When I was in high school, I had friends in several different groups or cliques but I never really belonged enough to any of them to be considered a definite member of any particular group.
I was never stylish enough, or perhaps I wasn’t snotty enough, to belong to the “popular” group. I was strictly a jeans and tops girl and I was as sophisticated as a bull in a china shop.
I was indifferent then, and I still am, about clothes and trying to get me into a dress, or get dressed up for anything was like pulling teeth.
I have always thought I was just not born with that special female chromosome that would have made me love to shop for clothes, shoes, accessories or just window shop period.
I’ve never understood window shopping “just to look”. That has never made any sense to me to spend hours going into store after store, looking at everything and trying on everything. Why? What is the point? What is the appeal? I have really never understood that!
I badly short-changed Tara when she was in junior and senior high school in that respect too. Her friends’ mothers would happily take their daughters, and sometimes their friends, too, to spend hours in the malls “shopping.”
If I need something, I go in to a store, get it and then get the hell out. I make lists and I check them twice and I do not deviate from that list just to “shop”.
Tara still frustrates me to no end when we try to save time and gas money to go together to Meijer’s. I will have my list all ready to go, to get in and get out, but she will spend at least an hour dragging me around to look at various things, sigh!
But I digress.
There were several girls of the brainiac crowd that I was good friends with inside high school. I had fun chatting with them about deep stuff, like English literature or about science subjects but I really can’t say we hung out much after school.
Those were the girls who were always on the honor roll and who thought a good time was studying on a Friday or a Saturday night. That was my idea of torture!
I had a very lackadaisical attitude towards grades. I had perfected a system that I was quite happy with, although my parents and many of my teachers pulled their hair out over me and my system.
Most of the grades in my classes were based 50% on nightly homework and 50% on tests. I rarely did homework but I would devour the content of my books so on the tests I usually got A’s. That usually worked out to be a final grade of a C, which perfectly contented me.
That phrase “Jeneane rarely performs up to her potential” was a constant refrain on my report cards. Teachers would try so hard to “motivate” me. They would point out my high scores on the IQ tests or the state-mandated assessment tests. Then they would tell me that I could also be on the honor roll if I “only applied” myself.
My father had made it known for a long time that he believed that girls did not attend college; they were supposed to get married right after high school and pop out grandbabies and be a housewife. I was not “motivated” to get good grades because what was the point?
I honestly believed that my parents only wanted me to get good grades for their own ego-stroking and for the bragging rights with the other parents.
So my system worked for me while I was in high school. I KNEW I could have easily been on the honor roll, like both my younger brothers usually were, and that knowledge comforted me. I felt no need to prove otherwise to anybody else.
I was also a member of the jockettes group because I was a member of the track team for my sophomore and junior years in high school.
I loved track! I was a sprinter, specializing in the 50 and 100 yard dashes and in the 100 yard hurdles. I was so speedy off the blocks, whoosh!
I loved feeling that tension and force building up, with my feet back against the blocks, while I waited for the gun to go off and when it did, I went off like a rifle shot!
My track coach hated the way I took the hurdles though. We were trained to go over the hurdles right leg first.
Perhaps because I was born left-handed but I was forced in kindergarten to use my right hand, I just felt more comfortable and natural going over the hurdles left leg first.
But I came off the hurdle with so much strength, I only had to take two running steps in between the hurdles, unlike my teammates who took three.
My coach timed me again and again going over the hurdles both ways and I was dramatically speedier going over the hurdles left leg first. So she left me alone because I won more often in my own weird manner.
I knew that for Flushing, and for the other suburban schools in Genesee County, I wasn’t too bad of an athlete in all of my events. But if I ever had an inflated ego about how fast I might have thought I was, that got completely knocked out of me in the summer between my sophomore and junior years.
There is an annual Olympics-style series of events that are held between Flint, MI and Hamilton, Ontario in Canada called the CANUSA games. It is very prestigious to compete and hopefully win.
My track coach nagged me and nagged me about signing up for the CANUSA games track events that summer between my sophomore and junior years so I finally agreed to go to the try-outs.
My first event was the 100 yard dash. I am much better in the 50 yard dash but for some reason that race was not going to be a part of the events.
