I wanted to write this post during back-to-school season, but I got distracted by other blog post inspirations. You know how it is, creative people! But who cares about my out-of-season timing. Being aware of how getting bullied can effect your child is an important topic, no matter what time of the year it is.
For this weekend’s post, I’ll tell you the story about the time I decided to give the bullies of Inverness Middle School their come-uppins. If you’re a parent reading this, this is one example to give to your kids, on how to NEVER deal with bullies. If you’re a kid reading this…
Well, this blog is really geared for an 18-and-older audience, because I have a thing for profanity. So go hide in your closet to read this, and don’t tell momma. If you DO tell…
Ah, whatever. I’m sure she’ll let you off the hook, because I’m teaching you a lesson on how to not let your anger make you stupid enough to risk falling off of a bridge, or forced into prostitution..
I got a lot of flack, through most of my school career, for being the one… the only… disfigured-eyed kid. This disfigurement came with a visual impairment. The impairment itself wasn’t really that bad, while growing up. I could still see where I was going, and I could read print and watch TV, and do lots of other visual stuff, but my disfigurement made it appear like my condition was far worse. People stared. Other kids sometimes acted like I had a contagious disease. Then of course, there was always those people who had silly delusions about me. Such as, believing that my botched up eyeballs must mean that I have the mental capacity of an inbred dog.
I looked like this squinty-eyed, Alien hybrid kid with these expressionless, blue and white marbled orbs where human eyes should be. Nobody ever said that my eyes lit up, at the sight of a wonderful surprise, and they never saw sadness in my eyes, or any other expression. You can’t really see into my soul through these thingies. I guess that weirds people out too.
In Elementary school, I was just picked on. I’d get the “How many fingers am I holding up?” vision test. Or some kid would swipe my lunchbox, in the cafeteria, and another would call me, “stupid blind bat” at recess. Stuff like that. Almost every day there was some kind of shaming reminder that being different was wrong. However, these kids had their moments of being friendly and tolerant, and acting more like pure, innocent children. So Elementary school was livable.
Then when middle school came about, holy shit! I don’t know what happened, but a lot of innocent children somehow mutated into these horrid little demonoids. I was the punchline, the freak show, and the pariah all in one. My family cared, of course, and the school guidance counselor cared. But none of the teachers or other school staff bothered to do anything about it. Telling them when I was being made fun of and insulted, and who did what, didn’t help make any anti-bullying progress. It might’ve even made some of the teachers lose respect for me, because I probably came off as a winy big baby who needed to learn to toughen up. For example, there was this one time, in 6th grade, when a couple of boys in my class were singing a parity of Bohemian Rapcity, and I was the subject of their joke lyrics. I didn’t understand why the teacher wasn’t reprimanding them for being rude, because you could clearly hear these guys across the room. So I told her, thinking that maybe she was too busy with whatever she was doing at her desk to notice. She pretty much blew me off, and told me that it wasn’t her problem. It was my responsibility to tell those boys to stop making fun of me. I took others advice on how to stand up to bullies. Like telling them, “Why don’t you just go away.”, but that only got me laughed at.
It infuriated me to no end, when grownups advised me to have more compassion and understanding towards these kids, as though I shouldn’t hold them accountable for being assholes. They only do it, because they’re afraid of what they don’t understand, I was often reminded. They don’t know how to act. I was reminded that I always had the option to put more effort into helping them understand. Talk to them. Teach them. Explain myself to them, with limitless patience. Maybe throw an Understanding-My-Blindness Phillie cheese steak party in the cafeteria, while I’m at it. Or hold a Disfigurement Awareness festival on the basketball court, with face painting and bouncy houses, and free key chains for everyone.
See my discombobulated little marbles of nearsightedness as a gift from God, because they are what makes me special, and what makes me who I am. Because I was born different, it must mean that my sole purpose on this world is to teach others about my disability, and be an inspirational role model to others who are labeled in the same category as me. That was my childhood expectation, when I wanted to be a writer, when I grew up, along with many other creative aspirations. But most of all, I wanted to be counted as the young human being that nobody else believed I really was. Not the people’s Special Eyes Show.
It was a December day in 1993, when I snapped. I was 14, and in 8th grade. It was almost halfway through the school year, but on that day, I decided to end my enrollment at Inverness Middle School.
P E was one of the easiest classes, because for me, it wasn’t that much of a class. The teachers felt it was safer to exempt me from participating in sports. I was allowed to do floor exercises with the class, or work out to aerobics videos with other girls, and the once-a-year mile run. Whenever the rest of the class played a sport, which was most of the time, I was granted a period of free time. I just had to stay outside with the rest of the class. I spent this free time walking laps around the track, or withdrawing to a shady picnic table, where I’d write novels that would never be finished. Unfortunately, my peace and solitude was often disrupted by demonoids.
