Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Worst Year Ever

Seventh grade was the worst year of my life. Looking back, I was probably clinically depressed. There were plenty of things that went wrong, but I also looked at the world through a dismal lens. What I didn't realize was that forces were at work that would determine my eventual career path.

My family had to leave Saudi Arabia shortly before I started seventh grade. The longstanding king had died and his successor wanted to eliminate what he saw as a strong Western influence, so Americans were leaving in droves. My dad stayed behind for six months after my mom brought us three kids back to Southern California.

Although life in Jeddah was boring at times for the adults, life for the kids was ideal. We enjoyed the swimming pools, tennis courts, and fully stocked rec room at the compound, where we roamed freely day and night. Everyone - kids and adults - enjoyed the weekends at the Red Sea: snorkeling and scuba diving, lounging in the sun and ordering food from the cooks. We attended an international school. Teachers were paid extremely well and had what seemed like unlimited budgets. We took French and Arabic. Everyone I knew traveled extensively. I planned to go to a boarding school in France after 8th grade as there was no high school for Americans. My friends were from all over the world.

Then life as I knew it fell apart. We had to move back home. My mom enrolled in school as soon as we returned to The States. She would not be confined to the home any longer. As an almost 13 year old, I was repelled by her yet needed her desperately to deal with all the sudden changes. She was less available.

That summer before 7th grade, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. I had to start wearing a plastic back brace that was a solid wall of plastic surrounding my entire torso. I could disguise it with baggy clothing but I always looked a little unnatural and it was really uncomfortable, even painful.

I hated everything about my new school. The school counselors did not know how to read my transcripts from overseas so they placed me in remedial classes. I found myself in the most ridiculous classes where crowd control seemed to be the main focus. The only thing worse than my academic classes was P.E. I had to undress in the locker room. Girls stared at my brace and asked if my disease was catching.

I was quiet, which made it hard to make new friends. One day, a contingency of the popular kids marched up to me at lunch . . . I had attended early elementary school with them and they wanted to know if it was really me. I said it was. They told me they had heard that I had died in a pool after getting my toe stuck in the drain. I told them that didn't happen. I just moved away. I felt like such a freak.

I found friends in the fringes of the social circles. We made fun of the socis (pronounced "soshis" as in social). Socis were preppy - pink oxford shirts, cashmere sweaters, top siders, argoyle socks, etc. There were also the hessions. They were the heavy metal kids. They had long hair and ditched school to smoke cigarettes. The girls had bad reputations. Then there were the PACE kids - the smart kids tracked into accelerated classes. The PACE kids were bussed to another junior high in the morning where they could be with their brainiac cohorts. They joined the rest of the masses for lunch and afternoon electives. The kids in all of these groups shared an air of confidence that I lacked.

One of the other things I hated about my junior high was the rampant racism. There were kids who had recently immigrated from Cambodia. These kids dressed differently, didn't speak English very well, and many had been through horrific experiences before coming to this country. They seemed shell-shocked. The white kids called them names and some of the teachers smiled. Life was hopeless.

picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/98778636@N00/341948449/

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