Clouted Off My Feet
In 1967 when I was seventeen and a high school junior, my father took a different job as a research chemist in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and my mother found new employment as well as an accountant. My parents enjoyed living out in the countryside and they thought nothing of an hour-long commute to work so they bought a two-story, traditional-style house (with a horse coral and trails in the back, but never a horse for me) near the small town of Prior Lake, Minnesota. The Prior Lake public school that I attended was modern but definitely rural in tone, with an insiders-against-outsiders feeling to it. Frustratingly, this school transfer caused me to miss some components of mathematics and English that pestered me for years. By then I had changed schools half a dozen times as my parents moved up their career paths, losing bits and pieces of my education along the way, due to lack of continuity. Changing schools makes some bold, it made me shy.
Biology has always been one of my favorite subjects. I was keenly aware of the animal life around me and enjoyed learning fun facts about them. I remember the variety of little animals to be seen living in the woods, meadows, and fields across the road from our new home, salamanders, garter snakes, various birds, and all the usual cute and furry Midwestern creatures, rabbits, squirrels, and hints of larger animals. In the summer the roadside drainage ditches were filled with crawfish, we called them crawdads, some called them freshwater lobsters or mudbugs. I remember skating in winter on a icy stream that one of the neighbors kept cleared with a plow fixed to his oversized, riding lawnmower. I remember walking for miles across some harvest-stubbled fields on a hot autumn day to visit a monastery, or perhaps it was a seminary, located a few miles away. It must have been closed, or closed to the public, or closed to women, because I remember turning away or being turned away without seeing inside. I was disappointed because I was interested in religion and this place was well respected in the community. I remember feeling embarrassed, did someone turn me away, saying something to the effect of “No woman allowed inside?” My mind shies away from the memory. On the way home I took the monastery's access road and came upon a largish pond rimmed thick with soft, green pond scum full of newly hatched, wriggling tadpoles. They tickled me as I walked into the lake without breaking my stride or changing clothes. It amused me to “own” the world by walking over it for miles in a straight line, not even stopping at water, just changing my stride from walk to swim to continue moving forward. I felt strong and competent in my newly formed woman's body. I felt defiant.
The children of Prior Lake and their nearby farming “cousins” were impossibly cliquish, some were downright vulgar. I had no social skills at all that I can recall, so early on when a certain pair of boys hounded me in the hallways, yelling at me, calling me dirty words that rhymed with my name, I went directly to the nearest teacher to tell on them. That teacher was disinterested and said there was nothing (he or she, I cannot recall) could do. I insisted and the teacher unwillingly went over to talk to the boys (young men really) and they left me alone after that. At our thirtieth class reunion, when this pair of boyhood friends approached me together, I tensed up with dread, but now they were middle-aged men. They reassured me with smiles and soft words, they apologized sincerely. I was touched by their heartwarming gesture. What a pair of sweethearts they were to do the hard work of correcting the past between us.
I remember focusing on my studies in high school, both because I was keenly interested in learning everything I could, and to avoid what seemed to be to be pointless interpersonal turmoil.
I was asked out for the second time in my life, to a dance at the high school, by a polite, ordinary sort of high school student whom I did not know before he asked me out. I remember absolutely nothing about him. Perhaps this is why. When the boy, a young man really, came to pick me up for the high school dance, my father was very drunk and confronted him at the door, nonsensically asking him in a raised voice, over and over again, "Just where do you intend to do? Where do you intend to take her?" He was so agitated he did not even wait for an answer. I ignored my father’s unsurprising behavior, and left with the young man. But the young man was so shaken by that confrontation with my father, that he had the other couple who were driving turn the car around after only a few blocks and he took me home, where my father again confronted him at the door, saying, "Why did you bring her back so soon, what did you do? And so forth..." I never saw that young man again. I imagine that story got around the high school, but there was nothing I could do about that. I had no other offers to date in high school, and I did not seek them out.