I was the only suburban girl there for all of those 100 yard dash heats. All of the other participants were from the several City of Flint high schools.
For my first heat I was in the blocks, feeling that wonderful tenseness and anticipation of the gun going of and… I ate those girls’ dust!
I had never lost that bad before! It was like watching those girls wear rocket-fired track shoes! I felt like the tortoise in a race with a bunch of hares! It was humiliating!
My coach was one of the officials at the try-outs and she saw how bad I had lost and how dejected I was feeling. She came over to boost my confidence by telling me she knew I would do much better in the hurdles.
Yeah, no, it was the same result. I almost threw away the condescending yellow “Track Participant” ribbon that was given to me. Participant, yeah, okay, I guess I did participate and that was about it. I can now giggle about my horrible and humiliating experience but it did take me a long, long time to get to that point.
Because I had been in band since 5th grade, I was also a fringe member of the band geeks group. I could not be a complete member because they took band and the try-outs for chair positions so seriously, as if their whole worlds depended on them doing well. I occasionally envied their total commitment to band but that rarely lasted long.
But the high school group that I had the most fun with and the group I think I identified with the best was the rebel group.
We were the ones who smoked in the bathrooms, who skipped school, who defied the rules, who did drugs, and some members of that group were just generally known as the bad-asses.
But even then, I wasn’t a completely hard-core member of the rebel group. Yes, I did skip school, but not as often as the hard-core members. Yes, I did smoke in the bathrooms in between classes and probably as much as the hard-core members. Yes, I did defy the rules, most especially the illogical, common senseless and archaic ones. Yes, I toked up occasionally but nothing other than that and never as much or with so many other drugs as the hard-core rebel members.
However in my last two years of high school, I did unintentionally earn my stripes in two separate and well-gossiped incidents as I became a hard-core member of that rebel group.
Because I was a member of the Baby-Boom Generation, our massive numbers caused all of the schools across the United States to swell and become drastically overcrowded.
Flushing’s grand decision on how to deal with this problem was to split the high school up into two groups who would attend school at different times.
The freshman and the sophomores, the babies we called them, attended high school from 12:15 pm until 5:15pm. The juniors and the seniors attended from 7am until noon.
The Flushing Board of Education also changed the school curriculum for my junior year to become more “relevant” and “interesting.”
In their “wisdom”, they broke up the standard English and History classes into mini-classes with subjects like Current Events, The Jazz Age, American Writers, English Authors, etc. Each semester you would pick two of those mini-classes for each English and History subject.
My first semester I picked Current Events and I quickly disdained this new curriculum. That class was taught by the boys’ track coach and all we did was sit in the classroom reading the Detroit News every day. Then we had a quiz every Friday on that week’s local, state and national events.
The coach just sat there, reading his own selection of newspapers and magazines while drinking endless cups of coffee. Meanwhile all we did was flirt, chat loudly, and not about Current Events, unless the event was who was now going steady with whom or who was having sex with whom.
We also had spitball contests, chair stacking contests, and you get the picture about the discipline in that class. From a hard-core rebel point of view, this was the perfect class!
But I lost a lot of respect for that teacher and for the school board for forcing this inane crap on us. By the way, I got an A in the class, along with everybody else. You would have had to be a complete imbecile to have received anything less than an A in that Current Events class.
In my second semester I desperately wanted to enroll in the Creative Writing class but for some idiotic reason, it was only offered during the babies’ school session in the afternoon.
My best friend in high school, Jan Balzer, and I both pleaded with our counselor to somehow let us be allowed to go to the Creative Writing class in the first hour of the afternoon school session.
After discussing it with the principal, it was agreed that we could take that class, as long as we would be responsible for our transportation home after school. Jan had her own car so that was no problem at all.
But because that would put us into extra class credits, we were told that we would then have a 2nd hour “study hall” during our regular school session.
We were supposed to be in the cafeteria every day during 2nd hour to “study” but nobody ever checked on us. Jan and I always spent that hour in the least supervised girl’s bathroom, smoking cigarettes and playing Kings in A Corner and other card games on the bathroom floor.
One beautiful spring day we had a Pep Rally in the Gym for the boys’ baseball team who were currently undefeated. The Pep Rally was scheduled for our normal last 5th hour and then for the 1st hour of the babies’ school session.
