Tossing Duke

Seventh grade was one of the worst years of my life.  I was a short, chubby girl who wore the wrong clothes, and went to a harsh middle school in the ghetto.  McNichol Middle School was hectic, to say the least. There was always a fight, and I was beaten-up twice during my two-year stint.  I didn’t fit in to any of the cliques.  I wasn’t tough enough to be a gangbanger.  I threw up when I tried to smoke, so I couldn’t be a burn out.  I lacked the designer clothes, decent house, and new car required to be a preppie.  Yes, there were preppies at that horrible school.  So, I spent a lot of time being afraid of everything and everyone.  I hated life that year.

The teachers and administrators were severe, as well.  During my seventh grade year, a new rule was created to help reduce tardiness.  If students were late to class, the teacher was to send them to the office to “get a pass.”  Getting a pass included a spanking.  In 1983, the principal could still hit you.  So, one day, after lunch, I had to stop by the bathroom. I took a little longer than the five-minute passing period allowed, and I made it to English class about a minute late. Mrs. Williams (I think that was her name.) would not let me in.  She sent me to the office for a pass.

I walked to the office like I was walking to an execution.  My stomach hurt, and I felt like I could vomit.  I suspected what would happen, but I wasn’t quite sure if my peers had been making it up. I couldn’t imagine being hit for being a minute late.  So, when the assistant principal called me in to his office, and had me bend over the desk, I was surprised. He hit me three times, and my pink-threaded Jordache jeans, my only designer pair, did nothing to protect me from the sting.  I held in my tears, and slowly walked to Mrs. William’s class with my pass. I was never late again.

Some time after that, maybe a week or so, I was called out of class to go to the guidance office.  I was immediately frightened.  I assumed that I was in trouble even though I really couldn’t think of what I had done.  There were three other kids in the office when I got there.  The guidance counselor brought us into her office and closed the door.  Holy hell! I didn’t even really know these kids.  I knew of them, but I didn’t really talk to them.  How could I possibly have gotten in trouble with them? I sat down on a small wooden chair and waited for the guidance counselor to speak to us.

She started talking about college, Duke University to be exact.  She explained that Duke University was a pretty big deal in the college world.  Really, until then, I hadn’t really thought about college. I just wanted to make it to high school.  I was sitting there wondering why she chose to talk to us, me and these random kids, about Duke University.  

Ms. Guidance Counselor Lady (not her name, as far as I know) told us that we had been chosen to take the SAT for Duke’s annual talent search.  When she said SAT, I thought of the CAT (California Achievement Test) that we took every year.  I kind of liked taking tests like that because we didn’t have to do school work, everyone was quiet, and we got to have a snack.  Did I mention that I liked to eat? So, she clarified that the SAT wasn’t the same as the CAT. We wouldn’t be taking the test during school time, but on the weekend, at a high school.  She sent us home with informational packets for our parents.

My mom was thrilled.  She explained that if I did well on this test, I could maybe go to the Duke place for free.  I wasn’t exactly sure where Duke was, but I knew it was far away. I also knew that this test seemed really important, and I wasn’t sure if I was smart enough to take it.  

My mom and I sat at the kitchen table in our two-bedroom duplex, and we filled out little bubbles on the application sheet.  Then, we put everything in an envelope and sent it off to Duke. Once Duke received the application sheet, they would send us the date and time for when I could take the test.  In the meantime, I was supposed to look at the sample test and try to prepare to take the SAT thing in a few weeks.

I immediately started dwelling on what would happen if I failed the test.  How could anyone possibly think that I was good enough to take the SAT at 12?  I wasn’t smart.  I wasn’t good enough to have a normal family, or house, or friends or anything.  These people obviously didn’t understand what a loser I was.  There was no way that I could take this test.  No way.

So, I got the mail one day, after school, like I always did.  I got home a couple of hours before my mom, which meant that I got the mail and put it on the table for her to look at when she got home from work.  I saw the envelope from the college board, and I felt sick.  There was no way that I could pass this test, and when I failed it my mom was going to be really mad at me.  I just knew that I couldn’t take it.  So, I took the envelope around to the back of the duplex, and I walked down the alley behind our backyard, and I threw it in a dumpster.  There, problem solved.  My stomach stopped hurting. 


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