Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Passed

The transition from Sixth Grade to Seventh was ROUGH.


So many changes…

Instead of one teacher and one desk, you had several teachers and a locker. 


There were stacks of books to carry around. 


Homework that was actual WORK.





All the smaller Elementary Schools funneled into the enormous Junior High School, so there were hundreds more kids. Where were all my pals from last year?! There were almost no familiar faces in any of my classes.









  







For some reason, everyone seemed 



BIGGER.
TOUGHER.

MEANER.








And no one was very helpful.



Making matters worse, my best friend Chris’ family had just moved to a new town, so he was in a different school. I had to find a new ‘School Best Friend’…quick!


I noticed Seth, a kid who was in several of my classes. Like me, he was a chubster, wore glasses, and had uncooperative hair.

He also had the same terrified look on his face that I had. We became friends instantly.


We bonded over a mutual love of comic books, and Seth introduced me to the Daniel Pinkwater novel “Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars” (still one of my favorite books of all time). 








We compared notes on how to navigate the scary hallways and avoid the dangerous corners of Kiley Junior High.









It was a relief to have a lunch buddy, because you did NOT want to be That Kid Who Always Sat Alone. There was safety in numbers, even if that number was only two.



We started hanging out outside of school, too, dropping quarters into videogames at the Dream Machine at Eastfield Mall. I was a master at Q*bert, but Seth bested me at Crystal Castles. I could never manage that tricky trackball. 



More than anything else, I was grateful that Seth and I were in gym class together. 
PhysEd was the ultimate horror of the day, from the locker room, to the ill-fitting shorts and white T-shirt, to the rowdy classmates in the throes of puberty.


Neither one of us was into sports. 
We were nerds! Plus, I had allergies and Seth had asthma.

And…we were basically just clumsy and unathletic.







The gym teacher was massive and terrifying. He had a permanent scowl and an apparent ax to grind.








PhysEd was torture every time, whether it was baseball, field hockey, football, basketball, or GOD FORBID, that most demented of 'sports', dodgeball. We prayed for rain or cold weather, because on ‘nice’ days we were forced to run laps around the football field. Until then, the only running I had ever done was after the ice cream truck.








Neither Seth nor myself could do even ONE pull-up. Rope-climbing was a new level of terror, because even on the off-chance that you were able to actually pull yourself UP, you had the added fear of losing your grip and falling…onto the one-centimeter-cushioned mat below.



When the dreaded ‘Presidential Fitness Test’ rolled around, we were timed and scored on what seemed like a military-level battery of physical activities.


The final leg of the test was the mile run. The other boys raced past us and finished pretty quickly, while Seth and I were still huffing and puffing along. The finish line seemed soooooo far away…but not so far away that we couldn’t hear our classmates laughing and making fun of us.



Seth seemed to be really struggling, 
so I kept pace with him and tried to talk him through it…


When you feel like a loser and an outcast, the ONLY thing that will make you feel better is if you find someone else who feels the same way. Life still sucks, but at least you have somebody to go through it with.



Suddenly and without warning, as we were approaching our taunting classmates and teacher, Seth found an unforeseen reserve of energy and SPRINTED toward the finish line.


I was too alarmed to react quickly, but when I realized what was happening I tried to speed up myself.

But it was too late. Seth had left me in the dust, making me the absolute last-place finisher in class.

I thought we were in this TOGETHER. I thought that we would take the insults and mockery, and then try to laugh it off later over some Twinkies and strawberry soda.

It's the first time I remember experiencing the feeling of betrayal

But, oddly, it wasn’t the betrayal part that was the most painful. Instead, it was this: I had believed Seth and I were going at the same pace, but he suddenly moved forward and passed me, leaving me alone to fend for myself.



How did that happen? How did I let it happen?

What did I miss?


That was thirty years ago. And there have been many moments in my life that have felt just like this.