Jan and I dutifully went to the Pep Rally in our 5th hour and we dutifully looked bored and disinterested as we endured the torture of watching chirpy, perky, peroxided cheerleaders strut their stuff while the baseball team sat on chairs in the middle of the gym leering at them.
Jan and I figured heck, we may as well skip the stupid Pep Rally repeat that was scheduled for the time that we would normally be in our Creative Writing class. So we took off after our session’s Pep Rally and walked down a mile or so to the Flushing County Park on McKinley Road to enjoy that beautiful spring day.
We were sitting on a picnic tables in one of the pavilions, smoking cigarettes and trying to figure what birds were making what numerous chirps and bird songs, when we saw two freshman girls we barely knew come walking up to us.
We kidded them about not having the proper school spirit because they were skipping out on their Pep Rally and they kidded us back about doing the same thing as they were doing: skipping school.
Au contraire, babies, we had already done our duty and attended our own Pep Rally so we had earned the right to not endure that immense joy again.
Those baby chickens tried so hard to impress us with how “grown-up” they were by using the word “fuck” in the most grammatically incorrect manner and they used it so often that Jan and I couldn’t help ourselves, we had to keep turning our heads to hide our smiles and our eye-rollings.
They asked us if we had any weed and we scoffed that we would never be that stupid to, number one, tell them if we did, and number two, actually toke up with them.
They then asked if they could have a cigarette so I gave them one. I felt a bit sorry for them because I remembered a few times when I was a freshman when I had tried to also “impress” kids older than me.
They quickly took the hint that Jan and I really did not want to hang out with them and so they left, sharing that one cigarette between them, as they walked away.
Two days after this during our 1st hour came the dreaded announcement over the P.A. system: “Would Jeneane Behme and Jan Balzer please come down to the principal’s office?”
I met Jan in the hallway and we were mystified as to what we had done now, well, done anything that anybody could have ever found out about that is.
We were ushered into Mr. Brissaud’s office and curtly told to sit down while he shuffled some papers on his desk.
Here are a few words about Mr. Brissaud. Nobody liked him because he was a pretentious, condescending asshole who actually took pride in his self-declared ability to “relate” to the kids today.
The man was so unctuously insincere that I one time earned many laughs in the bathroom by declaring that he oozed so much slime, the janitors had to work overtime cleaning up after him whenever he walked the halls, glad-handing the students with fake compliments.
After keeping Jan and I deliberately waiting in the chairs in front of him, he finally looked up at us and sternly asked us why we didn’t go to our Creative Writing class two days earlier?
I spoke for the both of us when I told him that Jan and I had decided to “skip” the 2nd reenactment of that Pep Rally held during our Creative Writing class time since we had already attended the one held during our regular school session.
Mr. Brissaud then gave us a 5-minute lecture about the proper school spirit before telling us that perhaps we had not been aware that the second session kids went to their class first for attendance before being sent to the gym for the Pep Rally. Ohhhh, whoops!
So once again fixing us with his stern expression he asked us, “So where did you two go?”
Now I’ve always believed that when you get caught at anything, it does no good to lie. And quite often, the unvarnished truth will shock people, most especially when they are clearly expecting you to lie.
And that was the case here. I frankly told Mr. Brissaud that Jan and I had walked down to the Flushing County Park because it was such a pretty spring day and he was quite taken aback that I had not attempted to lie at all.
He was speechless for a little bit and then he informed us that he had already known where we had gone and I, without thinking, wondered out loud then why did he ask us if he already knew?
Gruffly and in a much louder voice, he told us that he was just wondering if we were going to lie about where we had gone and I replied, “Why would you wonder that when you have never known Jan or I to lie to you before?”
Which was the truth, we had never lied to him before but then, I don’t think he realized that this was also the first time we had been sent down to the principal’s office.
Obviously flustered now that the conversation was not going quite as well as he had imagined it would, he asked us in a much louder voice, “Aren’t you wondering how I knew where you and Jan had gone that day?”
And since that was a completely unanswerable question, Jan and I just sat there waiting for him to just simply tell us.
“Well, I found out about you two girls’ degenerate behavior yesterday when I interviewed two freshman girls who had also come up absent in the attendance records!”