Wherever I was out there, they’d spot me, like hawks seeking out prey. I don’t remember exactly how these kids were able to get away with wandering off from the rest of the venomous swarm. I think it had to do with multiple classes going on at once, and there were too many kids for the scarce number of P E teachers to keep track of at all times.
At this age, like a lot of teenage girls, I wanted to be skinny. So I got in the habit of spending every free P E period walking laps. The track was a popular targeting zone, for demonoids that wandered loose. They would say some snide remark, as I passed them. Or a group of them would crack rude jokes amongst themselves, as though they thought I couldn’t hear them. Some would holler, “Watch out for that car!”, and imitate screeching tire noises. Sometimes one of them would try to make me trip. They found it especially funny to walk in front of me, and suddenly stop, and make me bump into them. I was able to tolerate this, because once they got in their couple of laughs, they moved along, and let me continue walking. But on this particular horrible day in December, this one group of bullying boys kept following me around, like pesky mosquitoes.
They were at it with the same-old-same-old, “Watch out for the car! Ha ha ha. Oops, did I trip you? Ha ha ha.” I didn’t say anything back to them, and kept walking, but they kept walking with me, showing no signs of getting bored with their own immature jokes. I guess they were trying to make me cry, or something. My first tactic was to do the mature, civilized thing, and walk across the field to the other side of the track.
It wasn’t even a lap later, when they decided to catch up with me. “Hey, blind bat! Hey, Ray Charles!”, they taunted. Then it was back to cracking more lame insult jokes. So away I went again, to the opposite side of the track. I hoped to God that they would please get bored with harassing me, and go shoot hoops, or something. I was deliberately acting quiet and unresponsive, to make them get bored. Then to my further annoyance, another lap or so later, there they were again. I couldn’t believe these guys. They wouldn’t let up. This was getting ridiculous. One of the boys greeted me, with something in his hand that looked like an empty camera film container, or a pill bottle. I assumed it was a piece of trash that he picked up off the ground. That outside P E area was a pig sty of garbage litter. “Smell.” He taunted, waving the trash towards my face. Perhaps there was something gross in that thing. I didn’t oblige, of course. Instead, I quietly walked away again, but this time, I sat at a picnic table where one of the P E teachers was. Only then did they stop bothering me. I told the P E teacher about what went on, but it ended up being the same old conversation I’d had with I. M. S. teachers, countless times before. She was sorry that it happened, and she’ll keep an eye out for them, so it wouldn’t happen again.
That did it. I decided to take matters into my own hands, and teach these little shits a lesson. The students and the teachers. Yes, I wanted to get back at the teachers too, for being so lenient toward mean spirited kids. They almost seemed indifferent sometimes. I felt like they didn’t care. Like their honest feelings about me were just as discriminative as their students.
My plan was to make myself become a missing person. I watched a lot of America’s Most Wanted, at the time, and I wasn’t that much less immature than the mosquito boys. I was going to run away, and live in a woods far from home, where I would be hard to find. I imagined that my plan would work even better, if I got abducted. I pictured how sorry all the kids who gave me hell would be. How guilty they would feel, for being such assholes, knowing that my disappearance was all their fault. I pictured the story of my disappearance getting broadcasted all over Citrus County, or even all over the nation. My tormenters, and the school’s staff who let the bullying happen, would be crying into news reporters’ cameras, pleading for my safe return, and tearfully apologizing for everything I was put through. Then when I was found, and brought home, I imagined that the other kids would be so remorseful and disgusted with themselves, I would be wholeheartedly welcomed back to I. M. S., and finally treated with respect.
During the next period, I set my plan to work. I forgot what class it was. I think it might’ve been History. We were watching a video of some sort, when I raised my hand for permission to go to the bathroom. I thought I was so slick, knowing that taking my book bag with me wouldn’t make the teacher suspicious that I was up to no good. Middle school girls were considered to be too young to be carrying around their own handbags. So they kept their makeup and maxi pads, and other things that are usually used in the bathroom, in their book bags. I did go into the bathroom, but not to pee.
For the first step of my plan, I sat in a stall, and took out my loose-leaf notebook. I wrote the I. M. S. folks a sad good-bye note. I did my best to lay on the guilt trip. Letting everyone know that I can no longer stay in a place where I was never welcomed. The note ended with sappy good-byes to the few friends I had, I thanked them for their willingness to see past my disability, and for all the good times we had, throughout each school year.
I left my book bag, and my open notebook on the floor, hoping that the note would strike panic, fear, and most of all, guilt into the hearts of whoever read it.
