As a baby boomer, Denise and millions of others are becoming senior citizens. She explores what it means to be over 60 today.
My First Educational Experience
Where I first entered the school system in rural Indiana, there were no kindergarten classes. So my mom spent time with me at 4 and 5 years old, teaching me the alphabet and number systems, plus she taught me to write my name along with a few words. I felt very confident in entering the first grade. The big problem was that our little rural school had combined the first and second grades into one classroom. So I could hear not only the assignments for the first graders (me) but also the assignments for second graders. My teacher assumed that we first graders knew very little and spent a lot of time, too much time in my estimation, just covering the alphabet, which I already knew. So after filling my paper with A’s and B’s, I felt like I could do the assignment I just heard her giving to the second graders. Now my big error was to go to the front of the room and interrupt the teacher with the question, “I finished this, can I do the assignment you gave the second graders?” It may have gone better for me if I had just tried to do it and see where I got. Instead, she raised her voice and ordered me back to my seat.
The education I got that day was not to try to excel and not to interrupt the teacher.
“Haters and bullies are always cowards, you know. They like to pick on little guys.”
— Scylar Tyberius, Sebastian the Great
Middle School PE Bullies
By Middle School, I didn't know what I would be, but I did have a few classes that were favorites. I loved science and English. In the years before there was a gymnasium built at the Middle School out in my rural hometown, we used a mobile home that had been parked at the end of the playground, for showers after Physical Education (PE). The mobile home had a wall installed to keep the boy's side and the girl's side separate (but we girls could always hear them over there). It was a little cramped but we made it work. One day, one of the mean girls brought a camera into the showers. She made quite a stir, as everyone was grabbing towels and covering up. She thought she was so funny. Then she noticed me. I was quietly doing my best to ignore her when she grabbed my skimpy little towel away from me. The only thing I could think of to do as she snapped pictures was to turn my back to her. She pointed and yelled, "Look! She has a dimple in her butt!" Sure enough, I have a dimple on my cheek. So what. Everyone laughed and she snapped several pictures. She said it was priceless and the pictures would be published in the yearbook.
Now I have to ask, where were the teachers when you needed one? I spent the whole year in agony, expecting that my behind would be featured in the yearbook. Later I found out that there was no film in the camera, but still, it was agony. If I had been a little less self-assured, I may have been one more of the statistical girls who killed herself over teenage depression. Or I could have gotten a gun and shot up the place. But I didn't. I quietly waited for the yearbook to come out and quickly scanned the pages praying that my caboose would not be there. It wasn't.
Think It Through
What I hadn’t thought through was that no publisher would actually publish pages of a pornographic nature in a public-school yearbook. Also, the girl may have gotten into real trouble having film developed of a pornographic nature as well. I should have realized that she was bluffing the way she kept laughing at my agony. Still, I was a kid and a bit naïve.
But what if, as is the case with so many teens today, I took it to heart and decided to kill myself before the yearbook came out? It would have been a tragedy seeing that the mean girls were full of crap and there was no film in the camera. When I think about it, I am lucky to be here today. I must have thought deep down that they wouldn’t do such a thing at my expense. I still lived in dread just in case they were that mean.
“Life is a ﬁght, but not everyone’s a ﬁghter. Otherwise, bullies would be an endangered species.”
— Andrew Vachss, Terminal
It is no wonder that I stayed to myself in high school. I made very few friends and escaped into my world of art. Whenever there was free time, you could find me in some obscure corner sketching in my sketchbook. When someone did happen by, I never looked up but kept on sketching. When someone would ask, “Did you draw that,” I just nodded yes and continued. It was a stupid question seeing that they are watching me draw it. Then the question, “You are a real artist, aren’t you,” to which I nodded yes. I knew then that I would pursue art because it was my best escape. I became known as shy Denise. I excelled in my schoolwork. And why not? I had no girlfriends or boyfriends to divert my attention.
What amazes me today is when someone comes up to me and greets me like an old friend, stating they knew me in high school. Usually, I don’t remember them and certainly couldn’t have claimed them as a friend in high school. But if it gives them good feelings to think they know me, I’ll let me.
My favorite classes were art (of course) and the yearbook staff. In my freshman year in high school, an art teacher noticed my work and invited me to join the yearbook staff. You had to be invited to get on the staff. I felt very honored and stupidly announced the following year that I would create the cover design for the yearbook my senior year. Only a senior on the staff created the cover and it was quite an honor. Right away I made an enemy. There was another girl my age who wanted the cover design, but she could see that I had more skill than she did. So, she went about setting me up to get kicked off the staff. She hid my photo proofs, misdirected some of the people who were supposed to show up for photos, tore up my page designs, and told the teacher/director that I was a slacker, not getting the work done. By the end of that year, he pulled me aside and let me have it as gently as possible that I was off the staff the following year. It really hurt.
I only put it together later that Paula had set me up. I was again too trusting and couldn’t imagine anyone hating me so much that they would do such a thing.
“People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.”
— Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
I went on with my art, but Paula did not. Paula did design the cover for the yearbook our senior year, but I didn’t think much of her design. Since then, I have designed many book covers and I am proud of them.
Did you have bullies in your formative years? How did you handle them? Did you believe people were basically good until they proved they were not, like me? I’d love to read your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.