply in this case. You couldn't tell from the photo, but in addition to that shirt, I wore khaki Dockers and shiny brown deck shoes...while everyone else was in jeans and T-shirts. Can you say overdressed? It didn't really matter though. In a recurring theme that you will see as the series progresses, I never once showed my pearly whites. Never saw the need to really.
At any rate, ninth grade was more or less a transitional year for me. I had graduated from elementary school just three months earlier, and I was filled with mixed emotions. On one hand, a lot of the people who were my friends back in elementary school had decided to go to the rival high school. To start off a new year at a new school when all your friends were at another school really was kind of a blow. Worse still, the kids in my class who DID go to BCI with me were more or less the same jerks that would tease me and bully me on a day-to-day basis. I was thinking to myself, great, I have to go through another five years of abuse!

There was a silver lining to this though. Only about 10% of my graduating class of Commonwealth ‘95 decided to go to BCI, so it gave me the hope of trying to make a new start. Plus, there were a group of friends that left Commonwealth to head off to Westminster's French Immersion program back in grade five that I was interested in catching up with.

First impression of BCI was that it was very easy to get lost in (and I did get lost when I was trying to track down room 333), and that some of the grade twelve and thirteen students were really, really big! And, this is coming from someone who was 5'11" at the time! Oh, and when I got assigned locker 2121, I ended up getting a defective lock the very first day of school, and had to get a replacement right away. Such was life as a ninth grader, I suppose.
Let's see what I was taking back then, shall we?
1. Music: Mrs. Quick. Though I only lasted one semester, I did enjoy the class, and joined the concert band for my one and only extracurricular activity at BCI. (I'll get into more about that a little later)
2. History: Ms. Renusz. I'll admit it. Renusz was one of my all-time favourite teachers, and not just because she would give us treats every time we had a history test. She really made learning about history fun, and it inspired me to take the class for another four years!
3. English: Mrs. St. Martin and Mr. Legault. I only had Mrs. St. Martin for a month because she was called away to replace a guidance counselor who fell ill. Mr. Legault was our replacement, and he only lasted a year. He and I got along somewhat well enough, except he didn't like it when I preferred to work in solo projects rather than group work. I'll explain that in a bit too. Of course, with most of my classmates being girls, it only helped.
4. Keyboarding: Mr. Longul. Okay, I will admit this once and for all. I actually played Tetris when I should have been working on my keyboarding assignments. It's a good thing my teacher never paid attention because I ended up getting an A. LOL! This is the only class I will admit to totally coasting on, because I knew I could get away with it. Confession ended.
5. French: Mr. Lacerte. Best freakin' French class ever! I remember that I never had a shortage of finding partners to work with in that class, though part of it could be that I always excelled in that class, and people probably paired up with me just so they could get that required credit. I took the class because I loved French, and like History, I ended up taking it all through high school.
6. Science: Miss Squire. Apparently, Miss Squire must have liked me, because I had her for every science class except one! And, you know what, I actually didn't mind Miss Squire as a teacher. She made things so easy to understand, and I think I got my one sole good mark in science because of her. So, I guess I can thank her for that. But, I'm sure other people have their own memories.
7. Phys. Ed: Mr. Corney. First...yes, that was his name. Really. And, I actually liked the guy because unlike my other gym teachers who marked on athletic ability, he marked based on effort given. I think I actually beat some of the jocks in that class because of it.
8. Mathematics: Mr. Cristello. Can I just say how much I enjoyed Mr. Cristello's class? The unique math assignments. The birthday cards. The surprise snack days. I've never had so much fun in math class. Ever. Mr. Cristello. You rock!
I must have liked math back then, because in 1996, I had taken part in a math contest that the University of Waterloo put on. Having gotten the highest score at my school back in 1994 for the 7th grade version, I thought I would try my luck with the 9th grade version, and managed to score within the top 25% of all Canadians taking part in the contest. I also got an extra yearbook photo. You know how yearbook photos are only reserved for the popular, the athletic, and random teenage bimbos who try to butt their way into every photo they can. An extra photo was a big deal.

Until I saw it.

It's true what they say...everyone's ugly at 14. Problem is...I was FIFTEEN!!!

I was the token fat kid. I get it.
My face looked swollen from a freak accident in gym class where I was beaned in the nose by a baseball. How was I to know that they were going to take that photo the day AFTER? Add to that a bowl cut and the oversized clothing and I was just a mess!

And, on that note, I'm going to end my note on grade nine, because I've said all I want to say.

I will say that I was not very impressed with the juvenile pranks some of the girls tried to play on me (and yes, girls, you know who you are), and I definitely felt as though there were some moments in which I felt like the outcast.

So, in 1996, grade nine ended, and summer prevailed across the land. 

