Before I go any further in my story, I need to be clear about something. I wasn’t some morose, sullen teenager sulking in the fringes of my high school. Far from it. It is hard to say that I was part of the “popular” crowd in high school. It sounds so pretentious to say that. And when you grow up in a small town, the social labels are very fluid. The smart kids, the jocks, and the popular kids were all the same kids.
And yes, I was part of that crowd. I had known these kids since I was five years old. I don’t remember anyone being “uncool” or “unpopular,” there were just kids who didn’t hang out. But they could have if they wanted to.
In Rushford, our social life pretty much revolved around the school. When I was a little kid, everyone gathered at Belva’s for ice cream sundaes or hamburgers after the home basketball games. There was a pinball machine that I liked to play on. As my class got into high school, Belva was older and didn’t open on Friday nights anymore, so we’d all go hang out either somewhere around the lake, at someone’s house or at the “pits” after games. There was always some designated spot for us to hang out on Friday nights.
More often than not, a group of girls would spend the night at someone’s house “camping” and a group of boys would camp somewhere nearby. There was always an older boy going out with one of the girls who would buy us alcohol. I guess parents really never thought to much about statutory rape back then.
In retrospect, I am infinitely glad that I never hooked up with any of the boys from my home town, but back then I just wanted to be a regular girl that went on regular dates. So these camp outs took a toll on me emotionally and I would spend my time there drinking heavily. This would be the start of my using alcohol as a method to block out a lot of my pain.
And I wouldn’t just get buzzed or slightly drunk, by the time I was a junior in high school, I was drinking until I blacked out. Until it just didn’t hurt anymore. Alcohol was the only drug I used in high school and I used it frequently.
By my senior year, I was drinking probably three or four nights a week. By this time, we could go to the bar at the next town over and drink. I could also go to any of the local stores and buy alcohol myself. And I was only 17, but no one ever questioned my age. And at the bar, well… He let 13 year olds drink there, so there were no standards.
Drinking wasn’t the only thing that I did though, that was just my escape. And I don’t want to paint a picture of a miserable life because I did a lot of fun things.
I went on a lot of class trips, like to Niagara Falls and Genesee Country Museum. We spent a weekend in Syracuse for the Olympics of the Mind state competition. Which was a huge treat for an avowed Orangemen fan!
I was in the school play every year. I even got to play a gangster (type casting?) and a snob.
And was very involved in other activities throughout my time in high school. All of them revolving around the school. I will write about sports later, but basically school was social life in my town.
In spite of being well known and well liked, I felt lonely and isolated. These were the days that my friends would throw around words like “coon” and “Oreo” and “zebra” around me and it would be a joke. And somehow now, I am supposed to look back on those times as harmless fun.
I would hear constantly about “lazy niggers” and hear people bitch about “quotas” – even though now when I look back on it, no body from my hometown really knew any Black people beside me. And they definitely weren’t competing for any jobs. But it was still thrown around all the time. My parent’s one son loved to call me lazy because I liked to read. He would love to call me fat and lazy. Although my grades and activities clearly show that I was not.
And the sick part is that I still am trying to justify my activities to prove that i wasn’t lazy. That is how much his behavior affected my self image. But he wasn’t the only one talking about “lazy, fat niggers.”
I keenly remember going to Buffalo for the Bryan Adams concert. It was my first concert ever and I was super excited. I was riding with one of my classmates older sister and a couple other kids from our school. As soon as we got into Buffalo, one of the boys started cursing about “niggers is Cadillacs” and wondering how their “lazy asses could afford one.” He even joked about this in my yearbooks. I remember never wanting a Cadillac, ever.
The main thing that these scenarios did was make me hate being Black. I didn’t want to associate with anything that had to do with “blackness” and therefore would shun anything that would label me as such. If I had never left Rushford, I might still think that all Black people are lazy, ghetto dwellers. Because this is what I was presented and told over and over. But I was different, so I was told. I was special.
Later in life, when I sought to “become Black,” this misrepresentation of the Black unity would put me in some very dangerous places, but for now, as a teenager, I wanted nothing to do with my blackness. I relished in the fact that I was “different” and that they didn’t mean me when they said nigger.
But I still wanted to belong. I still wanted a social life. For now I was just numbing my mind while i was counting down the time for my escape.