Just call me Dog Boy. This was the nickname given me by the upper classmen following my brief stint at high school. Although, as an eleven year old high-schooler, what’d my parents expect?
I have always understood that kids with good grades get rewarded. But, being the strict disciples my parents were of Pavlov and his cynical law of negative reinforcement, I guess they decided to punish me instead.
Shortly after Labor Day, Mom and Dad saw it best (“good parenting”, I suppose) to bump me up some grades and enroll me as a freshman in high school. To put it simply, God blessed me with superior intelligence. At the age of six months I learned my shapes and colors; at one, I passed the time in my pack-and-play by multiplying and dividing fractions in my head; and at two, it wasn’t unusual to find me in the corner of the nursery, amidst a rowdy bunch of kids, with The Collective Works of William Shakespeare in hand.
I was smart; they were proud. I soon grew weary of hearing “in the long run.” “It will be best in the long run,” said Mr. Wheatly, head of the program for gifted students at Paul Revere Elementary, his bright eyes, bearing down on me, no, seeing through me, at my brain, admiring a reflection of what he liked to call his workmanship.
“In the long run,” said my parents to me one night - late for a school night - in my cube of a bedroom where I lay sniffing and sobbing into my Transformers pillow case, helplessly at the mercy of their parenting whims. Afterwards, through the walls, I lay awake listening to them arguing about which side of the family my smarts came from. Two days later, following parent-teacher conference, I was yanked from my fifth-grade classroom - forever.
Supposedly no one thought it necessary to point out all the social issues I would undoubtedly develop because of this later in life. I could picture myself clearly: a bent gray, old, scraggly bearded man living in the foothills of West Virginia. An intelligent lunatic, alone in a dusty, dank cabin, some threads of sunlight poking through, conversing with myself, addressing myself as “We” – that’s how I saw it, plainly and simply, my path laid out hopelessly before me.
It took me only the first day of high school to realize that I hated it. In home room, Travis Dotson, an inveterate hoodlum, who was very hairy, I knew, even for his age, sat in the desk behind me. His last name started with “D” as did mine – Donaldson – so our desks would be forever glued together. His hairy legs and tube socks stuffed in boots sprawled out past my desk chair. Then, without warning, they vanished from the corner of my eye, and a fast sting, like a snake bite, tore through my left ear.
I dared not turn around. I didn’t utter a word (neither did my teacher, who either failed to see or to care). Eyes forced ahead, I hoped the situation would pass, and prayed it was all just my over-intelligent imagination that I had just been flicked in the ear by the worst kid I had ever met. My ear felt red and hot. I could feel my pulse beating in it. Then a stale breath behind me began to chant:
“Baby Tom, Baby Tom, Go home to your baby mom.”
A crude attempt at poetry, no doubt, hardly iambic pentameter, still the simple words stung my eleven-year old pride. And what was a “baby mom”?
Now, it was true that my brain was overdeveloped, but I still possessed the unstable emotions of an eleven year old boy. I flung around and sunk my teeth into his soft, hairy arm until I clamped down on something hard. Travis Dotson screamed and cursed as I held on for dear life. Immediately the classroom erupted with astonished laughter. “Check out Dog Boy!” a voice shouted.
After a trip to Mr. Peebles, the assistant principal, I walked out with my marching orders in hand describing my biting problem and that I was to immediately report back to fifth grade.
“Young Man, this is not a school for biters,” Mr. Peebles had said. Then he winked at me, like we were secret conspirators against the education system. “It’s back to Paul Revere Elementary for you.”
Ahhh, it’s good to be back with my fellow fifth-graders. Just call me Dog Boy.
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