78: My Worst Day Ever

78: My Worst Day Ever

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

My Worst Day Ever

Sometimes the littlest things in life are the hardest to take. You can sit on a mountain more comfortably than on a tack.

~Author Unknown

The worst day of my life fell on a Wednesday. It was early November, and my father and stepmother, both of whom I considered wicked, had uprooted me yet again and moved me from a nice small town to Madison, Wisconsin. This was the seventh home I had lived in since my birth and the third move that had taken place in the middle of a school year.

I slept fitfully in my new room and was awoken at 4 A.M. when someone began pounding on our front door and leaning on the doorbell. This is exactly what I feared about moving to the big city—vandals waking us in the dead of night to steal and plunder. I crouched on the floor in front of my bed, covered all but my eyes with a blanket, and held my ten-pound Cairn Terrier out in front of me. I don’t know what I expected Dusty, my Toto look-alike, to do in the event of an actual emergency but she was my only friend now and therefore sworn to serve and protect.

It wasn’t a burglar—they seldom knock. Our phone hadn’t been installed yet so my aunt had driven to our house with the news that my grandfather had been hospitalized with another heart attack. My father rushed to his bedside while I lay awake praying for my grandpa and dreading further the day that was to come: the day when I would have to face another first day at another new school.

It came, as unwanted as it was, with sunshine and balmy temperatures even though a storm raged inside me. My grandpa was stable and my dad was home in time to deliver me to my first day at Schenk Middle School.

I had always been a good student, but jumping into the middle of the eighth grade year made me feel like I didn’t know anything. I was behind in some subjects, ahead in others and just plain lost in one. I collected my books from each new teacher and cowered in the back of each new classroom so I could tune out the lesson and let my mind drift to what my best friend, Sheryl, and I would be doing if I hadn’t been thrust into this place.

Lunch came and I seated myself at the end of a table, removed from the other kids who were already entrenched in their own groups of friends. I was extremely uncomfortable with myself in eighth grade (isn’t everyone?) and tried to avoid eye contact with the stream of students around me. My discomfort was due in part to the fact that, when my parents divorced, I lived with my dad while my brother lived with our mom. I knew all about baking a TV dinner for thirty minutes at 350 degrees with the dessert and potato uncovered, but I was uneducated in the world of styling products, curling irons, tweezers and other female rituals.

Someone from the other end of the table decided I was due some attention. “Hey, you new here?”

I reluctantly answered, “Yes.” My eyes never left my ham sandwich.

“Well, go back where you came from.” The girls all laughed and congratulated themselves on their great wit.

I prayed for a miracle to send me back home where I had friends. Friends who had stood at the back door of my last school and waved goodbye to me on my last day.

Suddenly, a wad of chewed bread hit the side of my face. The rest of the table found this hilarious and joined in the fun. By the time the lunch monitor stopped them, my long brown hair was littered with peas, bread, butter, and peaches, and my face was traced with silent tears.

We were sent, all four of us, to the principal—my first and last visit to a principal. I don’t remember his name but he was dark and scary and seemed angry with me, as if I were a new troublemaker he had unwittingly admitted into his school. He read us the riot act for having a food fight and then asked for phone numbers so he could call our parents. I still didn’t have a phone and therefore didn’t know my phone number. My assailants laughed at my admission that this thirteen-year-old didn’t know her phone number and the grand guardian of the school just sat back and let them.

When the day finally ended, I had to pay for a public bus to take me to my general neighborhood. Struggling with my new key, I let myself into the unfamiliar house, where Dusty met me at the door wagging her whole body. I smiled at her and gave her a hug, thankful that someone still loved me and needed me. We made peanut butter crackers and I told her all about my horrible day. She agreed with everything I said, as canine friends do, and comforted me just by being there to listen.

When my parents returned home some hours later, I was immediately reprimanded for my trip to the principal. I didn’t bother trying to explain. It was bad enough I had lived it; I didn’t care to relive it with my parents. I begged to be home-schooled but my parents declined. They thought my school was wonderful. I sulked over my chicken dinner and hoped for any sign of leprosy or whooping cough that would keep me out of school. Dusty benefited from my lack of appetite.

As the evening wore on, I noticed that something was wrong with my little dog. She was panting and coughing constantly, and seemed to have trouble catching her breath. I sat with her through the night as she continued to gasp. I dreaded leaving her the next morning, but my stepmother said she would take Dusty to the vet. I couldn’t focus on school and rushed home to check on my canine companion. Dusty didn’t meet me at the door. A chicken bone had splintered off from her chicken dinner and punctured her heart and lung. She died at the vet’s office.

A 4 A.M. heart attack, a noon food fight, and a dinnertime decision that killed my only friend within one hundred miles. The worst day of my life.

I wish I could say that was my only bad day and suddenly the kids liked me, but that’s not what happened. Although I stepped out of my shell and tried to earn some respect by singing in the middle school talent show, it only backfired when my voice cracked and I was taunted for the rest of the school year. After, I wouldn’t participate in the grade-level science fair, I squeaked by with a C in English, and I actually faked the measles for two weeks by scratching and holding the thermometer up to a light bulb. All so that I could stay home and have some relief from the horror of eighth grade.

Middle school was filled with bad days, but then a miracle happened. A miracle called high school. A miracle where students from three other area middle schools were poured into a several-thousand-member student body and were all suddenly small fish in a large pond. A pond where there was room to grow and stretch and swim with fish who like you and swim away from those who don’t.

I met my best friends in high school and still talk to some of them regularly. I discovered that my voice was worth something and that the high school director had taken notice of my eighth grade solo. I was promoted to advanced English and science after my freshman year.

To this day, I try to glean some good from those days at Schenk Middle School, but I can’t. I was hurt and friendless, but I did survive. I think that is the main goal of middle school: survival. If you can tolerate the evils of eighth grade and come out the other side scarred but alive, you have succeeded. So I charge you, whoever you are reading this, to survive! And if you have a chance to put an arm around the awkward new girl, then please do so for me. By lending a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen, you may turn the worst day of her life into the best, simply because she met you.

~Becky Tidberg

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