September 1996 brought forth the beginning of grade ten, and with that, the start of a new school year filled with some good moments, and some bad moments.

I actually don't have a whole lot of photos of myself during that year because tenth grade was the start of my "wallflower" period. I had such a difficult time making new friends, and some of my older friends had either moved away after ninth grade, or were spending time with other friends they had made. Not that it bothered me too much. I knew that we had to make our own friendships and explore new possibilities.

I guess the hardest part for me was trying to fit into high school. 

You see (and I know a lot of people who attended school with me would probably deny this, and upon retrospect, it's a moot point anyway), for all of grade nine and now in grade ten, I really felt like the square peg in a school full of round holes. 

I was born into a lower to middle class family. There wasn't a whole lot of money available at our disposal, and a lot of times, we really struggled. But, we all survived, and in retrospect, growing up that way gave me a better appreciation for what I did have. 

Unfortunately, growing up in a lower to middle class family did not suit me well at my high school. It seemed like the majority of my classmates came from families who were much better off than I was, and as someone who grew up on the other side of the tracks, I knew that I never could compete with them.

Now, I know what a lot of you are saying. I didn't have to compete at all. If they didn't want to get to know me, then why would I worry? Well, of course, I think that way now. But, at 15, everybody tries so hard to gain acceptance in anything. And, the simple fact was that I never did get that acceptance from the so called "popular crowd". No matter how hard I tried.

Of course, what bothered me more than those who decided that they didn't know me and didn't want to know me were those who used to harass me and tease me based on gossip and rumours that were spread by former classmates of mine from elementary school. When word got out that I had the unusual fear of balloons being punctured and making that great big bang, well, you knew that every week, my locker would be designed to look like it was my birthday all year long with balloons galore. 

Oh, and did I also mention that some of the "friends" that I had made back in grade nine turned on me in grade ten because of things they had heard from other people? It really happened. Of course, the friendships were culled, because let's face it. If they didn't know the real facts, then they did not deserve my friendship. Sad, really.

Oh, and one last thing. In April 1997, I had to get my locker switched to a different area because some callous, juvenile, twisted human being decided it great fun to set my locker ablaze by torching the pictures that I had pasted on the door through the inside vents. And, I bet some of you reading this probably think I am overreacting, but really, that description is very fitting.

Especially what would come the following year...but that's another tale.

Now, I just want to point out that I wasn't exactly friendless here. I did have a few people on my side who were just as outraged as I was that I would be the victim of such a frightening and disgusting crime (and yes, I did and do see it as a crime). There was one person in particular who seemed to sympathize with me, and while I won't mention his name here, it was a great comfort. At least it was until graduation when I had the wool pulled over my eyes. But, again, I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Of course, most people who I went to school with saw it as great entertainment. Some of them actually had the callousness of laughing at my misfortune, and took delight in my frustration. To them, I was the token poor kid in a school full of popular kids, and while I'd like to think that it wasn't true...I think it was their way of telling me that I wasn't welcome at "their" school.

And, in grade ten, I actually began to believe it.

But, you know, tenth grade wasn't exactly all that bad. There were a few moments that I consider to be quite fun. With that, I now present the Top Ten Things About Tenth Grade.

10. Baking cookies in Ms. Palmer-Smith's mathematics class when we had a Snow Day that I was forced to attend because of my proximity to the school. (Translation, I was living next door to my high school at the time, and I couldn't exactly tell Ms. Lukassen that I was stranded in my house and could not make it to class)

9. Discovering my passion for creative writing, as I really took an interest in the creative writing portion of tenth grade English class.

8. Seeing a poor student teacher absolutely lose it in the middle of Mr. Brady's English class because some of the students were heckling him. For the record, I was not a part of that group, but it was interesting to witness, to say the least.

7. Proudly NOT joining up into any school activity, club, or sporting event during this year. I was already an outcast...joining a club wasn't going to change that.

6. Mr. Weese's geography class. It was a hoot, and I enjoyed that class a lot, though I'm trying to figure out how Arizona fit into CANADIAN geography.

5. I was no longer a "minor niner". 

4. Being reunited with my friends who were a year younger than I was, and who were starting ninth grade.

3. The little incident involving an exchange student and a bottle of mouthwash during Miss Squire's Science Class. That's all I am going to say about that one.

2. The train wreck French project involving a making of a soap opera video which turned out to be more like SNL than Y&R.

1. September 27, 1996. The day my niece Asia was born. On a P.A. Day no less, so I was there when the news happened!

Of course, there are more memories to tell here, but for now, I think I'll close the book on grade ten. I will say this. I loved the friends who stood by me, and I loved the teachers that I had during that year. Mr. Weese, Mr. Brady, Ms. Keyes, Miss Squire, Ms. Palmer-Smith, Mr. Smith, and yes...even Mr. Ballachey had his moments too (like the time we had to do a skit speaking like German that was fun). Oh, and Ms. Irwin was the best homeroom teacher.

