My hell is a bit different from how mythologies orreligions depict it. My hell is Hadfield Elementary School.
Elementaryschool is perhaps the most vicious, ruthless, unaccepting atmosphere that existson this planet. The groups, the cliques, the gangs are unstoppable andunbearable. At least it seems that way from the outside. It's almost a twistedcaste system - you are labeled when you start school, and there is no deviationfrom it, no matter how much you may change. Cool kids are cool kids, dirty kidsare dirty kids, dorks are dorks. Forever.
And different is wrong. If youare different you are wrong, and therefore are punished verbally, physically andmentally. But I guess I couldn't say that I wasn't different. I was quitedifferent, in fact. But to be crucified simply because of physical differences,and to have an atmosphere that basically supports that, is a terrible thing towhich to subject children. The very qualities that are supposed to be so genuinein children - love, trust, innocence, acceptance - were nowhere to be found in myelementary school. It made me believe that acceptance is a quality to gain, notone that one is born with and loses in time.
My style of the day was aperfect match for a dodge-ball target. I had the excellent stereotypical dork kidphysique, and then some. I sported a nifty bowl cut (which ran for 12 years),glasses, over-the-ear hearing aids (the "my grandma has those" kind), afew extra pounds, and from ages five to seven, a set of leg braces a la ForrestGump. I was the perfect target. The perfect target. Point in case: I had anentire 14-page joke book written about my lovely proportions and attachments,complete with songs (including one entitled "Muffin Man," whichdetailed my lunch-time routine), poems and much more.
But the leg braceswere probably the worst part. Many things come with having a one-in-5,000,000 hipdisease, but nothing compares to the loneliness. I'd come home and whine to myparents all I wanted about how much I got made fun of, how much I got pushedaround and talked about behind my back, but they never really understood. No onereally could. Being made fun of for being overweight or having glasses or nothaving money are things at least some can relate to, but I was in my own world.
There was no one who felt exactly the way I did. No one else viewed theworld like a senile old man at the age of seven and hated everyone. I'm not goingto say I got beat up every day and shoved in dumpsters, but I can guarantee youthat during recess I found my own little spot in the bushes to cry. Actually,after all the words of hate I'd heard, a dip in the dumpster wouldn'thave been all that bad compared to the verbal volleys.
For the time being,my life in elementary school was nothing but pure torture. A pain that neversubsided. Weekends only added to the misery with countless hours alone with noone to call or play with. But that made it that much easier to accept everyoneelse.
I came out of elementary school, oddly, a much stronger, moreconfident person. Almost everyone I know now would describe me as outgoing (aswell as ruggedly handsome), and that is something of which I'm very proud. When Ientered middle school, I couldn't wait to meet new people and find some with whomI was comfortable. Of course, many of the elementary-school kids were stillaround, but I was able to find a group of close friends, many who had experiencedthe same type of elementary-school humiliation.
Today, when I see those Ionce feared so much, I feel nothing but confidence. I feel like David casting myshadow over a fallen Goliath, freed and relieved. Six years of pain seemsinfinitesimal compared with the incredible feeling of strength and freedom thatnow resides in me. And nothing can express my sentiments to my tormentors inelementary school quite like the Rice University chant can:
"It'salright, it's okay. You'll be working for me, anyway."
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.