It was my first day of seventh grade at Clifton Middle School and this was the year everything would change.
No longer the lowest rung on the totem pole, yet still not the top, this transitional year was when I hoped I would outgrow my female classmates (Are you there, God? It’s me, Ryan) and become the less effeminate, totally more masculine young man society wanted me to become.
Ok, well, maybe neither of those things would come true that year, but at the very least, I deserved nothing more than to receive a class schedule I loved. To be in the same classes with my BFFs meant everything to me. The year was 1993 which was pre-text, pre-email, pre-cell, pre-Idol, pre-ejaculation and to be away from your friends was to be away from your lifeline.
That morning, in my home room chair, as I eagerly awaited my class schedule, I said one last prayer. I’m sure it went something like: Dear God, All I really want is to be with my besties, so we can braid each other’s hair and chat about Nancy vs. Tanya and who is dating whom. If you can make that happen, rad. If not, I might die.
And then everything in my small, little world came crumbling down when that piece of paper reached my desk and I saw a name no seventh grader wanted to see on his schedule. Just the sight of her name and instant Devastation Nation. Straight up shock and awe.
Her name was Mrs. Higley, the notoriously strict Language Arts teacher. It was believed she was reserved for students who misbehaved, needed extra guidance, and tested the boundaries of the rules. She was old school, hardcore, no questions asked, whoop your “Little House on the Prairie” ass right to the principal’s office.
Truth be told, she scared the shit out of me.
So after home room I made the long walk to her classroom and sat in my seat. Stoic and silent, I waited for attendance to be taken and hoped my name wouldn’t be called so everyone would realize I was misplaced. (Why are you in here, Ryan?) It was then I would be whisked to the correct teacher’s room where I would exist happily ever after in seventh grade heaven.
But that didn’t happen on the first day of school. Nor did it happen on the second day, or the third, fourth or fifth day. And though I held to that hope, my dream faded with each passing week, until I realized I wasn’t going anywhere. She was my teacher. This was my life.
Years and years, and countless teachers, professors and instructors later, I still remember Mrs. Higley as one of the fiercest teachers to enter my life. I’m not sure why I remember her presence so clearly and vividly or why this day is one I’ll never forget.
Probably because it was a day I came out of my comfort zone, forced to make new friends who became new pillars of support. Back then, as a young, naïve boy, my friends were the only thing keeping me safe from the bullies and the peer pressure of growing up.
Those friends kept me sane and made me me.