Degenerate behavior? What was this man talking about?
“I was shocked, completely shocked, at what they told me that you two had done with them! And that kind of behavior will NEVER be tolerated in my school! I have a good mind to report the two of you to the police!”
I started laughing because it was well known that only the Genesee County Sheriff’s department could get called out to the school since it was located in Flushing Township, which did not have its own police department at that time.
And since the high school was not within the city of Flushing’s limits, the Flushing City Police did not have jurisdiction there. I was pretty sure that 4 girls skipping school would not be a top priority of the sheriff’s department.
Mr. Brissaud then yelled at me, “This is not a laughing matter!” And I replied, “Yes, it is, Mr. Brissaud, because why would you call the police to report that 4 girls skipped a Pep Rally?”
“You and Jan physically dragged those two young girls out of the school, forced them to accompany you to the park and then forced them to smoke cigarettes before you allowed them to return to the school!
“They said that they were crying and begging you to let them go and not make them smoke cigarettes but you two held them hostage! And that is forced kidnapping and yes, it would be a matter for the police!”
I couldn’t help it, I started laughing so hard, I couldn’t stop until I had tears in my eyes and I was holding my sides! Jan was chuckling too at this absurd accusation and our reactions were not at all helping Mr. Brissaud’s mood.
After I finally could catch my breath, I asked him, “Are you kidding me? Those two freshman came up to us in the park after they had already left the school on their own and yes, we gave them one cigarette when they asked us to give them one but that is all we did.
“Now how could Jan and I have physically forced them to come with us from the school, made them walk against their will all the way down main roads to the park and then forced them to smoke cigarettes?
“What did Jan and I do: sit on them, cram cigarettes into their mouths, and then pumped their chests up and down to make them inhale it and exhale it? But more importantly, WHY would we want to do something like that?”
And I began laughing again at how ridiculous I had made his accusation sound like the stupid scenario it really was.
He thundered at us, “Why would those two girls make up such a story like that?”
And I began laughing again as I asked him, “How long have you been a principal? Those two girls got caught skipping school so they came up with that ridiculous story to take the heat off of them but the ridiculous part is that you actually believed their crap!
“If Jan and I had ‘forced’ them to leave the school and then ‘forced’ them against their will to walk all that way to the park, don’t you think somebody would have seen us? Please check around because you won’t find one person who saw Jan and I do that for the simple reason that Jan and I didn’t do that!
“We freely admitted that we had skipped the Pep Rally and that we had gone to the park and yes, we did give them one cigarette but I’m pretty sure that the police won’t be knocking on our doors to arrest us for that!”
Mr. Brissaud started yelling at us that he had never known those two girls to lie before and I countered that they were freshman, so how many times had they been in the principal’s office before?
And if they have been in his office for other transgressions, then maybe he needs to see the clue that they cannot be believed. We told the truth, they didn’t and it is just that simple.
Now many years later, I will admit that I did not handle that “chat” as tactfully and as fawning to Mr. Brissaud as I probably should have done. But the absurdity of what he had accused us of over-rode what I probably should have done.
Also having had years of experience with a younger brother who spent a lot of his time deviously and falsely accusing me and my brother, Keith, of things we had never done, being falsely accused always easily angered me over the unfairness of rarely being believed by my own mother.
No excuses, just explanations.
Mr. Brissaud then proceeded to yell at us that if he ever heard of us committing anything like this again, he was going to not only call our parents, suspend us from school, but he would personally make sure that our ‘victims’ would press charges against us. Then he yelled at us to get back to class.
Jan and I left his office and I was now hopping mad that those two little punk wanna-be’s would actually make up that stupid story.
Jan kept telling me, with awe, “Wow, how did you have the nerve to talk back to Brissaud like that?”
And I asked her, in perfect sincerity, “Did I talk back to him or did I just merely point out the absurdity of his accusations? And why should we have just sat there and allow him to falsely accuse us like that?”
But she shrugged her shoulders as she told me, “He can do that just because he’s the principal” but I shook my head in denial that that was just not a good enough reason to me.
After our Creative Writing class that afternoon, Jan and I started to walk out the front doors of the school to go home. But then I heard and saw those two lying brats chatting and laughing at their lockers in the hallway that could be seen from the office. And I immediately saw red.
