Was I Just an Asshole?

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Words || Jack Kingsland-Wills

“Mr Wills, I’m afraid we’re going to have to request you leave Green Point Christian College.”

It was a numbing sentence I’m unlikely to forget. As I sat dumbfounded in the chair in front of the Principal, which by now had a groove to fit my bum, I was asked to leave the premises. Removing my shiny red shirt emblazoned with the school emblem, I marched out of the office and farewelled my friends as I walked out of the gates for the last time.

During my walk alongside the traffic of the main road, I wondered how the hell I got there. I’ve never been a religious person, which probably had me behind the 8-ball to begin with at a Christian College. Gradually slipping down the academic ranks, I ended up in the dingy room up the back of the school; the one where they shove the kids they simply can’t deal with anymore. I could quote Hamlet and had a flare for poetry, but I was in a class where I was essentially told to drop out and go lay bricks by an overweight science teacher. I hated that place, and it hated me. It didn’t help I was never the perfect student.

My primary school report cards every year read, “Jack is a capable student, however, he’s a constant distraction to others and simply does not apply himself.” Was I just an asshole? I used to think it was my family constantly moving – I’d lived in two countries and had been to seven primary schools by the time I was 8. I never had friends that lasted longer than a year. With each new school came a new group of people to impress as quickly as possible. “Make them laugh,” I’d think. “You’re good at that.”

Recently, I’ve begun looking into the effects of instability in children, and along the way, I’ve tried to satisfy my itching curiosities as to why I was such a tosser at school.

Donna Curtis is the Health Manager for Child Protection, Prevention of Violence, Abuse and Neglect. Though she deals with cases more severe than mine, I thought she could give some valuable insight. Walking through the building towards Donna’s office the walls were plastered with haunting reminders of the high school councillor’s room. “Troubled teen? Learn how to help.” Knocking on Donnas’ door, I was greeted with the same overwhelming radiance as my high school counsellor; the similarities were uncanny.

I began to talk about why I had come to see her, and each small comment I made was met with a long spiel from Donna. This first wave of discussion left one sentence ringing in my head: “Without stable relationships, a child can often struggle with forming new ones.” Was I just an asshole? Or was I a victim of circumstance? I asked Donna what the long-term repercussions of varying levels of instability in a child’s life can be.  Her responses were catered around broken homes and substance abuse, but the underlying factors of what she was saying drew some connection to my curiosities.

She mentioned children from the homes she regularly visits often act out to get the attention they’re lacking. My parents are beautiful and my home life has always been great. My behaviour wasn’t their fault. Even so, not having friends for longer than a year was something that had always bugged me. Could this explain my behaviour? My mind wound back to school.

The seventh substitute teacher of the year had entered the classroom. She wouldn’t last long. “Welcome to the dropkick class, Miss!” we warmly greeted her. Trying to play happy teacher, Substitute #7 made a grave mistake: revealing her pathological fear of snakes. Little did she know our class was given a snake to stimulate our simple minds. With a wink to my classmates, I chased poor Mrs Substitute out of the room with python in hand, already awaiting the arrival of Substitute #8.

Donna and I continued to chat. I listened to her recounts and methods on how to deal with certain situations, constantly applying them to my own history. “A lack of meaningful connection can often leave a child feeling angry,” she said, and my mind once again ticked over to a triggered memory.

Sitting on the floor with my knees to my chest, I was acquainted with the Principal’s office. My bloodied knuckles started to dry as I waited for more punishments to adorn my record. My fuse was short; my teachers knew this, and they expected me to know why. Being kicked out of class for actions I saw my peers also doing, I felt victimised. “Take out those headphones, Mr Wills,” the teacher had said as a perfect student next to me bobbed her head, music blasting in her ears. My little voice trembled, “Fuck this!”

This is what my counselor called my “boil-over point”. Kicking my chair aside I stormed out of the room and let the brick wall of the computer lab know exactly how I felt. There was no punishment but my sore knuckles, a “sincere” written apology and three days at home.

Donna continued. “Often a hobby or a passion is what sets children straight.” Knowing full well I was never at the stage of being visited by DOCS, I remembered a passion could have saved this asshole from the boot.

16 years old and here I was again. “Class, I’d like you all the welcome our new student, Jack.” I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to know these people and I didn’t want to learn. A parent-teacher interview prior to my acceptance consisted of my mother pleading for me to be placed in a proper class. “He’s a smart kid, he just wasn’t able to apply himself at his last school. I’d given up by now and she should have too. However, her efforts paid off and I was placed in decent classes. It was here my education journey went from the end of a boot to the top of the class.

After a few weeks, I had made myself comfortable. I had a few friends, a few enemies. But something else had changed over these few weeks. I was excited for English – something I had never experienced. Instead of acting out, the thought of poetry, Shakespeare, even simply writing excited me. Mrs Blakeway triggered my passion for writing. Initially, I resisted, but her persistence and willingness for me to utilise this passion was what led me to pursue a life of writing and education.

Nearing the end of my degree I can’t help but think how far I’ve come since being booted out of school. Mrs Blakeway led me to writing and I truly think it has made a phenomenal difference in my life. I like to think I’ve come a long way, but there’s still much to be done.

In time, Green Point Christian College, and Mrs Blakeway, will get a copy of my degree. I think they’ll both know why.