Throughout school, my least favorite subjects were Algebra and Chemistry. I struggled with math since eighth grade and at least once a year I’d win awards like “Most Improved.” I was never proud of them. I used to casually mention to my teacher “Hey, if you happen to have me in mind for this award, let’s just not. Okay?” She’d say, “What makes you think I’d choose you?” Weeks later the principal’s incorrectly pronouncing my name on stage to present my certificate. I guess she thought by me saying so I really meant the opposite. That totally back fired.
Back home (Kansas) if students landed anywhere between 60-69% it was still passing. In Texas, anything under 70% was failing. In our household, if you failed you were punished. Sometimes, I put in effort and other times I just knew I would fail anyway so I didn’t feel like using my good energy on shit like that.
The first two years of high school I figured I better get serious about it if I wanted to graduate. I used to take several minutes on problems that took the average person just a couple minutes to complete. Even when I looked at the problem and knew the answer without writing out the breakdown for it. I still doubled checked my work, tried it backwards, counted on fingers and even used touch points on the same problem. It was like I didn’t trust my own answer and pretty paranoid thinking about what would happen at if I failed. This carried along into adulthood-anxiety and overthinking, that is.
I use to take the bus home after school because my brother didn’t want me to walk home with him and his friends. I didn’t like walking by myself and all my closest friends took the bus to the opposite side of the city. He would tell me I should take another way. He might have been embarrassed to walk with me or possibly didn’t want his friends to like me more than him. (That’s what I chose to believe to feel awesome about myself. lol) At first, I would arrive home and have the house to myself a little while. But there were some days I’d make it over the hill, off the bus and notice that car parked at home earlier than normal. I used to pray that I didn’t see that big yellow Oldsmobile when I got closer but at least two days out of the week…he’d be there.
I’d come in quietly and try to do my chores just as silent. He’d come out, most times in a bad mood and looking for a reason to trouble someone. I had a routine. Eat a snack, do my chores and start on my homework. I preferred to be in my room but they wanted us at the table when we did our homework. He’d make lame jokes; want hugs and try to cuddle up; asking questions about my day so he was able to hold me up a little longer. I gave short answers and always tried to inch my way back into my routine but he would still find a way to get closer to me.
After a while, on days he came home early I would run straight to the bathroom before he noticed I was even home. I did my homework there and sometimes fell asleep waiting on my brother to come home. Hewould knock on the door and ask was I alright. I’d use the excuse that I felt “ill.”
One day out of frustration he said, “Mm Hm. It seems your stomach is always upset when you get home from school.” I didn’t respond. After all, it wasn’t a question. When he would put me on punishment for something petty he’d follow it up with “You need to come straight home after school, no place else!” I was already not allowed to go anywhere else after school so I knew what he really meant.
I was improving in Algebra but still failing. In my opinion, a child that has no missing work, completes extra credit and has an increasing percentage each semester should not be punished. It would have been helpful to just question me to gain understanding and find out what I wasn’t piecing together in order to pass. There was no discussion about this. Mostly threats like “I bet once you get your ass beat, you’ll come home with a better report card!” He would beat us for anything under 70%. So I asked my mom could I stay after school for tutoring. She agreed to it and I would spend about an hour there. I understood it pretty well and felt confident coming home to finish the remainder of my homework. One day, I came home to him yelling at me with a belt in hand. I explained I went to tutoring and my mom knew about it. He yelled back, “What part of grounded don’t you understand!? If you ever come home late like that again you better expect an ass whooping!”
Quite confused, I would question how he thought he could get the best of both worlds? I’m pretty sure he and my mom argued about it. He was upset she didn’t communicate that I’d be attending tutoring and how against it he was that I was even allowed to. I’m not sure how the argument turned out for them but I knew there was no way I was going to avoid getting in trouble and being alone with him at home.
After a while, I couldn’t even think about the work I was doing at school or my homework. My mind went blank and I only imagined suffering at home before I could finish the problem. This was extreme anxiety. I used to work a few problems, erase all the work, sit back and daydream about better life and then tear up again. There was a Chinese guy that sat next to me. He was very silent and kept to himself. We talked every once in a while but most days he didn’t want to be bothered. He was the kid a lot of students ignored or never noticed present at all. I remember looking up from my paper one day with a snotty nose and tears causing my scratch paper to tear apart. He finished his work, put it on my desk and waited for me to circle the same answers from his scantron. I didn’t feel good about it but I was relieved I wasn’t going to fail this specific quiz.
After the quiz we went to lunch and he came up to me and very angrily said “You can’t always copy my work! You just need to try!” He walked off so fast I couldn’t respond. Standing at the vending machines, I thought: Look here Cong (I don’t remember his name but the name Cong means intelligent where he came from so let’s go with that) I didn’t ask to copy your work, ever! Why are you upset with me? I was relieved but still upset that I even needed to copy his work at all. After lunch ended I thought about it more and understood why he was angry. He felt sorry for me but he didn’t want to risk getting in trouble for helping me. Especially someone he didn’t even know well enough to risk those kind of consequences. Of course, this just made me feel like shit, even more than my current situation.
School days went by and he would still hand over his work. I would shake my head No and hand it back but it made him even more upset. “You’re so dumb. You’re going to fail!” he mouthed. I’m not sure how he could be such an asshole while wanting to help out at the same time. Little did he know, our teacher felt so sorry after looking at my damaged, white turned grey, wet assignment I knew he was automatically giving me a 70% in class. This was pathetic and I didn’t want to accept everyone’s help this way. I wanted to be great at this and get rid of that voice in my head saying “What the point?”
As the year went by, I met this girl. She had just moved into my apartments and we had one class together. She lived down stairs from me and agreed to help me study. This worked out perfectly, my parents knew where I was, my stepdad could pop in if he needed to and I could actually take my time. She was very patient and intelligent. Her name was Keona but she preferred to be called “Kiki.” Keona was from Louisiana and referred to herself as “Louisiana’s Finest” She wrote it everywhere. I found her pretty interesting. She was a grade behind me and in the band at school. I envied how quickly she caught on to everything but appreciated her techniques to get an answer without doing so much damn work. I probably spent two days and two hours a night in her home. I started to see changes in my grades and felt more confident I wouldn’t have to beat a little Chinese kid’s ass for catching me on a bad day. As much as I wanted to give Algebra my all, especially with the new knowledge Keona dropped on me, I still had Chemistry to master. Keona was a good thing for me but she wasn’t a psychiatrist. I had anxiety just thinking about passing both of them. Eventually, my average reached a 71% or 72% in Algebra; 75% during a decent, half stressed semester. My stepdad would make comments like “That’s only one or two points from an F.” He’d also say, “All the time you spend down stairs and that’s what you bring home on your report card?” He would say them in what he wanted others to believe was a joking way. Either that or it was just an awkward fashion. There were plenty times I fought the urge to throw papers his way and ask “Do you know how to do i? Is that why you give everyone else a hard time? You wish you knew the fucking answers!?” Instead of risking my life questioning that way of parenting I let the voice control me. I let it forget what Keona taught me, I let it take a wild guess that the answer is likely going to be “C” (just because) and refuse to use skill and perfectly good logic. Ahhh, yes! There goes that voice. This time it was whispering “Just get through high school and you can take as much time as you need for this.”
For now…Just wing it.