My Beloved Daughter,
Starting high school back in Van Buren, MO, was more of a shock that you would expect. I had left in the third grade and was returning in the ninth. People I’d known before had changed significantly during my absence. Aside from physically maturing, they had formed their cliques.
And I, having been away, was not included in them.
The ridicule started almost immediately. I had gained quite a bit of weight during my tenure in Campbell. Plenty of afternoon cartoons—along with a certain teacher who overloaded us with homework—took away my outside time. Over my time there, I grew to hate being outside.
And my gut expanded.
The friends that I’d left when I moved away were no longer my friends when I had returned. They had become the popular kids, athletes and class clowns. And, like most of the popular kids that you’ll find in school, they kept themselves popular by putting down those who weren’t popular. I hated going to school and would often fake being sick to keep from having to go.
There were exceptions, of course. Some kids seemed to be above that game. Two guys in particular, Bryan Hawkins and Joseph Markham, were friendly to those of us who were less than popular and didn’t seem to care who noticed. I’d trade NES games with Bryan, who was a preacher’s kid. Joseph often went out of his way to stop the ridicule that I would get.
There was Candy Adams, a pretty girl who was on the drill team (I think), who was kind to pretty much everybody. I kept in touch with her after high school and we carpooled to college when were both going to Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff.
And there was your Uncle Evan. Moving to Van Buren from Alaska in January of 1990, he sat next to me in English. I can remember seeing him draw a map one day and asking him about it. Lo and behold, we both played Dungeons & Dragons! He and I struck up a friendship that has lasted for nearly thirty years.
My cousin Mark married Mary Clardy that very same year. Her brothers and sister became long-term friends of mine and we’d all play D&D and video games together.
And this was all just my freshman year. Also, during that year, I had Speech (I think it’s called Public Speaking now) and English with Tim Hager that year. Aside from his encouragement in my writing, he also played a major role in me leaving the liberal mindset behind for the more practical (in my not-so-humble opinion) conservative point of view.
I grew to adore our school librarian, Mrs. McDowell. She had been there when I started Kindergarten and was there when I graduated from High School. She even wrote a college recommendation letter when I was thinking of going to College of the Ozarks and needed two teachers to recommend me to them.
There was Mr. Freeman, the science teacher and one of the most intelligent men I have still ever met. He complimented me on being a hard worker and became one of my favorites from that point on.
Despite all of these positives, I still hated going to school and putting myself in the midst of those who took pleasure in putting me down. But my grades suffered and I got my first failing mark that year. So I decided to go into my sophomore year with a new attitude. I resolved to lose weight that summer (not having more than two channels in the outskirts of Van Buren made that much easier than I had thought that it would be). And, while the ridicule of my peers had made me dread going to school, I went into the summer resolved to begin the following year fresh, only missing school if I was truly sick. And I followed through on that resolution. How did I manage to change my attitude about school for the next year?
I made more friends.