By Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons
Three months before my niece started sixth grade, we were walking to the local commuter trains station near my house. I was taking her to the symphony for her birthday. “I can’t believe you’re starting middle school,” I said. “Are you excited or scared?”
She thought for a moment. “Both.”
Out of the blue I said this: “Lizzie, if anything happens you don’t feel comfortable about, I want you to tell me. Or your mom. Promise?”
She looked at me as if she wanted to say what could happen to me? It’s just sixth grade. Part of it was I’ve been writing about a cold case about a girl who was killed years before. But it was something else, something more personal. In sixth grade I experienced something that was so awful, so shameful that I never wrote about it, nor did I ever talk about it. I wanted my niece to skip middle and high schools and go directly to college. I didn’t want her to be bullied. I wanted to protect her from the world.
It was two weeks before Christmas. Eighth grade girls were choreographing a dance set to Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” while others were singing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in the hallway. All the girls were wearing Guess jeans. I wore Gitanos. One came up to me and said in all seriousness: “Oh my God, are you poor?” Not only did she have Guess jeans, they were stonewashed.
I hated sixth grade with a full passion. I hated my core teacher, who had a thing about making sure we knew about prepositional phrases, making us diagram sentence after sentence. One time I forgot my reading book in my locker. She threatened to give me detention. She changed her mind, saying that she would write it on my progress report instead. When my mother read it, she looked at me and said “Well, stop making mistakes in that class. She wants a robot, not a student.” Continue Reading…