Biographical Non-Fiction posted October 1, 2023 Chapters:  ...5 6 -7- 

This work has reached the exceptional level
High school can be an intimidating place for some.

A chapter in the book Rooted in Dixie

Overcoming Fear

by BethShelby

I always found new situations a bit intimidating. Going from eighth grade into high school was no cause for a panic attack. Nevertheless, the first day found butterflies flitting around in my stomach and the tightness in my throat came with a bout of nausea. I tried assuring myself it was no big deal. I would have many of my classes with the same kids as last year. The idea this change might be awkward for me persisted. For the first time, some of my classes would be with those in higher grades. I didn’t really know those kids, but I was pretty sure there were bullies among them. I’d seen kids being teased by older kids. The possibility of that happening to me resulted in a sleepless night.

The building where our classes would be held was old. The hallway lined with black metal lockers, was long and dark when the doors to the classrooms were closed. Years before when I was much younger, I’d gotten lost in that hallway while looking for the room my private piano lesson was in. I’d been in that hallway when the bell rang. Calling it a bell was a misnomer. It erupted like the clanging of an emergency alarm. Doors shot open on both sides and kids twice my size, that looked like an army of giants emerged racing toward the lockers. The sounds of chaos erupted with everyone talking at once, I hugged the wall, fearful of being trampled to death. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life.

In spite of my dread of the hallway, now that I’d grown at least a foot taller, it wasn’t as bad as my memory had it pictured. The first day of high school went better after I managed to spot some friends from last year. They seemed as on edge as I was. We assembled in the auditorium and divided by grades. Then we were sent to a homeroom where we were given a list of classes to choose from. This would be our first year to change classes each period. Adjusting to many new teachers, rather than just one, might be a problem. My mind was busy creating new things to worry about.

By the end of the week, I’d mostly gotten the hang of things and started to relax. Nothing was quite as traumatizing as I’d imagined it would be. For me, the most shocking thing was some of the girls I’d known since first grade had matured over the summer and gone from kids to young women whose anatomy seemed to have changed. They wore tight skirts and sweaters showing off new curves. Some had on bright red lipstick. My mom would have freaked out, if I’d tried leaving the house like that. I felt like time had moved on and left me behind at the kids' table.

Most of the teachers in the classes I’d selected were pleasant enough, but the librarian was a different story. She was a stocky but short lady who wore a stern expression and tolerated no talking or noise of any kind. When she spoke, her voice sounded like a low snarl. With a finger to her lips, she would hiss, “Be quiet,” to anyone who dared speak aloud. The library was a required class period for an hour each day. It was listed as study hall. In spite of my love of books, I hated going into that room. I didn’t dare check out a book for the dread of having to go near her.

There was a poster on the library wall concerning an upcoming art contest. Our school didn’t offer art classes, but I’d always been interested in art. The problem was the librarian was in charge of the contest, and if one wanted to compete, they would need to get instructions from her. I was so terrified of her I couldn’t bring myself to go near her. She might tell me this contest was for real artists, and I should do my homework and leave art contests to the seniors.

I couldn’t get thoughts of the contest off my mind. It occurred to me if she only knew I could draw, maybe she would approach me. If anything was accidently dropped on the floor. She always went around picking it up and looking at it. I figured she was looking for evidence that someone had done something that required discipline. Maybe I could draw something that might impress her and accidentally drop it. I’d have to tolerate the chance I might get scolded for littering, but I decided to gather my courage and take a shot.

My devious plan worked perfectly. I drew a picture on the back of a test marked with an A+ and my name neatly written at the top. As I got up and moved toward the bookshelves the paper slipped gently to the floor. Her eagle eye was watching. Out of the corner of my eye I watched her leave her desk and pick up the paper and study it. She walked to where I was standing and looking over the book titles.

“Did you drop this paper?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just an old paper I was doodling on. I’ll put it in the trash.”

“You drew this? It’s quite good. We have an art contest coming up. I think you should enter it. The theme is Americanism. Will you let me sign you up?

I was shaking, but my wish had come true, and she was nicer than I had expected. I went home and composed a picture of a soldier standing at attention with an unfurled flag in the background. On the day of the contest, there were a lot of pictures tacked around the walls of the library. Mine was the only one from the freshman class. It was also the only one that had a blue ribbon attached to it. I’d won the twenty-dollar prize. I’m not sure mine was the best art, but the others were all scenery from around America. Maybe the judges liked my theme.

Things changed from that day on. Ms. Edwards thought she owned me. She asked me to make weekly posters for the library promoting various books. There was a small office space across from the library which contained a table large enough on which to lay out a poster board. She gave me that for my office and said I should work there each day instead of going to study hall. Not only was it my job to make library posters, I had to make them for the football parades and other school functions. This suited me just fine. I had my own private office for the next four years while I was in high-school.

She found all sorts of projects for me. One day she decided I needed to do a chalk talk for the high school assembly. This was not what I’d signed up for. I didn’t even know what a chalk talk was. She happened to have a book on them. She expected me to stand in front of the entire high school and draw on a poster sized board using an easel and to make a talk while doing it. All my fears I thought I’d managed to overcome came rushing back. No amount of protest could get me out of it. She was convinced I could handle it.

“Just work out what you plan to say, and I’ll provide you with an easel,” she told me. The book she gave me described the talks which seemed a bit like doing a magic show. In one of the drawings I was to do, I had to tell a story about a miser while drawing money bags with magic markers. The sheet I would draw on would have another poster board behind it. Between the two sheets would be a hidden pocket containing money. After telling the story, I would take a knife and split the bag allowing the money to fall out. I even had to draw and cut out the fake money.

Things might have gone smoothly if Ms. Edwards had gotten me an artist’s easel. Instead, she obtained a light-weight aluminum easel from the local florist shop designed to display a wreath. Not only was I terrified over having to stand on stage to tell the story while drawing, but the second I put pressure on the easel it starting collapsing. It was like being in the middle of a nightmare. There was no way I could pull this off without being the laughing stock of the school. If there had been a chance to rehearse this debacle, maybe the problem would have emerged earlier.

Thankfully, a cute high school senior good-Samaritan, sitting on the front row, saw my problem and decided to join the show. He jumped up on the stage quickly and grabbed the easel and held it in place while I did my thing. I’m glad there was no recording of the program, because I don’t think I would have had the nerve to watch it. I went through my whole performance in a state of numb shock.

Everyone gasped in surprise when I ripped open the money bags and the dollars fell out. People came to me later to claim I’d put on a good show. I had trouble believing them and put their accolades down to a generous dose of sympathy. I’ve never been so relieved to have my time in the spotlight over. I can’t imagine what I might have done if no one had come to my rescue. Ms. Edwards assured me that I’d done well, and she was pleased. I hope I thanked my helper, but I may not have. The trance I’d put myself into lasted a few days, but I did recover feeling a bit braver for having survived.

High school is just a training ground for life. Over the years, I’ve faced situations in which I might have panicked had I not already realized the trials we all face which seem so daunting at the moment aren’t all that important in the overall scheme of things. They’re never quite as bad as we perceive them to be at the time they are happening.

High School Memories contest entry

Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Save to Bookcase Promote This Share or Bookmark
Print It Print It View Reviews

You need to login or register to write reviews. It's quick! We only ask four questions to new members.

© Copyright 2024. BethShelby All rights reserved.
BethShelby has granted, its affiliates and its syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.