The next step to my plan was to haul ass across the nearby part of the schoolyard, and climb over the fence. This was the nerve wracking part. The bathroom where I left the note, was conveniently on one side of an outside walkway towards the schoolyard. This part of the campus was deserted, which gave me the hope for an easy escape. Students and teachers were all preoccupied in their classrooms, but I was still so afraid of getting caught. What if some other girl just-so-happened to be heading for that same bathroom, right at the moment I was running for the fence? Or worse, what if a teacher saw me? What if I couldn’t make it over the fence fast enough? If someone spotted me scrambling and stumbling over the fence, that would’ve been really embarrassing. Then all my sick twisted plans to make everybody feel like shit would go out the window, and I’d look like a total idiot.
I was just about to get a move on, when I heard the clopping of high-heeled footsteps, and was afraid that it might be Mrs. Goodman. She was a teacher’s aide who worked with me, and the two deaf kids in my class. Sometimes she had to run extra errands, making trips to this or that office. By the loudness of the clopping, it sounded a lot like her large-footed pumps. I quickly hid in a dark corner, and held still. How would I explain myself if she spotted me? “Oh, I didn’t know that I was gone that long, Mrs. Goodman. I have a stomach ache, and—oops, I left my book bag.” Then I would have no choice, but to go back to class, and that would be the end of it. To my great relief, the footsteps faded away. It sounded like she turned down a further off walkway that went the opposite direction to where I was standing. Then there was silence. It was now or never.
I bolted down the walkway, and across the schoolyard, like I’d just robbed the school store.
Thankfully, that area of schoolyard wasn’t that wide. The cyclone fence wasn’t hard to scramble over either, but once I jumped down to the other side, there was my first obstacle.
Beyond the fence was a woods that was a lot denser than the typical Inverness woodlands. I mean, it was like the Citrus County rain forest. The trees had narrower than usual gaps in between them, and the underbrush was up to my thighs. Thorny jungle vines were everywhere, whipping me in the face, and snagging on my clothes.. Perhaps it was deliberately kept this way, to discourage kids from trying to cut class, and sneak off campus. Thank God there were no snakes out and about that day. I forced my way through this mess of overgrowth, with all my paranoid might, splitting my stretch pants in the process. I didn’t care. Things seemed to be going right for me, and I’d gone too far to chicken out.
Thankfully, the I. M. S. jungle was a short hike, and I soon reached the street on the other side. I had no plans for where I was going to go, and how far. I didn’t think I would need them, if the goal was to go missing. This street was empty and quiet. There was a business or two nearby, but they appeared to be closed. I felt confident that no one would come looking for me here. So I stopped running, and slowed to a relaxed stroll.
I walked straight along one street until I came across a concrete wall. It wasn’t a fence. I could simply walk behind it, but I thought this wall marked somebody’s property. There was grass and trees beyond it, that I thought might be the edge of someone’s yard. I didn’t want to be rude, and trespass, but I wanted to be completely out of the path of on-coming cars too. Strangely, this street had no curb for me to walk on. So I pulled myself up onto the wall, and crawled along its ledge.
Crawling and crawling, I wondered, “What the hell is this place?” The wall seemed to never end. The traffic on whatever this street was, was a lot heavier than the street I was first walking on. It seemed huge too, more like a highway. Cars and trucks sped past me, frighteningly close. I looked down at the other side of the wall, and still saw grass, but this part of the property had much smaller trees. A narrow, gray footpath went in a perfect straight line between these trees. As I crawled past it, some little kid’s toy car came rolling down the footpath, and disappeared beneath the wall. I stopped crawling, when the realization hit me, “Holy shit!” I thought. “That’s not a foot path! It’s a road! I’m on the side of a bridge!” A few more cars came down that road, as if to confirm this.
When I told my family about my adventure, later on, they knew exactly which bridge I was talking about. From where I was crawling, they said that that road was about fifty feet below me. Obviously, my visual impairment included sucky depth perception. Thank God I didn’t decide, “OK, I had enough of crawling on this wall, I’m just going to go ahead, and walk through this person’s property anyway… AAAAAAAaaaaahhh!!!”
No wonder why this street had no curb!
Now that I knew that I was on a bridge, I felt embarrassed. What were the people driving past me thinking, when they saw some nut-job in split stretch pants, doing a wall crawl across the side of the bridge? I hoped they didn’t think I was contemplating suicide. Then someone might stop, and try to save me, and my manipulative plan would be ruined.
I breathed a sigh of relief, when I finally made it to the other side of the bridge, and was walking down a normal street. This street had a narrow curb that was awkward to walk along, but I did it anyway to keep safe. Along side of it, was something that resembled a fence, but it was way too short to be any kind of barricade. Maybe enough to fence in a tea cup poodle. It seemed pointless. I could easily step over this thing. And so I did, to have more space to walk. Not that far ahead of me, was one hell of a scary looking hole in the ground. I couldn’t figure out what this was. A sink hole? A construction sight where workers were in the process of fixing pipes? I thought I saw objects down in it, but my impaired vision wouldn’t allow me to distinguish what they were. Construction equipment? Sewer pipes? Litter? By the looks of it, I assumed it was a pretty steep drop. The surrounding grassy ground sloped towards it. Whatever this hole was, I had to steer clear of it. So it was back to walking along the awkwardly narrow curb.
