Posts tagged ‘High School’
Nobody is all good or all bad. Vern (a pseudonym), the guy from my last post, is a great case in point. I mentioned that I worked with Vern when I was in college, a guy who might have very likely prevented me from being raped. I worked with Vern for about two years, from the time I was 19 until the day I turned 21. In fact, the last time I saw Vern was on my 21st birthday.
For most of the time I knew Vern he had a girlfriend, which was one of the reasons that we didn’t date. Vern was 24 and had a girlfriend who was 17, a high school student in the little town he was from. This should have been a big clue as to Vern’s maturity level, but I excuse myself with the thought that I was young. I met her once. She was a little on the plump side with long curly hair and mall bangs, the kind of bangs that required three cans of hairspray a day and made you feel like greeting her with, “Hang Ten, Mama.” She wore enough makeup for the entire cast of Dynasty.
They supposedly broke up and during that time Vern did take me out on a dinner date once. Dinner was a thank you because I typed a paper for him for a ridiculously low sum of money; it might have been $0. I don’t remember, but it is possible that I was either that kind or that pathetic. After the date he drove me home and kissed me on the cheek and mumbled something about me being like a sister to him and drove off.
Well, I knew I wasn’t like a sister to him. I have a brother, and he’s never once flirted with me or noticed my hair, my perfume or the way my ass looks in jeans. I promise you that never happened. So, that was a bold faced lie, and I didn’t know why he had lied, but I knew for certain that was the case.
Now to be clear about the nature of my relationship with Vern and all his guy friends, I was treated extra special carefully because everyone knew I was a virgin, a young Christian woman determined to save myself for marriage. As such, I was afforded an extra little layer of protection or reverence as a paragon of all that is good and holy. Vern made sure of that. They didn’t even cuss around me, unless you count the n-word, which was used liberally in my presence, in spite of my protests. The good old boy network had all grown up Southern Baptist, Bible thumping, NRA card-carrying clichés.
These guys weren’t particularly religious or God fearing. That was a cultural thing and not a spiritual thing. Vern himself admitted to me that he went to church camp every summer when he was in high school solely for the opportunity to have sex with girls in the woods.
You might wonder what we had in common to be friends. So, I’m thinking about that. Okay. I came up with something. We both thought Vern was ridiculously hot.
He was hands down the vainest man I’ve ever met. He could have been the subject of that Carly Simon song, except I think he was a little too young at the time it was written. He actually made peacocks look like they have self esteem issues. Yep. I hate to admit it. But that’s all that we had in common. We both thought Vern was hot.
This guy was not movie star handsome or anything; he was too short for that, for one thing. But he was rather good looking. We both were back then. We made for a cute uncouple. Everyone said so, and the chemistry was there. You either have the hots for someone or you don’t. Not much thought goes into it.
On my 21st birthday I had quit my job at the physical plant of State Mental Hospital University, where I worked with Vern, and interviewed for my first job in youth ministry. The interview itself was on my 21st birthday. It went well. I was supremely confident that I would get the position, and I did.
Vern was graduating the next day. I promised to drop by his place and let him know how the job interview went. He told me he had something for me.
Two really weird things happened the minute I came in the door. First, Vern had gone to the trouble of purchasing me a birthday card. This was suspect. He was not a Hallmark moment kind of guy. The second weird thing that happened is that every roommate cleared the apartment very quickly. Also highly suspect.
After providing me with the birthday card he quickly provided me with my birthday present. This was a kiss on the lips from Vern himself. The arrogance with which he declared his smooch to be a gift that was bestowed upon me actually made me laugh, but he was a little too stupid and full of himself to notice. If anything I’m sure he mistook my laughter for genuine happiness.
The kiss evolved into a neck rub and then he wanted me to give him a backrub in his bedroom. When I was in college everyone was always rubbing on everyone else; the hormone levels were so high that you took full advantage of any opportunity to touch someone of the opposite sex. The backrub thing was nothing new. We’d done it before, just not alone or on his bed.
But I’m not stupid. This was a poorly planned “seduction.” And I was supposed to be so grateful for his attention that I’d roll over and give it up. Like I said, I’m not stupid, but I did think he was hot and he was a pretty good kisser so I thought there really couldn’t be any harm in playing along for a little while, except that I insisted that as the birthday girl I was getting the backrub first.
Well, you know the backrub thing didn’t last long, but it didn’t progress far enough for any of my clothing to have been removed, when there’s a knock on the door. So, Vern gets up to answer it. No one is there.
“Goddamit!” he said, and then he used a term that I find so offensive that I won’t repeat it, but it rhymes with wiggerblocker.
