Thus began the most miserable year of my life. In my ignorance, I was fine. I would insult my comrades, get into fights, avoid shame, have trouble with grades sometimes, but all was well. No guilt, no remorse, and, frankly, little memory of what did happen. After I entered eighth grade, all that changed.
One thing that changed is a foreign student from
that moved into our
house. While the drama of our house
probably should have revolved around the fact that it was 1978-9, revolution
was in full force in Iran
and the student was a relative (albeit distant) of the Shah, that didn’t matter
to a twelve or thirteen year old. That’s
the kind of stuff you’d see on TV news, which was one of the few programs I
wouldn’t watch. Bijan’s importance to me
rested more in his stack of pornography and disco albums. Visual and audio sex filled my life,
suddenly, and it was a force that flooded my mind like a tsunami over a small
island. Not that Bijan’s influence began
my thinking about sex—hormones took care of that, like it or not. But the fleeting thoughts were chiseled into
my brain as if it were granite. (For
those deeply concerned, I repented of disco music by the time I was out of high
school. Oh, yeah, pornography too.) Iran
At the same time, in school, I was having my first real taste of oppression. Joe at school was in my English class and he seemed to take no end of pleasure and have unfathomable creativity in tormenting me. It wasn’t anything serious—hitting me behind a wall, mocking when the teacher wasn’t looking. But it was physical and shaming and persistent. When I wasn’t thinking about sex, I spent time thinking about how I could finally get even with Joe. But I didn’t see any real results without a direct confrontation. I did, at one point, ask him why he was tormenting me, and he gave me some nonsensical mocking answer. Looking back, I guess he considered me nerdish. Typical eighth grader stuff. But he wouldn’t stop, although I asked. And I hated him. I didn’t want to kill him, mind you. But if I could ship him to
in the nude, that would be great.
On my thirteenth birthday, Bijan thought it right and proper to give me a gift. There was no ceremony behind it, he just called me into his room and handed it to me. It was a pocketknife. The outside was brown and plastic, but discolored and shaped so it might resemble some kind of alien wood. It had two blades, both somewhat worn, but one was perhaps three inches. To my thinking at the time, that was huge. It could barely fit it into my pocket. And it was sharp. I discovered this by closing the blade on my thumb and it bled so much it was difficult to hide it from my mom.
The thought of this larger blade grew in my mind. This gift could be Useful. Over time, I realized that this was the solution to my problem with Joe. Once he realized that I was a Threat, he’d back off, and I’d never be bothered again. Then there would be peace, and I could actually be Important. The King of the class.
As soon as my nerve was built up, I took the knife to school, and I constantly fingered it in my pocket anytime I stood. It was there, it was sharp and hidden, I was a danger to others, I was safe, no one would bother me again. As English came near, I became more nervous, as the reality of actually using the blade came nigh. How would I show it to him? What if Joe attacked me? Would I actually have to use it? What if I stabbed him? What if an ambulance came to the school and everyone would know that I had attacked him? Well, I figured, then people would know how serious I was. I didn’t want to be bullied anymore.
I shivered a bit entering the English room. Maybe he just wouldn’t bug me today. That would be best. He didn’t actually torment me every day. Perhaps he’d take a day off. This would be a good day. No such luck, of course. He met me in the back of the room and whispered the tortures he had imagined against me that day, that he intended to subject me to after school. Anger flushed my face. This was it. No more. I thrust my hand in my pocket and took out the knife. I slowly unsheathed it (attempting to be threatening, like in the movies, but I suspect it just highlighted my inexperience with knives) and pointed it at him. “I… I don’t want you to talk to me again. Just don’t bother me.”
Joe really was intelligent. Yes, I had him in a corner, nowhere to go, with a knife pointed at him and a frightened, desperate enemy holding to it with dear life. His solution to the danger to his life and limb was simple, but brilliant. At least I hadn’t thought of it, in all the planning I had made of this moment. “Mrs. Holly!” he cried. “Mrs. Holly! Steve’s pulled a knife on me!” Yes, there are drawbacks to making seriously threatening actions in a supervised classroom. Not exactly a school shooting.
I broke down and cried. What I thought would be the solution to my shame, only poured greater shame on me than I had experienced before. Now I was “Steve—knife-puller and cry-baby”, and so I would be known for the rest of my life. If I could face the world without a paper bag, I would be lucky. Of course, my parents were called. Of course, I was given a “serious talking to”. But my direct remorse and the story I poured out afterwards garnered me a bit of sympathy. School shootings were not yet common, so I was not suspended. Joe and I were kept from each other in the classroom, and we avoided each other out of the classroom.