In my 1½ years at Prior Lake High School I had exactly two friends among the seventeen students in my graduating class, a boy who shared my keen interest in science, and a very kind-hearted, thoughtful thoughtful girl who befriended me enough to speak kindly to me when she saw me in the hallway. The boy had an annoying crush on me and he liked my extensive class notes, but it was good to have someone with whom to discuss class material even if his notes were worthless. He went on to have a high level management career, I did not. Later I found out that after-class time was available in the chemistry lab, and he went in to work on extra-credit projects, without telling me about the opportunity. When he (as a married man) wanted to make love (in his son's bunk-bed) after our high school reunion, I was angry and uninterested. My girlfriend was somewhere near the bottom of the social totem pole to which I had been pushed and still she pitied me. I was grateful for her pity. I thought it was appropriate. Her lowly, unrespected position was due to the impoverishment of her family and other things into which I did not pry deeply because they made her sad and I did not have ability to comfort her. (I wish her the absolute best wherever she is today.) The teachers seemed appallingly tolerate of, perhaps even enforced the social stratification of students. I remember a science class where the teacher brought in a prototype computer to demonstrate for us. As soon as he called us to gather around, I was first to line up in front of it because as usually I was really interested. A big boy, a young man really, put his big hands on my shoulders and shoved me hard out of line, and the teacher let him do it. I stumbled flailing, but I did not fall. The other students closed ranks into a tight group in front of the equipment. I had to take my outcast position at the back of the group where I could see and hear nothing. The teacher saw this happen but did nothing. And they wonder why more women have not gone into the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)? This was not the first time that I was literally pushed away, and not the last time by far.
In 1968 I was a high school senior at the same school, and the tempo changed significantly. One change was that I finally figured out that there was an “accelerated” math, science, and English program and I fought to get myself into it. Accelerated classes were properly paced and had fewer students misbehaving out of boredom or stupidity. The other change was that my sister started at the same high school as a freshman. But I never saw her at school. Did she avoid me so that I would not know who her friends were, so that they would not see me other than as she portrayed me? All I know is what I was told about her, that she misbehaved, and that she spoke ill of me. Whatever she said interested everyone and made my strategy of keeping my head down in my books futile. I could see/feel everyone wondering if she and I were alike. My mathematics teacher was teaching the class advanced mathematics, trigonometry or pre-calculus, when he suddenly stopped and complained that he could see up my skirt. What does a young woman say to that? I am not exaggerating when I say that the only clothes that I had to wear were a few of my mother's castoff, knee-length skirts, and whether they fit or suited me or not, that was all I had. I kept quiet to avoid exacerbating problems with him. I only remember complaining when he gave me a B-grade, whether for an assignment or the course I do not recall. I do not recall the merits or the outcome of my complaint. It was unsettling to take a B-grade in a class on math material that I would need for college.
I believed my sister when she bragged to me that she was “very, very” sexually active “in the backseat of cars with boys". I think she said that she was F’ing there, smoking and drugging there. She kept calling me "Fuck-face" when I tried to admonish her. She manically repeated herself to enjoy my dismay at her unhealthy and self-degrading loss of virtue. At the time I did not know what "fuck" actually meant. My sister was very well-endowed, she was in fact beautifully well-endowed during her early womanhood. Marylin Monroe had nothing on my sister when she was young. My sister laughed at me when I told her that it was a waste for her to give herself away to young men who did not appreciate her. I do not know if my sister put out for smoke and alcohol, she said the boys gave them to her. (Maybe she had no choice in the matter?) One day my sister forced me to try a cigarette and it was foul. It was an idyllic setting, I was sitting against a bale of fragrant straw in a newly harvested field, under a lightly clouded blue sky in the company of my sister whom I still loved, but the cigarette was foul. Later in life when my sister forced me to try a puff of her marijuana, I thought it was foul too. And it was foul of my sister to try to force me to those vices for which I repeatedly told her I had no interest. She has always been incomprehensible to me.