I knew there was no point in correcting him so I didn’t bother. He came back to bed, and we picked up where we left off, which was really not any further than first base. All of maybe five minutes have gone by. Someone knocks on the door. He goes to the door. Again, no one is there.
I took this as my cue to leave, so I got up off the bed and grabbed my birthday card and my purse. I told him I was leaving, and he blocked my way by standing in front of the door. He asked me if I was really sure that I wanted to leave. The sudden interest in getting into my pants was rather like the scene of a wartime romance; I guess I was supposed to be impressed with the urgency to do it before he graduated and left. He kissed me again. I told him that I was sure I wanted to leave. I should have told him that I couldn’t have sex with someone who was like a brother to me.
The next day Vern went through with the graduation ceremony but actually lacked three credit hours from graduating. As far as I know he never made them up. I guess a degree wasn’t really necessary to become the assistant manager of a small town Wal-Mart.
The girlfriend that he was supposedly broken up with was actually his current girlfriend, was carrying his child and was expecting to get married any day. I think she was expecting to get married because they were actually engaged. They really had broken up for a bit; he just never bothered to tell me that they got back together.
I also found out that not only was Vern boinking his downstairs neighbor but he was also screwing an African American woman who worked in the school bursar’s office. That was really the icing on the cake for me, not that he had interracial relations; I didn’t give a shit about that. What was wrong with it was that I’d never knowingly met someone who was so prejudiced against black people in my life. I knew the special kind of contempt that he must have had for her, but he didn’t have any problem with using her for sex.
I never did find out who was knocking on the door. I suspected that it was one of the roommates I’d dated, but neither one of them would admit to it. It could have been one of the roommates or the woman from downstairs or one of her kids; Vern was fond of playing with them. Whoever it was probably knew that I was inside.
The last revelation I found out about Vern was that he’d had the nerve to bet money that I would give him my virginity. I think it was $50, if I remember correctly, which even if you adjust for inflation, seems like a pretty cheap price for premium cherry. If you think about it it would have made a pretty good return on his original investment of a Hallmark birthday card. It’s a real shame that didn’t work out for him.
When I was in my mid to late twenties I was quite the raconteur. I used to have two or three stock funny stories that I would tell at parties or get-togethers. People would actually request these stories, like, “Gooseberry Bush, please tell us about the time you fell down three flights of stairs at the Collonade office building in Dallas,” or, “Gooseberry Bush, please tell my friend about the time those two boys tried to ‘carjack’ you outside the Half Price Books. Go ahead! This is good.”
The best one was definitely the story of how I drove myself to the emergency room after an allergic reaction to hair dye caused my whole body to swell and go into hives at 5:00 in the morning on a Sunday. That one’s a doozy. I’ll get around to telling it sometime. This story, though, is the story of how my car got pulled out of the mud by a bad ass drug dealer with chains.
When I was in college my mom had finally graduated from nursing school the year before. Because we were so poor before then, I actually qualified for a Pell grant for my first year of school. So, I think it’s pretty self explanatory that I did not have a car when I was in high school. We had one family car. That was it. I was lucky I was allowed to touch it, let alone drive it on my own. I didn’t get my drivers license until I was seventeen, and this happened after months of torture.
My dad had to teach me how to drive a stick shift, and he expected that I would drive it perfectly, as in Jesus himself could not parallel park on a hill any better than I could. He also did things like getting out of the car after I parked and inspecting to make sure that not only had I parked with enough room on both sides of the vehicle but that also the amount of room on both sides was equal. I’m not kidding you. He did everything short of pulling out a ruler and a chalk line.
My dad was something of a harsh task master anyway, and the fact that he had actually been a high school drivers education instructor and had a commercial drivers license that he had used to drive school busses and eighteen wheelers, well, that certainly didn’t help any. Consequently, when I finally got some freedom with a car I was giddy with joy. My parents bought a second car, a Honda civic hatchback that we later called the Munchcar, but that’s a different story.
The Munchcar was my ticket to something more closely resembling a life. Sure, I had friends who would cart me around everywhere, but now they didn’t need to anymore! The second car was purchased for me to share with my dad, who was by then a retired part time school bus driver. The deal was that when I graduated they would sign the title over to me, fair and square. I thought that was a deal! I’ll take it.
One day, with my newfound freedom, I was driving around Oklahoma City in the Munchcar when I decided to do something very stupid. Let me preface this by saying that it was dark, and it was raining. That’s just so the exact level of stupidity will sink in. I was on my way to help a friend move, and the way to her apartment required me to exit off the Broadway Extension at, oh, I think it was 122nd Street, if I remember right, and turn right.