If there's a teacher I didn't mention. There is a reason for it. I feel if there's nothing nice to be said, I shouldn't say anything at all.

So I won't.

It was an interesting year to be had, filled with ups and downs.

But as crazy as year ten was tame compared to the tumultuousness of things to come.

Eleventh grade was next...and hang on to your seats, boys and is a very, VERY bumpy ride.


Let's not beat around the bush here. Let's just get right to it.

Grade eleven was by far the worst year of my entire high school career for a number of reasons. There were very few moments that stood out as being good during that year. I had two of the most egotistical teachers that one could have ever had the displeasure of having. I got some of my worst marks ever during that school year. And, there's a whole lot more that I can't even begin to scratch the surface of in just one paragraph. So, I will save that for later.

It seems kind of odd that the year in which I hated the most ended up being the shortest high school year in history. Why you ask? Well, in October of ‘97, there was a teacher's strike where all the high school teachers walked out of the classrooms and joined the picket lines for about a week and a half (though it may have been longer, I don't really know). Needless to say, living right next door to the school at the time, I managed to get a great view of the picket lines from my parent's bedroom window.

As if that wasn't bad enough, on January 8, 1998, we got hit HARD with a freak ice storm that shredded train tracks, cut the power lines for several days, and closed schools for a little over a week.

Now, there was some good news in that aspect. All exams for the Fall semester were cancelled. This proved to be great news for me. My chemistry mark wasn't bad, but it wasn't stellar either (though not by fault of Mr. Pearson, who I thought was a great's just that not even he could make me understand those damned balancing equations). And, had I taken that grade eleven math exam, I surely would have flunked my first high school class (but unlike chemistry, I actually DID blame the teacher for that one).

Oh, and I helped tape somebody to the gym wall during BCI's Spirit Week. That was always fun.

One final moment I wish to reminisce about would be the fact that I had Ms. Renusz (my favourite teacher at BCI) for my Society, Challenge and Change course, and that was such an interesting course too. It was one class which sort of served as a sort of refuge from that cruel place known as the second floor corridor of BCI.

Yeah. That's the word I'd use to describe BCI during the school year of 1997/1998. Cruel.

School started up again on September 2, 1997. And, I only remember the date because it was two days after Princess Diana was killed in Paris. My homeroom was still in the E-block (This year, it was 11E), my homeroom class was still the home economics room, and the same kids were in the same room. It was basically a repeat of tenth grade all over again.

Unfortunately, the same teasing existed as well. Especially when it came to my looks. The summer of ‘97, it was discovered that I was as nearsighted as Mister Magoo, and I had to get glasses to correct my vision. It was also the year I experimented with Dippity-Do hair gel, and slicked it back to reveal my distinctive widow's peak hairline (which I was born with, and is hereditary as my dad and oldest sister all sport it). So, of course I was bombarded with questions asking me if I was losing my hair, and if I had a receding hairline at sixteen. For the record, my hair is still there, and still dark. And, as if I have some hope out there, my father just turned sixty-three years old on the 26th of July, and his hair is still pitch black. Of course, we do have a little bit o' Indian blood in us all, so that could be part of the reason why...

Of course, if it were just silly juvenile comments like the ones up above that I heard all year long, it would seem a little melodramatic to proclaim grade eleven to be the worst year of my life. In fact, during ninth and tenth grades, I learned to let silly insults roll off my back, and by eleventh grade, I was sassing them right back with sarcasm and silly remarks right back.

Eleventh grade was a bit of a beginning for me too. That year, I had enrolled in a course called "Computer Communications", and what I would discover was that it was a course where you learned how to use the Internet. So, at the tender age of sixteen, I first logged onto Alta Vista (yes, people, there was once an Internet without Google), and was hooked. We learned how to build basic HTML pages, visit websites, and send e-mail to anybody in the school.

On the surface, this class was everything that it boasted and more. I got so much out of the class.

I got a great mark. I got skills that I could use for the future.

It was also the place where I had one of the cruelest, most disgusting things ever happen to me. Ever.

You see, our school e-mail accounts were only open to students and faculty of the school, and unless you told others what your e-mail accounts were, nobody would have known where to send the messages. But, seeing as how all the accounts were variations and combinations of last names and first initials, I suppose it could have been easy for anyone to figure out. Heck, I think everyone in my computer class had it, because one of our assignments was to send a CC e-mail to everyone in the class. The point I'm trying to make is that anybody at BCI could send anyone a nasty e-mail if they worked hard enough to crack the right address. 