I quickly handed my books to Jan and then I ran down that hallway, grabbed the two of them in both of my hands and had them flat up against their lockers with their feet dangling off the floor.
I shoved my face up to theirs and I told them, in a voice that did not bode well for them, that they were going to walk into the principal’s office and tell Mr. Brissaud that their two punk asses had bald-faced lied to him, did they understand?
And with their scared, frightened faces both nodding in agreement, I let them down to the floor. With me behind them muttering to them dire predictions for their future health if they didn’t do as I had told them to do, they did start walking in front of me towards the principal’s office.
Mr. Brissaud, who had witnessed the whole episode, came barreling out of his office, demanding to know what was going on.
I told him that these two girls had something important to say to him. They both began stammering to him that they had lied, that Jan and I had not kidnapped them and marched them to the park and forced them to smoke cigarettes.
Mr. Brissaud didn’t say one word, he just grabbed Jan and I by the collars of our shirts and literally dragged us into his office.
He made us sit in the chairs in front of him as he said he was going to call the police on us right now because I had accosted those children for no reason.
I angrily retorted, “Go ahead, call the police! How many days will we still be sitting here waiting for the sheriff’s department to come out here? You finally heard the truth from those two liars and even if it took a bit of gentle persuasion, it was worth it because Jan and I did not do what you accused us of doing and you refused to believe the truth!”
Mr. Brissaud knew that the sheriff’s department was not going to come out to the school unless he himself lied about the situation. I think he finally got it though his thick head that those two girls had finally told him the truth.
But he did catch me red-handed shoving them up against their lockers so he had to save face somehow.
He yelled, “How can I believe them when you forced them to say that?”
And I literally scoffed in his face. “If they had been telling the truth all along and I had just roughed them up for no reason, especially knowing that you had witnessed it, don’t you think they would have stuck to their original story?
“They knew that they had lied, and like the lying little cowards they really are, they knew I was justifiably angry at them.
“They told you the truth! Believe it or not! Call the police or don’t! But I will not apologize for doing anything I can to clear my name and to clear Jan’s name either!”
And I sat back and gave him glare for glare. He finally told us to get out of his office and he had better not ever witness anything like that from either of us again. I told him as Jan and I left that he wouldn’t unless we were falsely accused again.
So nothing ever really came from all of that drama except that I had now cemented my reputation as being a full-fledged bad-ass member of the hard-core rebel group.
And I then added to that reputation with another incident that happened in the beginning of my senior year.
My group of girls who were habitual smokers met in a particular bathroom between classes to hurriedly get a few puffs in before running in and sliding to our desks before the bell rang.
One time on a Tuesday in between my 4th and 5th hour classes, I walked into that bathroom and lit up a cigarette even before the door had shut behind me.
I was leaning up against one of the supporting panels in between two of the stalls, puffing away, when I noticed that Jan was trying to stammer something to me.
She was pointing a shaky finger at me, saying, “Jeh, Jeh, Jeh” and I irritably asked her to spit it out, what the hell was she trying to say?
Jan finally got it out, “Jeneane, there’s a teacher right behind you!” I turned around and yup, there was a teacher standing in the doorway of the stall behind me, glaring at me with her hands on her hips.
I quickly tossed my cigarette in a corner but she angrily said, “I already saw you with the cigarette in your hand. Come down to the principal’s office with me right now!”
So figuring why should I leave a perfectly good cigarette, I walked over and retrieved it as I told her, “Okay, you caught me but I’m going to finish this and then I will go with you to the principal’s office. These things are too expensive to waste!”
The other girls ogled open-mouthed at my boldness as I continued to stand there, taking my leisurely time to fully enjoy this cigarette.
The teacher waited for me, tapping her foot impatiently but I did catch her trying not to smile at this situation. What was she going to do, haul me out of there by my long hair?
The bell rang while the rest of the girls had stood there watching this bizarre situation and they made a mad scramble to get to their classes.
I finally finished my cigarette, flushed it down one of the toilets, then I washed my hands and brushed my hair. After I was done, I smiled at the teacher as I told her okay, now I’m ready to face the firing squad and this time, with no other kids around, she laughed along with me.
