Once upon a time I was asked to leave school and not come back. There, I said it. It’s something I hate to bring up. Not only is it embarrassing but I would hate for someone to think that I’m somehow proud of myself for reaching that level of troublemaking. Sure, I joke all the time about how I once did this or that, and while it’s fun in its way it’s almost a punishment to myself. Like I want people to realize I’m not trying to hide from my past, or blend in with the good, honest folk. Many people don’t believe it. They say, “I can’t see it. You just seem like a nice guy.” Well this is how it went down. Keep in mind I was a teenager, which is to say I was confused, angry, lost, bored, frustrated, hopeless… you know. We’ve all been there to some extent.
I’m going to skip ahead a bit here. There’s no reason why readers should have to sit through the story of my life from the beginning, though as with any story the beginning shapes the end. My senior year. That’s where this story begins. I was struggling (remember, I struggle). My problems in school have never been a secret. Sitting in a desk all day and listening to someone talk. For those of you who can do it, I envy you. It drives me nuts. By the twelfth year of it I had had enough. Problems at home and depression had taken their toll on me. I discovered skipping school.
Now it wasn’t like I had never skipped a class before. Many times before I had decided to avoid the boredom and went searching for some entertainment. This year however it seemed like the only option. I couldn’t sit there anymore. I’d fight with my family all night and spend my free time smoking and drinking with friends. When I tried to sit quietly and listen to the teacher… I can’t really explain it. I wanted to scream and flip desks. Drama was becoming my drug of choice. I needed the screaming and lying and debauchery. Turmoil fit my mood.
So I started missing classes. At first just one or two here and there, always carefully chosen so I could have a longer lunch, or a shorter day. In the first few weeks of senior year however it escalated. I started missing classes regularly. Sometimes I would even forget what class I had and when told to “get to class” I literally didn’t know where that was. I had to go to the office and get my schedule again almost a month into the semester.
This did not go unnoticed. I was talked to by my parents, the guidance counselor, and the principal. Would you be surprised to hear that I didn’t listen? I didn’t have it in me to listen. Not right then, and not for a while yet. The principal told me I had attended thirty-three percent of my classes. Not good. Really not good considering I had called myself in sick or had my friends in the office mark me present many times. I was told that if I was absent anymore I was out of school. Though I made some effort at that point it was hopeless. I was hooked on skipping. I could no longer sit through a class.
So began an interesting time for me around school. The principal was after me. Literally. He was chasing me. I’d see him in the hallway trying to flag me down. I’d pretend not to see him and the chase was on. I’d turn a corner and as soon as I was out of his sight I’d break into a sprint. Eluding him became a game to me. Friends would help by stopping him to ask random and frivolous questions. If I felt he would try to corner me during a class I wouldn’t go to it. Any notes I received to go to the office were ignored, though I did use them as an excuse to break free from my classroom prison. It was a losing battle and I knew that. It’s something I chose not to think about.
Then one weekend in early December, nearly the end of the semester, myself and my two buddies were feeling down. Things weren’t good for us. That our problems were largely of our own creation didn’t matter. The fact is we were pretty miserable. We knew a reckoning was coming. The world wouldn’t abide our disrespect for long. We decided a vacation was in order. Just an escape from our dingy little world. In the span of a couple of hours it was decided that we would set course for Cleveland where my friends older brother had an apartment. When you’re a kid anything other than home seems cool I guess. Plus that guy was known to drink upwards of twenty beers in a sitting, which gave him legendary status by our ranking system. We set out immediately.
In our defense, our admittedly weak defense, we made an effort to inform our families. We didn’t want anyone thinking we had died or something. One of the guys just boldly told his family, “I’m going, that’s it.” He was told he wasn’t welcome back. Another tried to make up a story about spending the night at a friend’s house. Unfortunately he made that call from Cleveland and was busted by the caller i.d.. Watching him trying to lie his way out of that was a highlight of our night. “Hey Mom, I’m fine…What? I told you were I was going….I don’t know why it’s a strange number… I’m not lying!… Mom! Wait… Mom! I’m in Cleveland!… No I can’t come home!… Because I didn’t drive! Whatever! I’m eighteen. You can’t call the cops!” Poor guy. He wasn’t welcome home either. I chose to keep it simple and to the point, with just a hint of humor. On the counter I had left a piece of notebook paper with “Gone Fishing” written on it. Just enough so they knew I hadn’t been kidnapped. I’m not proud of myself but it was kinda funny.
We stayed in that apartment for several days. We wanted no part of what awaited us back home. We even discussed getting jobs and settling in. Eventually we wore out our welcome. It was time to head back and pay the piper. Our first stop upon arrival was the school. We burst into the gym during volleyball class, quite pleased with ourselves and our adventurous ways. Everyone wanted to know where we had been. This was before social networking, hell before even before we had cell phones. No one knew where we were. We started bragging about our trip and sudden departure. The story telling didn’t last long. It was interrupted when the gym door opened and the principal walked in, looking straight at us. Word traveled fast I guess. Perhaps we should have made our entrance a little quieter. He didn’t play any games this time. We were given no chance to escape. He pointed and his voice boomed, “You guys are out of here!” He didn’t answer our questions or allow us to argue. He ignored our insults. We were marched to the front doors and quite literally expelled into a wintry afternoon.
I can’t really explain how it feels to suddenly not be welcome. Whether at home or at school. Try to imagine. Snow falling and there’s nowhere to go. Your cold and there’s no available warmth. Tired with no bed. It’s a terrible feeling when the world casts you out. We hit bottom that day. The world was done with us. At least our tiny little worlds. I could tell you about sleeping in a cold car in the parking lot of my workplace hoping I woke in time for my 6:30am shift. I could tell you about walking icy railroad tracks at three in the morning because we heard a rumor that a girl might let us sleep in her basement. Or trying to camp in a field where we just couldn’t get warm no matter how big a fire we made. But those things aren’t important. Well, not to this story anyway. This story is about how I ended up expelled from school. I think we’ve basically covered it.
If there was anything else to say it might be this. The way I was feeling at that point in time was valid. It was very real to me. I was trying to find my way and failing. Adults need to be very wise when dealing with troubled teens. There is a paradox. You can’t force them anymore, they’re not kids. But trying to be overly sympathetic only enables them to make bad choices. You can’t be too hard or soft with them. Instead you have to wisely choose when to lean on them and when to bend to them. Let them mess up but quietly be guiding. Most of all love them, no matter what. That’s how I see it at least. If I didn’t learn something from this mess then what good was it? But I don’t have kids yet, and I’m sure somewhere there is a parent just shaking their head thinking, “He’ll see…”