So, imagine my shock one autumn day when I opened up my school e-mail account, and found a message from an e-mail address that I didn't know. Now, keep in mind, we're going back about a dozen years here, so I can't recite the exact message verbatum, but the basic gist of the message was that I was "fat and stupid, and nobody liked me", and they gave me the advice that "maybe I should kill myself so that I could make BCI a happier place".

I wish I was making this up. I really do. But, it happened. There were 21 witnesses who saw the e-mail themselves (the witnesses being the teacher and my classmates).

I'm sure that some of them were probably secretly cheering in their minds, but of course, that was the pessimistic side of my brain working overdrive. To tell you the truth, I think they were just as shocked as I was. Keep in mind that flaming people on messageboards, and spamming someone's e-mail account was a brand new thing that back in 1997, we didn't even know what those terms meant. So, to get a disgusting message like that really shook me to the core. I was absolutely humiliated and embarrassed.

More than that, really. I was pissed off.

And, that was just the beginning.

Once again, I had attempted to get a locker relatively close to my homeroom. I ended up getting the same exact locker that had gotten torched a year earlier. And, not more than two weeks passed that my locker was once again the target of arsonists and vandals. So, up to the third floor I went. Two DAYS later, it got worse, as my locker was actually broken into, and some of my notebooks that I used were completely burned to a crisp. The only saving grace was that it was only September, and I didn't have that many notes to recopy. But, that was not the point. In just a little over a month, I had to move my locker three different times, because I was made the target of a malicious bullying campaign by someone I didn't even know. It was such a humiliating experience. I ended up getting a locker right next to the principal's office! On one hand, it was perfect because nobody dared try to torch my locker in that location. But, it was absolutely humiliating, because by having my locker placed there, everybody knew.

Everybody knew that I was the victim.

And, then came the posters. Apparently a couple of people decided to jump on the "let's make Matthew Turcotte's life a living hell" bandwagon, and made up a whole bunch of posters about me which they proceeded to plaster all over the hallways of the school. Fortunately (or unfortunately), this happened during my lunch hour, of which I always went home. Even more fortunately, the perpetrators were nabbed by a faculty member when he caught them in the act. (On a side note, there's a reason why I liked Mr. Pearson in spite of my low chemistry mark. Use that statement however you see fit).

Of course, I was blissfully unaware of this latest plot until I was pulled out of class to meet with a guidance counsellor, who spilled the beans about the posters and more importantly, who was behind the attempt. I could list their names in this note for all to see, but if I did that, I would be basically doing the same thing they did right back to me. So, to show that I am a bigger person than that, I will keep them anonymous. I'll admit that one of them wasn't that big of a surprise. At the time, we didn't really speak, and I don't think we liked each other that much. The other one however really hurt, because it was a person who I considered to be a really good friend. Turns out that my computer teacher launched his own investigation into the e-mail that I had gotten, and somehow he traced the originator of the letter to the same two people who ran off the posters. The only thing that I could not link them to were the locker fires. But, I knew. If they didn't do it, they certainly knew who had done it. I certainly didn't expect them to tell me the truth though.

So, what did sending cruel e-mails and posting offensive posters net you for punishment back in 1998? A suspension.

That was it.

They were gone a few days. But, afterwards, they came back, and the school resumed as normal as if nothing ever happened. Of course, these acts of...well, for lack of better word, terrorism had gone on for four long months. It wasn't so easy for me to forgive. Or forget.

Oh, sure, both of them apologized for their actions, and I pretended to accept. Truth be told, I didn't have any emotion left. I didn't really have any feelings left at all. My former friend had let me down. To a lesser extent, BCI let me down. Oh, sure, the principal and vice-principal kept feeding me lines. We'll get these people. We'll stop them. But, they did nothing. It took a computer teacher and a science teacher to uncover the truth while everyone else looked the other way.

At BCI, I just went to class. Stayed in class. Left class. I didn't do social activities. I didn't do school dances. I didn't date. I didn't do sports. I even spent money on football tickets just so I could leave school a little early.

My attention turned towards my fridge. Since every day brought me pain, I would raid the fridge and eat anything and everything that had six grams of sugar or more in it. If people at BCI didn't understand me, I knew I could count on Aunt Jemima, Little Debbie, or Betty Crocker. Back in 1998, those three were the people I hung out with on Friday nights.

I didn't even have the energy to do my homework, and my grades really suffered that year because of the stress I had gone through. And, I know what a lot of you are saying. Some of you probably feel that I should have been a lot stronger. You're right. I should have been. 

Truth be told, 1998 just drained me. It drained me so much that I really just wanted to die. 

I get that I wasn't the popular kid. I also get that one doesn't go through high school without having at least one "hater" on your back. But, what happened to me in 1998 goes beyond hatred. This was hell. 

Kind of fitting that our school colours happened to be red and black.

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