Tracey Riehl and
KJ Hannah Greenburg

Tracey Riehl
“Survive and Thrive”
Response

Not Noticed
By KJ Hannah Greenberg
Inspiration piece

It’s funny how miseries go unnoticed by authorities. Such was the case when my family moved and I had to enroll in a new junior high.

On what proved to be for me an inauspicious morning, at eight o’clock, when the school’s late bell rang, I dragged my feet to the building’s front doors. They were possessed of cracked glass panes.

I stood in front of those splintering bits and noticed both that they were crowned with a sort of wire mesh and that they were buckled. Moreover, their distorted nature was as nothing compared to the twisted fence, through which I had had to pass to access the school’s property. Those apertures were unwelcoming.

As I entered, I nodded at the mostly red and blue graffiti titivating the doors and pretended that the doors were not whispering to me. In fact, they were telling me where, on the school campus, drug deals were occurring, and they were hinting at where, also on the campus, members of the study body were getting familiar with other student bodies. I wished I could have regarded them as merely old and well-used, somewhat unhinged egresses, but their facility with language spooked me.

No matter, once I went inside, they were behind me. I made a sharp right-hand turn and descended a wooden staircase. I had never stepped on a flight made from that material. The treads noised as I climbed down.

On either side of those planks were yet more carvings and yet more graffiti. Romantic engravings constituted the majority of those cuttings. The school’s mascot, as well as obscene anatomical illustrations, profane symbols, anonymous others’ phone numbers, and a few actually beautiful designs, too, appeared there. In fact, the entire surface of that stairwell was filled with many marks.

Later, I’d come to appreciate those depictions, especially the botanical ones since no blade or leaf was permitted in the school. Like peanut butter, living green things were strictly forbidden. They were not proscribed because of students’ allergies, though, but as a measure meant to prevent additional staff embarrassments; it was said that an ambitious student had successfully presented her science teacher with a marijuana plant and had claimed it was a marigold.

During that first day, though, neither lore nor regulations concerned me. I was more anxious about what might lurch at me as I dragged myself down fifty stairs than I was with the school’s history. Fortunately, other than dust bunnies, I found nothing; I arrived at the basement unscathed.

It was rough to be the new kid and to have to prove myself to fit in. I hadn’t wanted to venture to the dark depths of the school building. In balance, I had wanted to spend that entire year friendless.

As I got lower into the bowels of that building, I questioned whether or not my new “friends’” parents knew about the frightening dare their kids had issued to me. I doubted they would have cared. Most moms and dads paid for lunches, bought fancy school togs, hired tutors to help with homework, but otherwise didn’t get involved in their children’s lives. Such adults wouldn’t notice if a new kid got stabbed or raped.

I shuddered anew. I could be buried alive and no one would care. In my old school, there had been no such rites of passage. There, I had been an active member of the Math Squad and the vice president of our chapter of Mixture, the interscholastic quiz program focusing on science, literature, and fine arts. I was the probable representative of our school for the Mixture state championship, too, until I had to move.

At the bottom of the staircase, I sat and faced the basement’s empty corridor. I was supposed to remain there until the second period bell rang. Something scurried in the dark distance. I climbed a single stair higher. I was afraid of vermin. Long minutes passed. A cockroach, which looked to me to be the size of a potato, ran across the hall. I screamed and then ran up all of the stairs.

I wanted my old band class. I wanted my former Language Arts multiple-choice quizzes. I wanted my old friends. I wanted out.

Indifferent to the slowly moving groups of students gossiping in the foyer, I ran through them and through the school’s whispering doors. No amount of expulsions could force me back into that building.

My parents got angry. They not only refused to validate my feelings, but they insisted on escorting me back to school. Complaining all the while that he was going to be late for his new job, my father drove me to that dreaded building and then ushered me to its front office. In route, he grumbled about how nicely my little sister had settled into her elementary school.

It wasn’t until after I had gotten married, more than fifteen years later, that I ever again confided in my parents. I did my part in maintaining the household, was gracious for their efforts to feed, clothe and otherwise raise me, but never said another mote about peer problems or about self-esteem issues to them.

Nonetheless, they regarded me as their golden child, as the one who they counted on to earn good grades and then an academic scholarship to an important college. A few years later, that the young man destined to be my husband, too, was “accomplished” was, by them, taken for granted.

A few years into my marriage, at a family-hosted Fourth of July picnic, at which I lugged a swelling belly, I had my first outburst. Hubby thought it was hormones. Sis attributed my hot words to the summer heat. Only I appreciated that, at long last, I was trying to break a cycle. With my belly undulating beneath my shirt, I appreciated, additionally, that I had little time in which to do so.

Hearing me, Mom and Dad looked at each other in a funny way and then took salad out of our cooler. Neither parent would ever care about the authentic me, in general, nor about the dark hallway from which I had suffered on my first day at the new junior high, specifically.

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One Comment

  1. annmarie
    Posted June 7, 2016 at 8:40 pm | #

    I love the way I can feel this story and the way the image feels like exactly the right accompaniment.

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