My high school shut down permanently the other day. I knew it was coming. It was a Catholic high school in the midst of severe financial misappropriation and scandal. Nothing could have saved it, despite the efforts of alumni donating money to keep the school open.
I didn’t donate anything. Mostly because I was poor, but also because I had such mixed emotions about that high school. As much as it was an outlet for me, a safe place for 8 or so hours a day, it was also another institution, another group of people who seriously missed the mark in getting me help.
I have nothing left from high school. No yearbooks. No memorabilia. Nothing but distant memories and bottled up emotions. I can count on my hands the number of people from that I still talk to from there, and that is only thanks to connecting with them through Facebook (oddly enough, most of them I reconnected with last year when they announced our school was in crisis).
There’s a lot of high school I don’t remember. I know that’s common with dissociation. I know it was a time of transition for me, and not just the typical adolescent transitions. High school was the start of my health problems. It was the start of a life in and out of emergency rooms and hospital beds.
It was also the time when the abuse I was experiencing became more physical and psychological. My mother could no longer overpower me enough to sexually abuse me as regularly as she had been, so she changed her ways. And it wasn’t any better or any easier. In many ways, it was worse. It was a change for me, and one I didn’t know how to cope with.
I turned to drugs and alcohol, because I knew no other way to cope beyond the ways I was already coping. And no one suspected a thing, because I was still functioning, I was still getting As. But I was drowning my feelings in alcohol, forgetting about life with every line of coke I snorted, popping any pill I could get my hands on because I didn’t care. I wanted out of the pain. I wanted out of my life.
I didn’t understand why no one helped me. There were many efforts, both mine and those of my teachers, but they all ended up in failure. I remember my health teacher pulling me aside after class one day. She knew something was wrong. It was the day after my mother had taken all of my clothes, threw them in garbage bags, and tossed them away, because I had no longer deserved them. I’m not even sure what I did or didn’t do to deem myself unworthy. I’m not sure I ever knew. But I ended up breaking down and telling my teacher what happened. She asked questions I couldn’t answer, questions I was trained not to answer honestly. I hesitated, and she knew something wasn’t right.
It didn’t matter, though. She went to the head guidance counselor, who questioned me and ending up calling my mother, who of course would never admit to anything that made her look at all bad, and it was all deemed a misunderstanding. But that was my fault. I could have spoken up. I could have told them both what else was happening, and I didn’t. I stayed silent. I stayed voiceless.
But my actions continued to speak; my actions screamed out loud something’s not right here. All the times I ended up in my guidance counselor’s office breaking down in tears, but unable to tell them why. The bursts of anger I had taken out on other classmates, both verbally and physically. The bruises, the unexplained wounds, the self-inflicted injuries, all getting worse, all getting (for the most part) ignored.
And I say for the most part because there was action. It was just the wrong kind of action. Any attempt I made to tell my counselor how I felt was met with a call to my parents, even after I begged, through tears, for them not to call. They didn’t understand why I was so desperate for them not to call. They didn’t understand that each phone call led to another beating, another punishment, another break to my heart. But I couldn’t tell them the real reason I didn’t want them to call. So whose fault was it?
I blamed myself for the longest time. If I had just spoken up. If I had just done more than cry, and push people, and bury everything down with shit I should have never been doing, maybe they would have noticed.
But they did notice something, enough to tell my parents I needed outside help immediately. But that was it. No calls to CPS. No further investigations. Why? Because private school tuition pays for silence. If they cause a commotion, they lose their money. I didn’t realize it at the time, but as I got older, I met more people with similar experiences. Obvious child abuse, but no action taken by private schools. Because money buys silence.
And that’s what angers me. I know times have changed. I know schools have started to take more action. But what we know now is not any different from what we knew then. Abuse doesn’t just happen in poor families; abuse happens in all kinds of families. It’s just easier to cover up when you have money and hide under the guise of the Lord.
I’m not sad to see my high school shut down. The corruption that was uncovered wasn’t new, it was just bad actions in a different form. It needed to be closed.
What I am sad about is the loss of those four years of my life, the let down I experienced, the screams left unheard, the questions left unanswered.
And the fact that I will never know how my life could have been different if someone had just spoken up for me, if someone had just listened to the truth in my silence.