Friday, December 04, 2009

Another English Paper

I just finished my last draft of a humor essay for my class. This was fun to write, and I hope it is fun to read also.


I had just turned 12 and starting the 7th grade in a new state. This could be seen as an adventure for some kids, discovering new friends, new teachers and new ways to skip class. For me this was not the case. I had just finished my first year of middle school in Texas where 6th grade is the starting point, and I dreaded the thought of facing the social pecking order where I was sure to be on the bottom. In Tennessee, I was starting the new school year at MacMurray Jr. High as an outcast; I was white, fat and the new kid. Oh yeah, I was also a Mormon in a school filled with Baptists.


    The first day of class we found that each classroom had a list of names containing the students that were to gather there for "homeroom announcements." Since it was the first day I felt relieved to find that the teacher had assigned our seats, so that I had a guaranteed place to sit without the rejection that came from asking the dreaded question: "Is this seat taken?"


    The Vice Principal came into our room to inform us that we would be taking a test on our first day, "This test doesn't count for anything." She said. Since there wasn't a reason to lie to us, I took her at her word. Surely if this test meant anything, they wouldn't offer it on the first day, or at least they would wait until the end of the day to test us. What could they possibly test us on: the color of lockers in the hall, or the number of our school bus? Our teacher reinforced this while handing out the test, "Don't feel pressured because it doesn't count for anything. In fact, we won't even grade them." She said. I believed her.


Immediately after my parents' divorce, I learned that any in-class work could be skipped if I put my head down on the desk and kept a solemn look on my face. I was in 1st grade, and was tired one morning when the teacher stopped her lesson. "Archie," she said, "is everything alright? Do you want to go talk to someone?" Right away I smelled weakness, and I knew that I had the upper hand. From that point on when the class got boring or when we started math, I would become very "sad" and need to talk with the counselor while playing with the assortment of trucks in his office. He would try to get me to talk with him, but my reply was always the same: "Talking about it makes me miss my daddy." He stopped asking, and I kept playing. This act was a win-win-win for all of us. I got to play; the teacher didn't have sad kid in her class, and the counselor felt that he was helping me through a rough time in my life.


Since this test "didn't count" I figured that I would just fill in some bubbles on the scan-tron and spend the rest of the time counting the little holes in the ceiling tiles with the "sad" look on my face. This worked and after watching the other kids in the class struggle with the test for over an hour, I felt pretty smart for not wasting my time with a test that didn't count.


Right away the bubbled answer sheets were collected and whisked away to the front office. In class we reviewed the school and classroom policies while I tried my best to blend in with the rest of the students by un-tucking my shirt and messing up my combed hair. I would have traded my little sister for an Atlanta Braves jacket right then. More than half of my peers showed their support for the Braves with either hats or coats. I remained one of three White kids in the room trying desperately not to notice the turning heads and hushed whispers.


Soon after the all the rules had been reviewed, the Vice Principal returned with more news. "We will divide you up into smaller groups for your actual classes. " She said. "These groups will meet with the other 7th grade homeroom classes for your courses." One by one, she read the names of the students and their assigned group. I became a Mac. I couldn't think of a better group name than something from McDonald's, so this new school was starting to seem really cool after all.


Within weeks of class starting, even the small kids were picking on me. My ability to blend in didn't work in this place where adolescence was the eighth circle of Dante's hell. My name had been changed to "Doughboy" or "Marshmallow Man" with the teachers joining in on the joke. One short, stocky woman who had the honor of educating the largest group of seventh graders ever assembled in one class would often mutter "Mormon" or "Doughboy" when passing my desk. Prior to entering this school, I did not know what puberty was. Within hours of passing through the doors, I was introduced to a world of body odor, hair and testosterone that rivaled the locker rooms of the NFL. I would have been shoved into my locker daily, but after their first attempt, and realizing that I could not fit because of my roundness; my "friends" decided that kicking my books was a better option.


I couldn't figure out why they hated me so much, the classes were super easy and everyone had just as much time to answer the questions as I did. The lessons went a little something like this: Teacher- "How do we kill the germs in water?" Archie- "Boil the water." Teacher- "Back when all the continents were together, what was that called?" Archie- "Pangaea." Teacher- "Why is Doughboy answering all the questions?" Doughboy- "I don't know."


I took the teasing and the kicking just as some test of my character. I never let it get to me, and mostly figured that since the majority of the kids were Baptist and I wasn't, that must be the source of the problem. Until one afternoon when a girl who towered next to me in her desk asked a simple question that answered all of mine. "Why are you in the retard class?" She asked. With that question I looked around the room and realized why I was hated; with thoughts reviewing the past weeks of abuse and scorn, I noticed that my classmates looked a couple years older and in most cases they were. Our "Mac group" was the remedial class. They had all been held back from advancing and resented anyone who showed signs of moving on.


The words of the Vice Principal echoed in my head: "This doesn't count for anything." She was right; they never showed us our graded test, or even entered them on a class log. That boring test I choose to sleep through was a placement test, and that was the moment that I learned that sometimes even when it doesn't count, it does.