What I Learned in Middle School
In 1993, my family moved to the Big Island of Hawaii. I remember it was raining. They told us that Hilo was one of the rainiest places in the entire world. Apparently it had been raining for a month straight. I stepped out into the rain, and looked up at the sky, raindrops falling onto my glasses. This was going to be my new life.
I remember coming to the old plantation house, which had just been re-taped and re-painted to cover all the rat holes. I stared out the window of my room and tried not to cry. Compared to all my friends, and my big modern house in Minnesota . . . this sucked. My Mom and Dad, and brothers found me, crying there, and we had a family meeting. We prayed. It was nice to know that at least I was lucky. I had a twin.
That night, Jim and I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was the jet lag, or maybe the fact that we had to begin middle school the next day, but we were afraid. We were correct to be afraid. We should have been terrified. Little did we know, we were lambs to the slaughter.
I still remember the first day, everyone talked funny. “Hey boy, you pow?” a girl asked.
“What?” I said, in science class.
“You pow?” she said.
“What?” I said.
“YOU POW?” she said.
This went on for about seven more times, until I finally just said yes, and then the girl took some science equipment. That’s when I realized that pau meant “finished”. Great, now I have to learn a whole new language, I thought.
In Sociology class, I was so puzzled that nobody was participating in the discussion. The teacher, Mr. B asked, “Does anyone know the waterway between South America, and North America?” Everyone was silent. “Anybody?” he asked.
“The Panama Canal!” I said. The entire class looked at me, some were giggling. This is the moment that I cemented myself as target number one for every bully in the room.
The bullies were everywhere. Sometimes, it seemed like an entire school full of bullies. One day, someone came up to me and said, “Eeew, you smell.” For some reason (I didn’t know why), my arm pits were really smelly. I just didn’t know how to make it stop. On the way to gym class, I tried to air them out. I was walking with my arms out to the side, kind of like the way a muscle man would walk. I turned around, and realized practically the whole class was imitating me, and my muscle man walk. “Ho bra, he thinks he’s the strongest man in the world.”
During recess, Jim and I would stand at the corner of the lunch building, looking out at the sky. We just stayed there like that, standing awkwardly, while everyone else ran, and played, and chatted. Sometimes, kids would come and make fun of us. “Why are you guys just standing here?” they’d ask.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“It’s because they’re gay,” they would say. “They’re secretly in love!” One time they grabbed us, or sort of held us, and sort of molested our bodies for a second. It was humiliating. They’d all laugh and laugh, and we would just stand there, trying to make sure our hair was in place. But finally, they would leave.
It was like being locked in an insane asylum, staring out to the sky. I fell in love with that sky. I remember the clouds big and strong, and in my imagination, I would soar up, and fly through all the crevices and caves, and pop up into the atmosphere. Soaring beyond the earth into the galaxy, and remembering all the Carl Sagan videos I was watching at home, and the “billions, and billions” of galaxies beyond.
I remember being in science class, and a bully was so mad at the teacher, that he got up and flipped his desk over. Then he threw his chair, and the teacher was terrified. I was terrified. Whatever I was learning, just flew out the window. This kind of thing happened all the time, and it was just impossible to focus on the class work.
If I try to remember what I learned in middle school . . . it wasn’t much. Sure, I learned some algebra, but I was already learning that with all the computer programming I was doing at home for fun. Band was a joke, because everyone else was so far behind, it became really boring. English class was the worst. We just watched old 50s movies of Hercules and Zeus the entire time, and our teacher quit half way through the class, because he was being bullied by the students. He even wrote an editorial about it in the newspaper, and he named me and my brother as the best behaved kids in the entire class. That was not helpful!
I wish I could say that everything got better, and I learned to make friends, but that just didn’t happen. Middle school sucked, and it always would. Every day was a nightmare, and nothing I did could ever have made it any better. The funny thing is, most people I talk to today say the exact same thing. Most people hated middle school.
If I could talk to my younger self on the night before my brother and I entered Kalaniana’ole Middle School, I would’ve said, “Listen up! You are about to enter the worst couple years of your life. Try to convince your Mom and Dad to let you home school. Beg them. Plead them. Cry if you have to. Kick and scream. Just get out of school. You know that programming you’ve been doing? Do that. Keep doing that. Program in C, C++, Basic, Java, 3d stuff, whatever you want. Just do whatever you want. And get a job. Work hard, and learn as much as you can in the real world. And don’t worry about middle school. You’re going to learn so much more, working in a real job, with a real boss, making real money, than you ever would in middle school. You are so much smarter and cooler, and – just awesome-er than you think you are right now. Just . . . don’t go to middle school! Good luck.”