She was really cool. I had never seen her before and it turned out that she was a newly hired teacher. We exchanged names and generally had a nice chat on our way to Mr. Brissaud’s office.
In fact he saw us chatting and laughing and he gave me the deepest scowl as he asked the teacher, “So what has this student done NOW?” And I gave him scowl for scowl at that character assassination and the teacher turned her head to hide her smile.
She told him that she had witnessed me smoking a cigarette in the bathroom by the girls’ locker room so she had brought me to see him.
Mr. Brissaud scowled at me again as he loudly said, “Is this the truth, young lady?”
And I laughed as I told him, “Wow, you have a lot of problems believing people, don’t you? Are you doubting this teacher’s word now? Of course it’s the truth! I was smoking in the bathroom while this teacher was in one of the stalls and she caught me red-handed. So here I am!” And I gave him a hugely fake smile.
The teacher had to turn her head again as she coughed to hide another smile. I was quickly catching on that she was as enamored of Mr. Brissaud as I was.
He gruffly dismissed the teacher and told me to wait for him inside his office, that I should know the way by now.
He finally walked in after several minutes and pointedly made a big production of getting out the school handbook then slowly leafing through it to the Bad Behaviors and Punishment section (my interpretation).
He primly informed me that I was suspended from school for three days and that he had to now call my mother or my father to have them pick me up from school. He asked me if one of them would be home and I reassured him that my mother would be because she rarely went anywhere during the day.
He asked me for my phone number and I gave it to him. He dialed the number and it rang and it rang and it rang. I couldn’t understand why today, of all days, my mother was now absent and inadvertently making me out to be a liar to Mr. Brissaud.
He asked me if I had given him the correct number, plainly indicating that he had believed I had given him the wrong number on purpose and I told him, yes I had.
He even had the audacity to verify it in the phone book and he just grunted when he realized that no, I had not lied to him. So he called our house again and still no answer.
He was visibly irritated that he would not get the chance to tell at least one of my parents what a horrible person I was, cheating him of the joy that that would have given to him.
So he told me that I had to stay in the outer office until my last class was over with and then I had to make sure that either my mother or my father would call him the next day. In addition to that, he was sending a letter in the mail notifying my parents of my suspension.
So after I came home from school, my mother was finally there. I told her that I had been caught smoking in the bathroom, that I was suspended for three days and that she had to call the principal the next day.
She yelled at me, “How can you shame us like this! I will not call your principal! If he wants to talk to me so bad, he can call me!”
I tried to explain that he had tried calling her but that she had not been at home. And then she got all huffy, telling me that where she had been was none of my business and I was confused because I hadn’t even asked where she had been.
I told her she had to call him the next day or else I would get into more trouble. She snapped at me, “Well, that’s your problem, you brought this on yourself!”
I had assumed that since I had been brought into Mr. Brissaud’s office so late in the school day on Tuesday, that my three-day suspension meant that I would be out of school for the next three days: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The next morning before he left for work, my dad got us three kids up to get ready for school like normal. I waited until he left and then I joyfully went back to bed while my brothers enviously said that they wished that they could get suspended from school too. And I did that for the next three days so my dad never knew about my suspension.
On Wednesday a letter from Mr. Brissaud came in the mail but my mom just ripped it up without even reading it.
If she had read it, I would have then known that that Tuesday was considered day one of my suspension, unlike what I had assumed, and that I should have gone back to school on Friday.
On Monday morning came that dreaded announcement again for me to go down to the principal’s office. Figuring that Mr. Brissaud was going to yell at me because my mother had not called him, I resignedly walked down there.
So I was immensely surprised when he asked me, “Why weren’t you in school on Friday?” I replied, “Because I was suspended for three days: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.”
He said, no, the day you incur any infraction of the rules is counted as the first day so you should have been back in school on Friday and that he had put that information in the letter he had sent home.
Then he sneeringly asked me if I had even told my parents what had happened or if they had even got the letter at all because he noticed that nobody had called him.
I heatedly told him, “I did too tell my mother but she refused to call you back. She said if you wanted to talk to her, you could call her. And she did get the letter but she just ripped it up without opening it and threw it away so I didn’t even know that I was supposed to come back to school on Friday!”
He told me that he had never known a parent to not call him back and I muttered under my breath, “You don’t know my mother.”