This friend was one that I spent a great deal of time with, and so I had used this road to get to her many, many times. I was, hmm, shall we say, intellectually challenged with directions, and I was unaware of an alternative route to take to get there. However, for a few weeks now, that road had been partially closed for construction. I can see that you can see already just where this is going. I usually ignored the construction signs and drove through anyway, and I certainly wasn’t the only one that did so. But perhaps especially in the dark in the rain, driving around the cones and barriers wasn’t the smartest idea I’ve ever had.
Pretty soon, my car was stuck in the mud, the tires were turning but nothing was moving, except the tires. I was frustrated. It was dark and raining, and I was in a bad area of town, and most of all I was disgusted with myself about having done something unbelievably stupid. It was like the time that I was a frat party and accepted a drink from a strange boy who walked me up to one of the empty bedrooms and then later shut the door. It was that feeling, like, Holy shit, I have really fucked up. And I am so stupid that I will almost deserve what’s about to happen to me.
Then the next thing that happened was that I looked up and saw a family of African American kids. There must have been eight or ten of them, from the tallest who might have been a boy of seventeen to a little one who probably hadn’t started school yet. They were all walking single file in a line back to their home from a convenience store, I presume. They were carrying candy and snacks and sodas in their hands. They were like moving stair steps, with the tallest in front. It made me want to sing, “Hello, world. There’s a song that we’re singing. C’mon get happy.”
The tallest kid, a boy, noticed my difficulty, and he walked over and stuck his head in my car and smiled, “Are you stuck?”
I sighed, “Yes.”
“Let us try to push you out.”
I wasn’t about to argue with him. I had help. There was manpower, and all of them from the oldest boy to the tiniest girl, gathered around the Munchcar and tried to push me out as I followed the instructions of the oldest boy on how to drive a stick shift to rock it out of the mud rut that I’d carved for myself. Apparently, my thorough father’s instructions had left out the chapter about four wheeling in your Honda Civic hatchback.
When it became apparent that the car was still not going to budge, despite the best efforts of a clan of nice people, the oldest boy said, “Do you have someone you can call?”
I said, “My father will kill me.”
The boy nodded, like that was a distinct and literal possibility. “Come with us,” he said, “We can get you help. Deion will know what to do.”
Now I don’t know Deion. I don’t even know this kid. For all I know, Deion will murder me, then cut my body up into little parts and eat it like Jeffrey Dahmer, and this kid gets a finders fee for finding flies who land in the web of the construction zone. But what am I more afraid of? Strange and menacing possible serial killers in a bad neighborhood? Or the wrath of my father? Take me to your leader.
This whole incident in my life happened in the early ‘90s. So early that no one yet knew who George Clooney or Jennifer Aniston was. The kids all walked me, together, to Deion’s home, a small old duplex in a run down area of town. The outside looked like it had definitely seen better days. The oldest boy, taking charge again, knocked on the door.
An African American man who was somewhere between my age and maybe a decade older, answered the door, cell phone in hand, in the middle of a conversation. This was Deion. He wore a lot of gold jewelry and had a pager clipped to his waste. Now, in the early ‘90s, not many people had cell phones. And they kind of looked more like satellite phones look nowadays. I think we called them car phones back then. And the only people who carried pagers were doctors, emergency medical personnel, plumbers, and, dum-dum-dum…your friendly neighborhood drug dealer.
Deion and the kid had an exchange during which he explained my situation, and I stayed wide-eyed and completely silent. There was another man in the room, an African American guy who looked more middle class and, well, non-threatening to a little ol’ suburban white girl like me. He smiled at me as if sensing that I was scared to death, and he worked to put me at ease. The man told Deion and the kid that he had a truck and chains and that with Deion’s help, they could get my car out.
I was taking in my surroundings. Deion had a barking, snarling rottweiller in the backyard. And a man who lived in a poor neighborhood had every toy and gadget known to man. His clothes were designer. The furniture was brand new and expensive. The TV was bigger than me. There was a baby somewhere in the house. A playpen and toys were scattered all over the floor. I was wondering if I had stumbled into an episode of Miami Vice.
The kid left me alone with Deion and his friend, Deion’s baby mama, and an adorable boy baby that I assume was Deion’s son. The friend kept me company and was really pretty charming. Near as I could tell, Deion was the friendly neighborhood drug dealer, which also made him the equivalent of the “Godfatha” of the community. Presumably, by virtue of his money he could buy people out of jams and probably frequently did in order to ensure the silence and complicity of other people, given his livelihood. Or maybe Deion really was a nice man, although from the way he cussed on the phone, I wasn’t so sure.
