Saturday, August 15, 2009


I hated Junior High School with a passion. When people play games, like "If someone promised you a million dollars, would you ___?" I can say with confidence that, while I would take a million dollars to relive some unpleasant things in my life, there is one thing that even a million could not induce me to go through again and that was junior high. I was a target of bullying on grand scale. I'm not sure why. I was from the right side of the tracks and wasn't particularly odd looking, though I was somewhat fashion challenged.

12-14 is a cruel age. I wasn't alone by any means. A kid who exudes shyness and tendency to submit will kind of attract it, like blood attracts sharks, and the structured environment of elementary school had given way to the looser movement of shifting classrooms which allowed the meanest people free-er reign for bullying others.

Two days ago we were in Charlotte visiting Cousin Emily, and she asked me to go with her to my old junior high. She was donating to them some posters with vintage photos of the class of 1936, which her dad was part of. I've visited other sites from my youth but never had any desire to go back to that school. It appears in unpleasant dreams often enough. I (smiling) accused Emily of trying to "help" me "confront my demons" which she found hilarious, but we went, sat in the office, handed the old photos to the assistant principal who was a very nice, enthusiastic guy, and Emily said, "Could you give my cousin a nostalgia tour?" while I rolled my eyes.

But, though not particularly nostalgic about the place, I was a little curious to experience it again. Predictably, the school seemed smaller, less intimidating. There were some new buildings. The landscaping was lusher.

And I did remember something good, something I actually wanted to see. The library.

1968 had been a pinnacle of school misery, but at the end of the year, I became aware of an option for the next year. You could be a Library Assistant. It wasn't the hot activity. Hip people who craved authority and power wanted to be Office Assistants. I doubt if they had any power at all, merely got to stand at the desk and say hello to visitors, or staple and photocopy things, and might have had a little fun, but anyway, there was very little competition for library assistant positions and I applied and was accepted for the 1968-69 year.

Taken 8-13-2009

The school library was physically, as well as symbolically, apart from the rest of campus. The building and the walk to it are so much the same that it's almost weird. It's not the library anymore, but used for chorus and band. That shady walkway which ambles down to it, taking you away from the roar of the crowd, has not altered a bit.

Inside, two walls were almost all window and looked on woods as richly green as they are today. As a library in 68-69 it was, not dark, but sort of shady and nice. The librarian was a hip, cool young woman right out of school, who wore miniskirts. We hung around the checkout desk and stamped things and alphabetized cards and stapled stuff and generally had a serene hour a day in that wonderful, quiet little building where no one harassed anyone.

It was really good to see it again. I skipped the classroom buildings and the girls' bathroom where I would spend lunch hours eating crackers, to avoid the harassment of the lunchroom. Most of that is all renovated and doesn't resemble the old days anyway.

OK, OK! Emily was right. Revisiting it was good. Thanks to this delightful place, ninth grade was not as bad as seventh and eighth had been. High school (grades 10-12 in our system) was, actually, comparatively, great. Jerks seemed embarrassed to behave in quite so immature a manner as they had back in junior days, and while school irritated and angered me often, I never feared it again.


ronnie said...

Great post. I get home very infrequently due to the distance and the remote location of my hometown, but I never cease to be amazed at the tsunami of emotions that wash over me when confronting some place that evokes strong memories.

I went back most recently in February when my Dad had a health scare, and will be going back again in September. (Flight courtesy work, but I'm staying on a few days to visit my family.) I'm already bracing myself.

Mike said...

I think staying in contact with a scene helps to blunt the impact, while returning after a long period can resurrect old feelings. If your old jr high had been your voting site for the past 20 years, for instance, you'd have been in and out so often that the associations of the distant past would be buried in the mundane. I went to the same school from second grade through graduation, so my associations with the building are very diffused by a lot of experiences there. But if I ever went back to the Catholic school where I was terrorized by my first grade teacher, I think I'd have to sit down and take a few deep breaths.

Dann said...

Ah...being a library assistant. That was the coolest.

I was an assistant for the last period of the day. Few classes came to the library during the last period. That meant that we had a lot less to do.

The big thrill was stamping due dates on the cards that were slipped into each book as it was checked out. Two of us would split the stack and race to see who could get through them the quickest.

I'm surprised the tables survived.