Monday, July 12, 2010

The Academy

Late in the summer of 1992 I enrolled in an elite college prep school. An eager Jr. High candidate, I was blissfully unaware of the humiliation that awaited me, or the repercussions it would have on the rest of my life.

The sun had begun it's descent when our aging vehicle rumbled to a stop in the parking lot. We stared up at the solemn brick building. Shadows from the nearby forest already extended into the well manicured lawn. Nestled among rolling Western New York hills there would be a spectacular display of fall foliage in a few short weeks. Mom parked the wood-paneled minivan next to a BMW and pretended our clunker was it's equal. We belonged here, mom reminded me.

Having been home-schooled most of my elementary years, enrollment at The Academy was a departure from the norm. I was leaving the shelter of a country community and commuting an hour each day to attend a boarding school with international and inner city kids. Today, in the Dean's office, I would sign off on my first heavy dose of the real world.

Perhaps the most shocking Jr. High surprise was that the girls magically became women between their sixth and seventh grade summer. Sharing the halls with dazzlingly beautiful females was hardly a confidence booster. Especially because I was eye level with their navels.

Unfortunately I had more than just height and innocence working against me. I had a wardrobe specifically designed by Steve Urkle to help draw a maximum amount of negative attention. As if it wasn't enough to wear my pants at my nipples and my golden geek-bar glasses, I also employed a perm as part of my acceptance strategy. One of several poor choices.

Another poor choice was the note I passed to Joanna in History class. She didn't even bother to check the 'NO' box. She simply simply shook her head emphatically, her eyes wide with terror behind over-sized, eye-magnifying lenses. Jasmine, the class feminist/vegetarian, sized me up like a bad piece of meat each agonizing march to my locker. And Marcea's flirty smile evaporated each time I looked in her general direction. But Elizabeth destroyed me more than them all. She was everything at once. She was taller in 7th grade than I am today. Smarter in 7th grade than I am today. And in my little mind, more untouchable in 7th grade than any human alive.

Sweet adolescent girls, without any malice and without any words, unwittingly wrote the template for a recording that plays in my head every day. It goes something like this: You're worthless. You're ugly. You're unlovable. And you don't fit in.

For years I struggled under the weight of my lot as a hopeless loser. But inside I burned with indignation and resentment. "I'm better than you," I whispered through clenched teeth in their general direction. "Someday you'll see." Long after we moved away I fantasized about a future where I would become famous and those same girls would chase after me, clamoring for my attention.

I was 16 before a teenage girl noticed me. By the time I realized she'd already moved along. I felt empowered anyway, but I was bitter. "I'll show those girls," I thought, "I'll tease them. I'll make them like me, but they can never have me. I'm too good for them." It was a decade of payback.

Through high school, college, and graduate school I sought to validate myself and silence the merciless recordings about my worthlessness. I honed my flirting skills, developed scary intuition, and became every woman's emotional dream guy. I didn't realize my motivations at the time were so twisted, I just knew that I loved feeling validated.

Now that I'm married and my plans to change the world have ground to an abrupt halt, I'm faced with some ugly realizations about my actual motivation. Could it be that my desire to change the world is an unquenchable thirst for my classmate's approval? Could it be that some of my brokenness is tied to unforgiveness toward those young ladies? Sadly, I say yes.

And with strange serenity I offer the weirdest apology, and the most unrequested forgiveness of my lifetime. I'm sorry Jr. High girls for being bitter and angry all these years. I was wrong. And I forgive you for hurting me. It really hurt bad, but you probably didn't know. And even if you did, you might have been just as insecure as me. I'm so sorry. I hope your lives are everything you dreamed they would be back when we shared the halls of The Academy.


  1. I'm so glad you are processing this babe. I know it's tough but I am really proud of you. I really wish I knew you in jr high. I would be your friend...and give those girls my right hook.

  2. I probably would've been your friend, too, and we would've been dorky together. Although you probably wouldn't have wanted to be my friend then. ;)

    I'm sure that some of my rejection issues come from jr. high, too. I often still feel worthless and I have no doubt it comes from that. I admit that I, too, sometimes think, "I wish all those jr high classmates could see me now. Ha!"

    What I'd like to know is, was it the same way for everybody? Were we all just as insecure as each other? Even the popular kids or the ones who hurt us? I tend to think that the answer is yes.

  3. oh jr high. how to make it different for my daughter, my children? It's a scary question/thought (homeschooling? alone on a deserted island perhaps? :D)

    My jr high years at Lima sucked.

    Highlights included:
    Being called the marshmallow man.
    Being called "donut hole".
    Being told I was going to break the bleachers.

    All of this by not even actual jr high boys, but by high school guys (maybe an 8th grader or two, mostly 9th though).

    Having my vocab book shredded to pieces on the balcony b.c "You are fat and that is what you get".

    There was my motto for the rest of my life. Anything bad that happened to me, I obviously deserved it b/c I am fat and that is what I get for being so ugly and disgusting and fat.

    It has taken me this long too, to fight those mental images and words and believe my fate wasn't determined by my weight.

    So you aren't alone in this, my friend.

    And I would have been your friend. I am a fan of perms.

  4. Not that it really matters anymore, but I'm going to intentionally keep this anonymous and let you know that someone liked you before you were 16. ;)

  5. Isn't it amazing when you step back and look at the lies that have been written on our hearts? Only one eraser out there, my friend.

  6. it's scary how similar we are sometimes...

  7. jr. high - it's a miracle anyone makes it out alive - few make it out with any confidence. it took years to get me to a point where I can look back at those years and just shake my head and laugh. I wouldn't have hung out with me. I wasn't what you'd call a "bather" and I tended to get a haircut only when dragged there (at first by my parents and then by my friend, Joe who would no longer allow me to be seen in public in such a disheveled state. I felt like a total loser in jr. high and I think I kept that up until 10th grade when I suddenly realized that everyone was faking it and that they all felt like me (although most people were cleaner).