Being the new guy on campus was nothing new to me. I never had my Col. Trautman to walk me through it. I had been in this situation many times before and overcame this challenge successfully. This time however, was much more complicated than my previous experiences. I was now a teenager and at this age, toys, cartoons, snacks and other elements important to young boys are completely irrelevant. This was a brand new game with higher stakes. Students in Roosevelt conformed to wearing a common uniform. However, it appeared that looks, a sense of being cool and popularity were rules of engagement. I failed to see any advantage to being the new kid on the block. I searched for something which allowing me to transform my shyness into a go-getter attitude and build a new image for myself. It could have been a chance to start from scratch. Instead, I figured people would embrace the difference I would impart to my classmates and accept me for who I was. Be yourself and everyone will love you, that is what they say. For the most part, I think I managed to stay under the radar as I kept to myself, reading books in the library during my free time and observing from day one how the student population mingled and the various clicks.
|Franklin Delano Roosevelt, architect of the New Deal|
Obviously the largest group in the many divisions of my grade 9 classes were the Peruvians. My previous successful integration with Venezuelans and Chileans led me to believe this was the proper place for me to fit in. After all, this was my continent! As the school functioned on a credit system toward graduation, it was rare to have classes with the same classmates. I suppose Americans must have designed their high school system in this way to prepare their pupils for university, as it was also the first time I got to choose electives. This was an interesting concept. Sometimes, you could take a few courses which overlapped with those of a few other students. Among my first friends was Lucho Zuniga, a friendly Peruvian guy who was a surfing fanatic. I sat with him a few times in the library during study hall where I joined him at a table to read some books I had always been interested in picking up. He was also in my Algebra, English, World History and my Physical Education class so I figured we had a good shot at becoming friends. He did not appear to mind my presence. Another one of my Peruvian acquaintances was Cristian Hajossy who was in my physical science course taught by Ms. Zalecki. We walked on occasion towards the elementary school at the end of day where we would both get picked up to be driven home. On our walks he curiously asked me about my background, my country and mentioned some of the pretty girls in the school to keep an eye out for. It seemed everything was off to a slow but good start.
The only unwelcome problem I faced in the beginning was actually from a new kid, Rafael Benavides. It was my understanding his father had been in the Peruvian diplomatic corps and had recently returned from London. I introduced myself hoping to build a friendship based on our common experience yet it appeared upon every interaction things were getting worse. I had study hall with him as well, so I asked my teacher as many times as I could if I he would allow me to go to the library. It was the best solution I could think of as he and other students would team up to pester me, insult me and hit me with various objects (erasers, books, chalk and all kinds of wonderful projectiles) as the teacher frequently left us alone in his classroom. I guess he figured the “studying” would flourish if we were unsupervised. I feared that study hall period but never spoke to my parents, my teachers or anyone about this issue. I did not want to be seen as a snitch or someone who could not handle his own business. I figured that weakness could result in worse treatment and I remember that by the first month, all I prayed for was for our posting to get cut short. I adopted different crisis management techniques if I was forced to stay in that classroom, such as being quiet and pretending I was alone, politely asking him and others to cease and desist, but nothing ever seemed to work. I remember once asking Rafael to leave me alone and as a result, he took a chalk board eraser in his fist and smacked me on the back of the head. I had no idea what to do from there.
To add insult to injury, after Physical Education, Lucho and I would run together to our Algebra class across the campus hoping to make it there before the next bell would ring indicating the beginning of the next class. Otherwise, we would be subject to a warning. After three tardies, a detention would ensue, and who wanted to spend precious after-school time in school? One day, Lucho and I arrived late and our teacher, Mr. Brenig asked us to mark ourselves off as “tardy” on the board at the entrance of his classroom. I was through the door first and as I searched for a pen to write my name on the list, Lucho kept after me to pass him a pen. I remember telling him after his continuous insistence that I would lend him my pen as soon as I was finished with it. After all, it made sense to me since I was first in line. I learned soon afterwards that he was not in complete agreement about that procedure. During the rest of this semester and the next, Lucho, Rafael and other guys from P.E. used me for target practice. If I ever walked past them, they blasted soccer balls trying to hit me and taunted me in the hallways trying to trip and push me. “Welcome to Peru!” I would tell myself. I wondered how in God’s name could I become public enemy number 1 for telling someone to hold on before I hooked him up with a pen. All of this was ridiculous to me. Subsequently, they did everything to ensure I would have a hard time settling in to my new environment. They once stole my school uniform from the gym locker while wearing my sporting clothes and I had to spend the remainder of the day in sweaty clothes. I went to see Mr. Weinrich about this and of course he was in shock as this type of behaviour never occurred in his school. I began to think that the orientation session I had gone to leading me to pick this school was a greatly prefabricated public image campaign to brainwash parents into believing the students were future leaders and outstanding citizens.
|John Rambo was taken away from peace and serenity when called upon|
It was true that no one else had gone out of his or her way to treat me badly. Nonetheless, it was my first look into the world of bullying and how horrible someone can feel as a victim. I reacted negatively, closing myself off to the rest of the Peruvian students, feeling they were all against me. Perhaps this was true, perhaps not. My first year, although I began making good friends – I will delve further into this in the next posts, you can be sure of that – this treatment made me feel like a complete outcast making me want to board a plane bound for Ottawa and taking refuge back in my old school where I could be among friends. However, retribution can always come in unexpected and mysterious ways. Perhaps it is better to say, what goes around comes around. Near the end of the first year of school, we were playing soccer in P.E. and of course, all the bullies seemed to be playing against me even if they were in my team. Rafael kept making runs where he would charge me and push me, while he laughed as I hit the deck. After several weeks of this, I lost my cool, charged at him like a freight train, kicked the ball with all the possible gathered momentum and, by pure divine intervention, caught his foot as I went for the ball. Upon making contact, I clipped him off his feet, forcing him into an aerial somersault leading him to land on the floor breaking his ankle. This was completely unintended. I pretended I had gone for a legal challenge and kept moving. As a consequence, he wore a cast for the rest of the semester and the others backed off for the rest of my existence in this school. Both of them has apologized to me - which I was quite surprised - for their nasty treatment at the end of the school year. I earned respect through a total fluke and became untouchable.