Really, Deion’s phone conversations were the most vulgar filth you’ll ever hear this side of the hardest core gangsta rap. He made Eminem seem like Emily Post by comparison. But the funny thing is that both Deion and his friend went out of their way to be polite and kind to me. They never cussed at me. They offered me a seat. I was asked if I wanted something to drink. I was never referred to as anything other than a lady or by, “Miss.” They were almost deferential. I felt like Miss Scarlett. Forget Miami Vice. I’ve wandered onto the set of Gone with the Wind.
Once Deion got done with his business, he and his friend escorted me out, and true to his word, the friend used some chains to get my car out of the mud. Deion’s friend had undoubtedly figured out that I had figured out just exactly what Deion was. When I was ready to go, I was standing at the curb with the friend, and I said to him, “How can I ever thank you?” And he said, “Just tell people.” And so I do.
Two days ago I went to McNeil High School to drive the daughter of a friend so that she could pick out her locker and get her school ID card. I haven’t been in a high school in a long time. I didn’t even go back for any of my high school reunions. It just didn’t interest me. I figured that if I had been super motivated to keep in contact with those people, then I still would be. And besides, most of them are on Facebook.
High school was a positive experience for me. I actually enjoyed high school. I stayed active in choir and drama and performed in plays and musicals and built sets. I loved it, and I had a lot of fun.
But high school was also a time of uncertainty and insecurity. I washed my face twice a day with Noxzema or Phisoderm and poured the astringent on a cotton ball and smeared it all over my face. I spent over an hour getting ready every morning. I’d roll my hair in hot rollers, wait for it to set, brush it out and slather it with a layer of hair spray. As I recall, it was a period of high maintenance.
This time, as I went back, I was going as a kind of parental figure, the responsible adult if you will. Everyone assumed that I was the parent, and no one mistook me for a student. I got to observe. The kids all hated getting their pictures taken. They refused to smile. They tried to look away from the camera.
When I was in my twenties and working with youth I observed that a significant minority of youth workers are in it to relive their youth, only this time they would be the cool, self-assured older kid. These people were pretty easy to spot. They act as if they are a teenager and approach teenagers as if their job is simply to be their friends. Think Matthew McConaughey’s character, David, in Dazed and Confused.
I am the responsible adult now. I haven’t been a teenager in many, many years. And guess what? I don’t miss it. I don’t want to go back. I’m still self-conscious about getting my picture taken. That is just about the only thing that hasn’t changed about me.
When I was a teenager I couldn’t wait to be an adult. Now that I’m an adult I am looking forward to the rest of my life, and I think it’s only getting better.
I have this innocent habit of looking up people in my past that I haven’t seen in a long time, via googling. Some of my friends who are harsh critics like to call this cyberstalking. Not so. And I know that I’m not the only person who enjoys this activity. I just do it out of idle curiosity. No one gets hurt. Usually, no one even gets contacted. It’s just fun to see where people end up and what they do with their lives. All the examples listed below are men, but I look up women friends, too.
As a for instance, I recently googled The Rat Bastard to find that, if you can believe his own website (which I don’t), he now owns his own fabulously successful information technology consulting and services firm. Sure, now he’s rolling in the dough!
Facebook is a great place to do this, too. I’ve found lots of people I haven’t seen in a while. Sometimes I actually befriend them. Sometimes they find me. For instance, a guy that I once briefly dated in college is now my friend on Facebook. He’s a total asshole, but I have no backbone about this sort of thing. If someone asks to be my friend on Facebook I’ll probably befriend them anyway. He’s still an asshole. He at least admits to being married on Facebook, but there are no pictures of his wife and kids on his Facebook. It’s mostly pictures of him with famous liberal politicians that he’s met and pictures from his childhood.
I’ve cyberstalked my main heckler from my junior high school for years now. No kidding, this boy made my life nothing short of a living hell with his constant ridicule from the time I was twelve to the time I was fourteen when I finally moved in the middle of my freshman year. Yet I love to look him up on the internet from time to time. I think I’m secretly hoping that his life is miserable.
The fact is that said young man grew up and graduated with honors with a bachelors degree in English from a state university, then went on to get a masters and even a Ph.D. from a private university in California. Some of those years were spent studying abroad in France. He headed some institute thingy in Austria and then came back to the U.S. to work for a huge, fancy and very famous non-profit foundation in Chicago. Then back to the university where he earned his Ph.D. to work for another non profit. And most recently off to London to work for another type of non-profit, again headed by someone very famous and wealthy who’s concerned with improving conditions for all people in the heavily populated areas of the Muslim world, regardless of their religion, national origin or sex.
