On Speaking Up

"Have you ever spoken up when you saw something going wrong that was wrong? Were you scared? What ended up happening?"

Curiously enough the only thing I can think of off the top of my head is when I was sitting on a high windowsill near the gym with Anthea Carns during lunchtime at Steller, and a bunch of tenth graders picked up a sevie and tried to trash can him. Can him? Shit, the lingo is fading. Put him in a trash can. Steller usually had a low bullying quotient because 1) it was a lottery school, so you had to want to be there, and 2) there was no coercion from the staff to do anything in particular, least of all go to class. Canning had been described to me as one of the school’s offbeat traditions, a long list which included the overnighter*, the SDLs**, the murals***, or the all-school-hug.**** I don’t remember the sevie’s***** face, only the glee with which Sam was depositing him into the trash can. It was a waist-high cylindrical number, not of tin but gray plastic. Probably because it had been included in the list of things that make Steller the special school it was, and because I thought Sam and his bunch were particularly cool, I encouraged the operation. "Yeah, do it!" Can’t even remember exactly what I said.

Anthea spoke up. "Hey, c’mon guys, if he doesn’t want to do that don’t can him."

I was speechless. Sam and the boys stopped, set the kid down and walked away without acknowledging the telling-off they’d gotten.

At the time I had the kind of crush upon Anthea Carns which only an eighth-grader can have–heavier than cosmic bodies and faster than the trucking speed of visible light. What she said was so obviously the right thing to do — sticking up for someone being stuffed into a trash can — and I was mortified. Not only did it not even occur to me, it had not even occurred to me in front of her.

I remember nothing else from that afternoon, nor do I remember any other lunchtime conversations with her (and I think we ate together most days), except for the time when I built up the tidal wave of courage it required to pull her aside into the airlock and tell her I liked her, which of course went nowhere because I hadn’t really planned as to what would happen after that moment. There were a lot of missed romantic moments in Steller airlocks.

*;**;***;****;***** the overnighter was an all-night party at the school where each classroom was a screening room for different movies/videogames; the SDL was a period where everyone in class was doing their own course of learning, I did Norse Mythology, creative writing, and chess, for instance (stands for Self Directed Learning); the murals decorated almost every wall of the school and were done entirely by students, and the few designs I remember include a skiier going downhill, a rising Japanese sun thing, a sci-fi robot woman; the all-school-hug was a periodically-instituted game where some people in some class would stand up, link arms, and then form a massive human chain, going in and out of every room in the school to collect people before going out onto the field and looping in a giant spiral and collapsing in giggles (the school only had 13 classrooms and 300 students, so this was not so difficult; sevie is of course a seventh grader. Steller is named for Georg Wilhelm Steller, the naturalist.

As a bonus, here is an essay about Kierkegaard. Happy birthday!


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