I got in trouble in high school.
Well actually, I didn’t get in trouble per se. Ever, actually. But my whole grade did. Quite often in fact, over our five-year convent career. Most of the time it was silly little things. We figured out that if you turned the Coke vending machine off at the plug and back on again, the prices reset themselves so that instead of paying R4.50 for a cold can of something (the good ol’ days), we only had to pay 50c. Took the teachers a while to figure that one out but, man, were they pissed off.
Silly little things like having water fights on the lawn during break and coming back to our classrooms dripping water and mud everywhere, fat grass stains all over our pale blue skirts.
Some of the things were more serious than that. There were a few instances of shoplifting and inappropriate drunken behaviour. Bullying, mainly of the teachers. We were quite nice to each other, funnily enough. But there was one teacher who wouldn’t teach us unless the principal sat at the back of the classroom. And another who threw a desk across the room in absolute frustration. Another put up with two hours of solid torture every week and to this day, I don’t know how she stood it. Nasty things like pouring condensed milk in her handbag.
They didn’t know half of what went on under their noses but they didn’t much like the bits they did know, understandably.
All this happened between grades eight and ten. By grade eleven we had calmed down some and by Matric, we were proving ourselves to be a very intelligent and driven group of girls. But the damage had been done and the teachers, particularly our principal, never forgave us for those tumultuous beginning years. There were a handful who were very supportive of us, who saw our potential and appreciated our spirit but they were few.
Our principal’s favourite threat had to do with her letter of reference that she wrote for each Matric student when they left the school. We weren’t going to get ours.
“Every university, every company is going to ask you for your letter of reference and none of you will have one,” she’d tell us while we all stared transfixed by her perfectly triangular thighs.
I’d fret to my mom at night about how I hadn’t done anything wrong, I deserved my letter of reference. I imagined a lifetime of doors slamming shut in my face, of wondering which of my sympathetic teachers might write me a letter instead. It wouldn’t be official, would my chosen university notice?
If only I knew.
If only I knew that I would be asked for that reference letter exactly as many times as I’ve been forced to write in cursive.
Never. Not once.
I did end up getting the reference letter and I think I even read it. It’s probably stuck in a drawer somewhere, shoved in there the day I got home from our Valedictory mass (the one our principal tried her damnedest to have cancelled.)
So this is the lesson, kids: No one cares who you were at school. You’ll be okay.