It was in 7th grade when my academic and attention issues started to become obvious.
We had just moved to a new house which meant a new school. I was a shy, skinny, almost 6-foot,12-year-old kid, who found herself trying to fit her long, lanky awkwardness into belonging. All I wanted to do was blend. Blending in, however, would not be in the cards.
One of the many tall names I acquired in my new surroundings was “Jolly Green Giant”. I would be asked numerous times, “How’s the weather up there?” “Do you get nosebleeds above the clouds?” I didn’t understand the last question until later, but in an unrelated fact, yes, I did get nosebleeds.
Howling laughs and low fives would follow the comments.
I would laugh with them and move on. Honestly, the jokes didn’t really bother me that much, because, well, I was taller than them, and I had a mom who made me feel good about this. She would always say, “Stand up straight. Hold your head high. Tall is good.” And so I believed her and would do what she told me. But inside, most times, I wanted to take my ‘standing up tall' self and disappear into the wall. I never liked the attention.
Many times my tallness brought recognition for something akin to a circus sideshow. I couldn’t wait for the viewing to be over so I could just move along like a giraffe on parade (another fond name from some of my peers).
And as I tripped along in my pre-teen existence, I began to realize this new school was a lot more challenging than my old one. The math teacher, Sister Bruce, scared the bejesus out of me. She was no-nonsense and saturated with sarcasm. I tried to fly below the radar and avoid her sharp wit illuminated with a wicked Rhode Island accent.
I would beg my mom to let me stay home. She would have none of it. “Get in the car!”
And so I’d go and face the music of my junior high life, filled and fraught with anxiety and worry while wearing high water blue corduroy Levi's - a solidifying ingredient that made sure I would never blend into the circle of ‘cool kids’ I lived on the outskirts of.
Soon into my beginnings of academia and social awkwardness at my new school, I was taking my first real science test. I clearly remember Mr. Johnson, our kind science teacher, instructing us to study for the test. The words went in one ear and out the other.
I didn’t study. I didn’t know how to do this. My scattered mind was not trained well in this area, yet. We didn’t have big tests at the school I went to before. The only big tests I remembered taking were spelling tests.
The next day came and I took the test. I remember guessing at all the multiple choice questions. I had no idea what some of the words meant or how to pronounce them. One of the questions we had to respond to went something like … “Which would thrive and survive better, a dark green plant or a white plant and why?” He asked for specific terms and vocabulary to be added to our answer, of which, I did not know, but I thought, I have to write an answer to fill up space…
So I wrote something like, “ The green plant would do better because it’s green and absorbs the light and the white plant wouldn’t do well because white reflects the sun.”
That’s all I had. I didn’t know the word photosynthesis or the details we were supposed to know for this question.
I sat with my paper a long time, pretending to still be working until someone else handed in theirs. I waited a little longer until enough time had gone by so as to give the illusion that I knew what I was doing. (It’s all an illusion, my friends).
I got a 59% on the test.
Mr. Johnson had passed back our tests upside down. I know my peers sitting near me saw my score. I felt stupid and way over my head. Everyone else around me started comparing their scores all happy with each other, giving quick sideways glances my way and then going back to their circle talk. Thank god they didn’t bother to ask the jolly green giant wearing high waters what she got. I was mortified. When I got a chance to glance more at my test with no one around to peer over my shoulder, I did. So many x’s and lines through it. It was a red inked blood bath dripping with failure.
I noticed though, the open response part where I actually wrote something, had a positive comment next to it, stating that my thoughts were good but needed more.
But the most terrifying part of all were the words written boldly in red at the top of my test, that said,
I froze in fear reading them. See him!? NEVER! There was no way I was going to go up to his desk, with my dripping, red inked scar filled paper and let him SEE ME! He’d seen enough already!
I armored up, closed down inside, folded my test as small as I could and placed it where it belonged, at the bottom of my school bag with the lint balls and broken pencils. I kept my eyes down and avoided all eye contact with him and everyone else for the rest of the day.
Please God, don’t let him call me up to his desk. Please. Just. Don’t!
He didn’t. The next day came and went, and nothing. I was in the clear. I figured he forgot all about me and I started lifting my eyes again.
Until the next test. Another 59% with another SEE ME! on the top.
NOOOOOOOO!!!!! I was failing and I didn’t know what to do, I wanted to quit school so I didn’t have to SEE ME fail another one of these tests.
I saved my cry in the bottom of my throat for when I got home.
Mr. Johnson did see me however, because he called home. I cried when my mom asked me about the tests. She wasn’t mad at all and helped me study for the next ones. She listened when I shared all my fears and frustrations. Mom totally got me. So did Mr. Johnson.
I never did go up to see Mr. Johnson after all that. In fact, I was so motivated to avoid the SEE ME, that I started to ace the science tests and quizzes. I didn’t mind my peers sneaking peaks at my paper now. I could even see the surprise on some of their faces when they realized I wasn’t stupid after all. How’s that for a SEE ME?!
I was proud of my pull through in this moment. Once I knew Mr. Johnson was on my side, I could see him for the awesome teacher he was and he wasn't going to let me hide.
As the years went on I learned to accept my differences and awkwardness, mostly, including my highwater, sky blue, levi corduroys. I’ve since substituted the levi's for yoga pants that now come in LONG.They fit much better, and I know now, so do I.