Although I did not date, and I had no sexual experience at all, I could see and feel the other students reconsidering me sexually in view of how my sister talked about me. All of my life people have come to me and warned me about my family, in particular my mother, sister, and brother. People told me, “It isn’t what they say, they don’t say anything specific. It is HOW they say it, they say you are just IMPOSSIBLE, that you are so bad they can’t put it into words.” Well, how does one counter that?
One evening at Prior Lake school, I found myself again waiting for my parents to pick me up because I had missed the school bus home. (It seemed my sister had gotten a ride home with some boys.) It was evening because my parents had a habit of waiting until they had had a few after-dinner drinks before they could be bothered to pick me up at school. I suspected that the bus driver had a habit of driving off whenever he had all of the farm kids on his route onboard and he certainly did not mind leaving me behind because I was often close to the bus when I saw him pull away from the curb without me. I do not remember him at all so I could not say what sort of person he was. It was getting dark so I went back into the school to wait. I was pacing up and down the then deserted school hallway, nervously wishing my parents would pick me up before night fell, when one of the school “rich” kids came out of a classroom just as I passed by. He pushed up my skirt, or he grabbed me, or did he try to kiss me, or all of it simultaneously? I had never been manhandled before and I cannot remember exactly what he did. How can I not remember? I cannot remember because whatever he did to me was gross, and I rejected it physically and mentally. I had had no experience with even being kissed, so my mind cringes away from any recollection of what he did to me that night in the deserted school hallway. Half a century later my stomach churns and my head aches when I try to force myself to remember. At any rate he made some up-close-and-personal obscene maneuver upon me and I slapped his face as I had seen women in the movies do in order to deter unwanted male advances. He looked up the empty hallway and he looked down the empty hallway, then he hauled back his arm and clouted me on the side of my head with a roundhouse punch. He knocked me completely off my feet and then stood over me defying me to object. Because this young man was perhaps the wealthiest and best positioned student in the school I never even thought of complaining to anyone. I crawled away, and even to this day I steam with anger when I remember crawling away from that beast disguised as a young man. I see no point in fully identifying him fifty years later, but he knows who he is. Much, much later in life I heard that he became a prominent, wealthy man with an excellent career. Much, much later in life I am almost poor and I have had a ridiculously, pitifully irregular career. This small, frightening experience of being punched off my feet in a high school hallway engendered a timidity in me has been a detriment to my life in countless ways. I have always had to work very hard to overcome it, trying not to overcompensate, trying not to cave in, trying to find my balance socially. When I heard that that bully boy had married, I felt overwhelming pity for his wife, to have married such a good-looking, well-built, successful, sadistic brute.
A little later when I was living in Comstock Dormitory at the University of Minnesota, this bully boy and his best friend in high school, the later of whom others at our thirtieth class reunion informed me was a notorious pussy-hound (their words not mine) in high school turned gynecologist as an adult, had a fellow high school student ask me to join him for coffee at a nearby restaurant. When I saw that bully boy (PP) and pussy-hound (MK) were there instead I left without sitting down. Their maturing, newly fat, self-indulgent faces did not bother to mask their lascivious attitude toward me. There is nothing to be done about that, then or now, except to avoid them. Although high school forced these two pricks* into my life, I had no intention of letting them stay in it. I am happy to say that I never saw them again. They either were not at our thirtieth class reunion or they hid from me. As well they might, because I am not a helpless, young woman now.
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* To be a Prick means to be “(g)enerically known as a worthless asshole. But more precisely, a prick is an incessantly annoying or obnoxious person who escalates their behavior the more they are ignored.” Source: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Prick
Note: There is a time and a purpose for foul language. I did not use or probably even know this kind of language in high school, however this blog post is the right time to use it, and I think my purpose is clear.
Caption: Broken Branches, Broken Life Chances
He Clouted Me Off Of My Feet In The High School Hallway
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018