The curb started tapering until it was too narrow to even walk indian-tribe style, forcing me to walk on the street. The traffic whooshed past me, close enough to rattle my nerves. So I stepped over the tea cup poodle fence again, but was walking on sloped ground that was too close to that hole. Now I was stuck. It was either, risk getting hit by a car, or risk losing my footing, and stumbling into the hole. I continued walking anyway, stupidly stepping back and forth over the little fence, not sure what I should do. When I told this story, later on, I was told that the hole was a phosphate pit.
A blue car slowly started right towards me, and then parked on the side of the road. Desperately hoping that this wasn’t what I thought it was, I picked up my pace. I heard the car doors open and shut. “Ms. Wojciechowski!” called out a southern accented man’s voice.
I was caught. It was over. I was still between a busy street, and a huge hole in the ground. So there was nowhere to run. I had no better choice, but to surrender, and own up to my dark shenanigan. Feeling ashamed and defeated, I obediently walked to the car.
I don’t remember exactly who it was that found me, whether it was the principal, or one of the coaches, but I do remember that the guidance counselor was with him. Surprisingly, I wasn’t in trouble. I guess I really did strike fear, panic, and guilt in the I. M. S. people’s hearts. At least part of my plan worked.
They gave me my book bag and notebook back. Then the guidance counselor took me to his office, and wanted me to talk to him about what I did and why. It was afternoon, by this time. So while we talked, he ordered us pizza for lunch. After lunch, he called my mom, and told her what had happened. He felt it would be a good idea, if she came and picked me up, but he wanted her to meet us in his office.
When she arrived, we talked about the situation a little while, and he wanted me to show mom my note. When she read it out loud, I was horrified.
I was so full of rage, I wrote the note too quickly for my eyes and brain to fully pay attention to what I was writing. It was so chop full of skipped words and sloppy sentences, it sounded like a cave man wrote it. I was afraid that it gave whoever read it, solid proof that the blind girl really did have the mental capacity of an inbred dog.
I wasn’t in much trouble at home either. Mom and dad were aware that I had a rough time getting through school, dealing with people’s prejudice. They understood that I had reached my breaking point. Of course they were very upset with me too. I could’ve gotten myself killed or seriously injured. That was a totally stupid, impulsive, irresponsible way of handling my situation, and I would strongly advise any kid who is being bullied, to not use deliberately going missing, as a tactic to try to earn respect. What if my plan worked in full swing, and I really did get abducted. I was 14, emotionally vulnerable, and had a low self esteem. The kind of girl a lot of pedophiles and rapists would’ve loved to get their filthy hands on. I could’ve been abducted by a human trafficer. I was within the age range of under-aged girls that sell the most. Despite my disfigurement, I had the type of body that would’ve attracted sick perverts. If something like that happened, my running away adventure wouldn’t have been so adventurous then. I could’ve brought so much more trouble onto myself. Far worse trouble than being taunted and harassed by mean spirited kids. Getting abducted, or even being a homeless runaway living in the woods, would’ve made Inverness Middle School seem like a vacation resort. I didn’t know shit about how to live off the land. I only thought that I did, from reading the Little House on the Prairie books. By the end of the day, I was so thankful that my plan failed, and I was safe at home.
I had been wanting to be enrolled in the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, for a few years, because I thought I would fit in better there. I brought up this subject to the parents, every now and then. They thought it was a good idea, but for reasons I don’t remember, they wanted me to finish my enrollment at Inverness Middle School, before they would officially pull me out of public school. It could’ve had something to do with the distance. FSDB is a boarding school in St. Augustine, which is about a three hour drive from Inverness.
After this incident, my parents grasped the full extent of how miserable I was in public school, and they wanted to help end my suffering. So they agreed to pull me out of I. M. S., and enroll me at FSDB.
Because of the time of year it was, I couldn’t switch schools right away. I had to wait until the end of January for the enrollment process to start. So it was back to I. M. S. for another few weeks. I never earned any respect, of course. The same old shit continued, but knowing that I was leaving that hellhole made it easier for me to sluff it off.
When I became a FSDB student, my life-long dream came true, at last. I found a place where I fit in. The kids there were really cool, and I was never bullied again, for the rest of my school career…
Never bullied by other kids, I mean.
Me and many other girls in my dorm were bullied by our dorm parents, but that’s a whole other adventure story that I’ll save for another post.
Love you all! Post you next weekend!