There would be no dressing up or carrying a briefcase with me on my first day of school in this new city in the valley, surrounded with forestry mills, and their beehive burners, spewing out blackened sawdust that rained upon its inhabitants every night, giving you something to brush off your vehicle every morning. I was not looking to reinvent myself in this new place for I was quite happy with who I was in that mountain top village. Instead, I woke up, broken, defeated, and very much alone once again.
This new city was also broken, defeated, and very much a lonely place. Known, perhaps for being not much more than a pee stop along the interior’s major highway network I have spoken to many people over the years who have claimed to have ‘been’ there but later confessing to a quick stop for a coffee or simply, and more common, just passing by the city at full highway speeds.
The city had two controlled intersections, meaning only two of the intersections in the city had lights controlling the traffic. The rest were four-way stops. Several of the buildings in the downtown core were empty, standing as a bleak reminder of the fruitlessness of it all. To this day a couple of decades later, this has not changed very much, only the location of those empty storefronts.
It seemed appropriate then to see a sagebrush blowing across the road on my way to school that morning.
My first class of the day in this new school, and by new I mean to me because the school itself was built back when asbestos was a popular building material and health benefits be damned, was English. This school had not yet embraced the semester system of schooling and instead was continuing with the old antiquated system of wasting everyone’s time by dragging out course content for the full ten months of the year. What this meant for me was for some of my courses I had already completed everything that they were still learning and for other courses I had not done one thing while they were finishing off the content requirements.
It had come as no surprise to me over the years to read reports of how this school and in fact the district perpetually pulled the bottom place for academic scoring as compared to all the other districts in the province. What did surprise me was that year after year the school district worked very hard to discount and minimize those scores. The drop out rate was one of the highest in the province as well, and that was just for teachers…
Walking into this first classroom of the day was like stepping back forty years. It was an colored an institutional grey, with fading yellow florescent lighting clinging to the ceiling beneath heavily grated covers. The two windows along the brick wall were faded and covered with years of neglect and despair. The desks were borrowed from world war two and never returned.
I squeezed myself into this institutional onesie, sitting at the front of the class. Next to me sat a guy who looked like he was thirty and couldn’t really decide what he wanted to do with his life. He was dressed head to toe in leather, accentuated by leather bracelets that had one inch studs embedded on them.
The beginning of the class started but no teacher was present. After a few minutes an elderly man shuffled his way into the classroom. He looked like he weighed 100 lbs but so fragile that if I attempted to lift him up he would crumble like a sand castle. He had a jagged little face with a permanently scoured look behind his thick-rimmed glasses. It was hard not to notice the very large protruding hearing apparatus that he had strung over both of his ears.
And he began.
Actually they both began. This studded classmate and the teacher. Walking down what seemed like a familiar path. It unfolded like a well-worn comedy routine. The teacher began to talk and ask questions. My classmate began to mouth the answers. The teacher, believing that something had gone wrong with his hearing aid, then turned up the volume. My classmate continued to mouth his answers until the volume maxed out and the effect would be felt the most.
After those hijinks subsided my classmate pulled out a six-inch blade and began picking at the studs on his bracelet. Clearly he was not challenged academically enough for this could not be the behavior of someone desperate to finally make it out of grade ten English. And yet, there he was glimmering blade in hand, the only real light in the room, expertly handled as he picked and picked and picked, until the teacher couldn’t handle it anymore.
“I have told you before to not have your knife in the classroom”.
Clearly a new record had been set with how long my classmate could pick at his bracelet for he had a big grin on his face. And so, the teacher, now thoroughly upset, shuffled over to this mammoth, insisting that he come with the teacher to the principal’s office – a familiar dance for the both of them for sure.
And I sat there. The class was now over and it had not even began. This whole routine began the moment the teacher walked into the class and lasted for no more than ten minutes and then they were both gone. The teacher didn’t return that day and the rest of my classmates seemed to take it all in stride. The bell rang and I pulled myself free of this metal cage and shuffled out the door to the next classroom down the hall.
Where the hell was I and how long was this going to last?