When I knew this same young man who is now so concerned with saving the world’s poor and downtrodden, just buying your clothes at Wal-Mart and living in a trailer park were enough to make you the scum of the earth. Being poor was something he believed you should have the good sense to be ashamed of. If you didn’t realize it, then he would do the shaming for you. And I wasn’t poor like the poverty stricken of the third world. I just only owned two pairs of jeans and ate a lot of macaroni and cheese. It wasn’t truly a great hardship. He hit me on the head with a fly swatter once to demonstrate his contempt. I’m imagining just what kind of punishment would befall a poor Muslim woman from the ghettos of Calcutta in his care. Would she get hit with a cane?
Eh. People change. I should probably be glad that he actually seems to have evolved into a decent human being. But I’m happier that he’s going bald, and he’s probably still short.
Lots of adults in authority positions with children and teenagers abuse these positions. Teachers, counselors, doctors, priests and ministers, among others, are guilty of abusing power. However, we all know that there are lots of really great examples of adults that work with youth. Lots of great people extend a hand and an ear to kids that are sometimes deeply troubled. With kids unlikely to report their abusers in these situations how do we figure out who’s guilty and who’s innocent?
I worked with children and youth in a large protestant denomination while I was in college and in my early twenties, as both a paid staff person and a volunteer. Among the many things we had to study was how to protect ourselves from being wrongly accused of improper conduct with a minor, what was suspicious behavior, and what types of behavior in a child or teen could indicate possible abuse. For instance, you wouldn’t want to invite a teen over to your home for a visit if another adult were not present as a witness. It’s sad that something so possibly innocent has to be avoided at all costs but what’s sadder is when a child is molested or a person’s reputation is needlessly ruined.
I was working a camp with a couple of other youth workers who were friends of mine one summer when I was still in college. One of the youth workers was a volunteer and a college friend of mine that we’ll call Violet. The other was a youth minister from a large urban church that I had met at several of these types of functions, and we had struck up a nice friendship. I’ll call him Paul. He later went on to seminary and now is a very successful ordained minister with a small town congregation.
At that time in my life I was very active in the church and active in my campus ministry organization. I had a friend that we’ll call James. I went to high school with him, but we only really hit it off in college, through the campus ministry. James wasn’t at the camp with Violet, Paul and me. James had graduated the year before and was trying to secure a position as a full time youth minister without much luck.
I didn’t know it, but Paul and James knew each other. Paul was not a big fan of James. What? Not a big fan of James?! Who wouldn’t love James? Why, he was funny and kind and smart! I had worked around him with children on a daily basis, and he was good with them. James and I had a pact to marry if neither one of us was hitched by the time I turned forty. Why wouldn’t Paul like James?
That’s when Violet and Paul told me that they would let me in on a little secret, but I had to promise not to tell James. It seems that Paul and James had worked a camp together the summer before. At this camp James had been witnessed doing some suspicious things with one of the campers. He spent an inordinate amount of time talking, alone, with a boy. Since he was the boy’s camp counselor he was assigned the same cabin as his sleeping quarters. He’d been witnessed more than once sitting in the boy’s bunk at night and touching him while they talked, not inappropriately, but touching. He’d been talked to about this behavior by one of the camp leaders and had afterward still persisted in the behavior.
After he told me about his experience with James, Paul told me something else. There was a statewide “blacklist” for children’s protection, of people whom the church leaders had deemed inappropriate to work with children. This list was often consulted by churches in our denomination before they made a decision on whether or not to hire or even interview a potential youth worker.
At that point in time in my life it didn’t seem fair to me that James should be judged so harshly and labeled a possible pedophile based on the flimsy “evidence” that had been provided. Basically, what got him thrown on that list was one person reporting his suspicion of inappropriate conduct. Any one of us could have been added to that list. Once, at a lock in, I took a sixteen-year-old boy out to the church parking lot by ourselves and taught him how to drive a stick shift, using my car, until it occurred to me how it might look to others.
To make a long story short, I broke my confidence to Paul and Violet and let James know why he wasn’t able to secure a youth position. James confronted the church authorities in question, and Paul confronted me over the phone. He is a gracious man who has since forgiven me, but I regret having done it. James later secured a youth ministry position in another state and then came back for a successful stint in youth ministry at his home church, the one that he grew up in, where they’ve known him since he was a baby. He’s in seminary now. James and I are no longer friends for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my nagging doubts remaining over this issue. I do wish James well. I hope that there is nothing to doubt.