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A Tale of Self-Worth + Being 13.

My alarm went off around six in the morning. (And by alarm, I mean my mother knocked on the door and woke me up for school because cell phones weren’t around back then and I sure as hell didn’t own an alarm clock!) (I did, for some reason, have a pager despite the fact I was not a teenage drug dealer or teenage doctor.)

My favorite Hot Topic graphic t-shirt and Mudd jeans were laid out on the bed. My white eyeliner was not so precisely lining my eyes. My hair was ironed down with an actual iron and a double pair of winter gloves. I was a teenager now, I was becoming a young woman, I had waited for so long to be a grown up.

And I was ready as FUCK for the 8th grade.

Mostly, I was excited because I hadn’t seen my crush since the final day of 7th grade, when he kissed me on the cheek before we left school. It took everything I had not to put a piece of plastic over my cheek while I showered so the kiss stayed there forever. He was one of my very good friends. He was, without a doubt, my biggest crush of all time.

So you can imagine my horror when we were not placed in the same class. Life was so much simpler in 7th grade when we sat across from each other and I got to stare into his deep green eyes and imagine running my hands through his mushroom hair cut!

After a week or two of misery, I decided to take matters into my own hand and did what any normal kid would do… I cried to my dad that I hated my class and abused his friendship with the Superintendent and got my class switched to the one I wanted.

The one with my crush in it.

Also the one, unbeknownst to me at the time, with a teacher who would come to totally despise me.

This teacher was a disgruntled older man from the greater Lowell area in Massachusetts. I was a 13-year-old girl going through puberty and just learning she was kind of funny.  I was also spoiled (i.e. my dad getting me switched to the class I wanted instead of teaching me a lesson and telling me to tough it out and learn it would be eventually be fine) and had a slight attitude problem.

He was our homeroom teacher and he taught history.  We learned about the revolutionary war with him, although I’m pretty sure his lesson plan was just the movie The Patriot. He got all riled up about history and when people misbehaved, or answered questions incorrectly, he’d lose his temper.

Now, because I was young, naive and kind of a dick – I thought this was a little bit hilarious. Why was this man constantly so angry at a group of newly minted teenagers? Why did he feel the need to get so aggressive with us?

So… I pushed his buttons. A lot.

I’d snap right back at him. I’d give him attitude when he gave us attitude. I’d laugh at him when he was out of line. And one day, I was bored during his class and picked up a piece of chalk and started writing my name on the chalkboard. I was being completely disrespectful, of course, but that was the last straw. He stopped his lesson, raced towards me and forcefully grabbed me by the wrist. He took the chalk out of my hand, threw it on the ground and slammed my arm down on the desk.

I stared back in complete shock and the entire classroom went quiet. My arm throbbed with pain as it hit the hard surface of the desk.

I started to cry but I couldn’t muster any words. I had never been physically abused before. Verbally and emotionally – plenty of times! But I had never been physically hit by another human being who was angry at me. I knew he did something wrong, but all I felt was shame. I did this. This was my fault. I deserved this.

He looked at me and he said, “You are an ungrateful little brat, you know that? I’m the luckiest man in the world because you are not my daughter.”

I didn’t know what to say or do. I just froze. I felt stupid, I felt embarrassed, I felt ashamed, I felt disgusted, I felt confused, I felt sorry.  The class continued while I sat there in disbelief, completely mortified.

The bell eventually rang, we moved on to the next class and in the hallways, everyone told me how sorry they were for me and how angry they were at him. It felt great to be supported by my classmates. This was a time when people stopped being nice to each other just because and hormones were raging. This was a time when other classmates were continuously mocked for being gay. This was a time when the biggest rumor at school was about a girl losing her virginity and getting blood all over the sheets and how disgusting it was.

But in that moment, we all knew what was right and what was wrong. Getting abused by my older, male teacher in front of all my classmates, no matter how rude I was being, was completely wrong.

I was called out of my next class and asked to go to the principal’s office. I honestly thought I was going to be in so much trouble, so I shook with nerves as I walked towards the office. When I got there, the principal stared back at me and politely asked me to take a seat.

“So what happened, Patricia?”

As I told him, I apologized profusely for my behavior until he cut me off.

“I don’t care WHAT you were doing, this is not your fault.”

I was taken aback. How was this not my fault?

Although I was only 13, that day taught me a whole lot about the affect men can have on a lady’s self-worth.

I will never forget how completely worthless he made me feel. And then how comforted I was by an authority figure who respected me, despite my wrongdoings and bad attitude, because I was worthy of respect regardless.

I’ve become close with many men in my life since then. Some have been kind, some have been loving, some have been emotionally repressed, some have been withholding, some have been explosive, some have been fucking great.  Through it all, I’ve always done my best to remember that I am worthy of being loved and respected, and if it’s not what is happening, then that’s not my fault.

It’s not my fault if someone doesn’t love me. It’s not my fault if someone treats me poorly. How other people feel or act towards me is not my fault. They may not be interested in, or be completely offended by, certain parts of me… but that sure as hell is not my fault.

A lot has changed since I was 13, mostly in the chest and glasses prescription areas. But I’ll always remember that first day of 8th grade and how excited I was to see a cute boy and grow up. Who would have thought growing up would be so completely exhausting and full of heartbreak and really annoying life lessons? 

That being said, I think I’ve done my best throughout these years of becoming a full-fledged adult to maintain my sense of self-worth and surround myself with people who cheer me on and constantly remind me that I matter.

Even though I can be a little mouthy sometimes. Just a little.

 

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