Monday, April 27, 2009

On Being

When I was in the second grade, I got beat up by the entire class because my teacher hated me.

It wasn't some imagined thing, my teacher actually hated me. That is one of two incidents that I remember because most people I meet like me...alot.

I'll never forget that day as long as I live. Before my mother remarried or even met my future stepfather, we lived in a small three bedroom house in North Trenton, a few miles down from Helene Fuld Hospital and Brunswick village where my grandmother lived--or used to live at the time.

I was the new kid (my sister and I, though she was in Kindergarten at the time) at Jefferson Elementary School (which has now been closed down for a few years).

I'll never forget my teacher, this horrible man named Mr. Fernandez (real name witheld). I don't know why he didn't like me, but he didn't. I was in a class filled with mostly ill-behaved little black kids and the last thing he wanted was another one--ill-behaved or not. (I most definitely was not)

He made me feel stupid and afraid of him on a daily basis. I remember my second week in school he was writing a word on the chalkboard: gnat. He was saying how certain letters are silent in certain words and he kept telling us to repeat it "nat! nat! nat!" and I'm repeating it along with the rest of the class. And suddenly out of the blue he points to me and goes 'what's that word Alicia?"

And me, at the time being naturally shy AND not to mention new, became very nervous and made the fatal error of saying "ga-nat."

The whole class started laughing and he stared at me with a mixture of disgust and something else I can't quite name. Maybe seething disappointment. I don't know.

Ever since that moment, I went out of my way to stay under his radar, but he would always find a way to pick on own teacher...and the kids didn't make things any better. I remember being made to stand in the corner because I dropped some ice cream accidentally on the floor when we had this class party for whatever reason.

One day, out of anger, in these little notebooks we were given to write out daily sentences in--I wrote "I hate Mr. Fernandez" and he happened to walk by as I was writing it and whispered, "I hate you too."

Again, this is too random for me to make up. But the end all came the day when my class was being particularly bad. People kept talking out of turn, the whole class was obnoxious and rowdy for some in explicable reason. And Mr. Fernandez had had enough and said "Put your heads down, and if one of you so much as make a peep, the whole class has to stay after for fifteen minutes."

Unfortunately for me, I had come to school that day with a cold.

Right after he said that, I sneezed and he said "Thanks to Alicia, you all have 15 minute detention."

I hadn't even said a single word to anyone that entire day ( I never did. Those kids were evil...really). So we stay after, and then we can finally leave so I'm walking across the playground feeling miserable and my spirit a little broken. I was eight years old and I thought my life was just miserable. So I'm walking and the next thing I know, I'm suddenly being pushed to the ground and slapped and pushed and kicked by my entire class. I don't remember seeing faces or who exactly did it. I just wanted it to stop and I curled into a ball. The teacher finally came out and hauled me to my feet and ushered me back to the class, imploring me to tell him who did it--as if he actually cared.

I never told from fear of getting beat up again. It was the one and only time something like that had ever happened. And I don't think I've ever told my mother. She just wanted to know why I took so long to get to the card and I just said 'we had detention' and left it at that.

It's weird remembering that. Some of those old feelings come back. But even at that early age, I used to invent stories in my head because existing in the 'real world' had been extremely hard for me to do. My confidence in myself from that point on had never really recovered (not until about two years ago actually), but I used the same coping mechanism, which was writing.

I don't know where Mr. Fernandez is now, or what he's doing, but after twenty years, I hope he's miserable and I hope that one day he realizes how miserable he made me. He's one of the few people in my life that enjoyed kicking me when I was down--and after this moment, I won't ever think about him again.

I don't know what prompted me to write this. But just writing this does something amazing for me. Because one day it is going to happen. I am going to be published and all that stuff won't matter anymore.

Being afraid to shine just because you're afraid of people noticing you, or people being offended by you is just....silly. It's silly, silly, silly, SILLY! Letting that effect you for nearly 20 years is even worse.

But my mother told me fairly recently, "Alicia, if someone doesn't like you--as a person, something must be seriously wrong with them."

And I was thinking, 'Oh, that's such a 'mom' thing to say'. Turns out, it was true. But the truth of the matter is, I don't really care if someone doesn't like me--not the way I used to care. I like me. My kid adores me...and I'm happy.

I get to write everyday. I get a chance to actually work towards a dream that will benefit not only me, but the people around me.

I get the chance to be the person I was too afraid to be for a long time--and you know what?

I think that's pretty freakin' awesome.