He then told me that my unexcused absence on Friday would be put into my school record, as well as the suspension, and I nodded without saying a word.
He waited to see if I had anything else to say but he finally impatiently told me to get back to my class and I gratefully left, thankful that my mother had not put me into worse trouble.
My behavior in the bathroom with the teacher had made the gossip rounds and as always, I was amazed at how far from the truth the story had grown.
According to the gossip, I had tried to sock Mr. Brissaud in the face and he had given me an extra day of suspension. I also apparently had offered a cigarette to the teacher in the bathroom.
Nothing else happened to ruin my senior year but when I went up on the stage to receive my diploma, Mr. Brissaud almost refused at first to shake my hand but he quickly realized that that would make him look bad.
So he gave me the limpest hand shake I had ever had as I tried not to shudder at even that slightest touch with that dreadful man.
I had one more run-in with Mr. Brissaud though many years later.
When Tara was in the 6th grade, she won the Elms Elementary spelling bee out of all the 6th graders in her school.
I was so proud of her! She appeared to be so calm and poised spelling down one 6th grader after another but I knew that she was very nervous because I could see her little foot just a shakin’ like the last autumn leaf on a tree in a high wind.
Her win made her eligible to go up against all of the 6th grade winners from the other elementary schools in the Flushing School District.
The winner of this contest would then go up against the other 6th grade winners from all of the other school districts in Genesee County, and then that winner would go on to the state level.
At the Flushing schools 6th graders spelling bee, Mr. Brissaud turned out to be the moderator of this next round.
I had returned to my maiden name after my divorce and our uncommon last name of Behme was definitely going to be recognized by Mr. Brissaud.
He was now a shriveled up old man but he was still an insufferable asshole. When he was introduced, I gasped in shock and amazement and I inwardly groaned.
I was really hoping that perhaps he would think that Tara was one of my brothers’ children. But he saw me and we recognized each other. He immediately got an instant look of dislike on his face and it was mirrored by how I was feeling towards him on the inside.
Tara easily held her own and she spelled down one kid after another until there was just her and another boy left. They went through round after round after round with both of them easily spelling their words correctly.
Then Mr. Brissaud began going to the much harder words in the back of the thick book of approved words and I wouldn’t have thought anything could possibly be wrong if he had not given me a quick, evilly triumphant glance.
He began to give Tara the much harder words while noticeably giving that boy easier words. She hung on though and they each went for round after round after round again.
One of the other officials must have noticed the obvious discrepancy and he called for a break. I then saw him lean over and whisper to Mr. Brissaud.
My mother, my good friend, Noreen, and I were telling Tara how proud we were of how well she was doing and I glanced over at one point at Mr. Brissaud.
He was sitting there with that all-too-familiar peeved expression on his face so I gathered that he had been told to make sure that he gave words of equal difficulty to both Tara and that boy.
So the spelling bee commenced and after a few more rounds, Tara was given the word “rhythm”.
I had practiced and practiced with Tara from that thick book of words that all of the kids had been given and I heaved a sigh of relief because I just knew that she would easily spell that word.
So I was surprised when she began, “R-H-Y-T-H” and then she paused to think. Then after a few seconds, she hesitantly finished with “E-M” and I inwardly groaned. She was out.
Mr. Brissaud did the same thing to Tara that he had done to me when I graduated: gave her the limp handshake while he then enthusiastically pumped that boy’s hand.
I went up to Mr. Brissaud and in my own unctuous, pretentious voice, expressed my enthusiasm at seeing him again and how honored we all were to have had him as the moderator. He merely grunted in response.
So that boy was now the 6th grade spelling bee champion of the entire Flushing School District and he would then go on to the county spelling bee contest.
Tara was named an alternate and she had to attend the county contest just in case the boy could not make it. But he did, so she had to sit there and watch the whole thing and just be there in case he had an epileptic fit or something.
But I constantly told her how proud I was of her, especially at her school’s spelling bee. I had been told by so many people afterwards that they had admired Tara’s serenity and calmness.
But I alone had seen her poor shaking little foot. I told her that I had read somewhere that the definition of poise is when no one but you knew when you were shaking in your boots. Tara had literally demonstrated how poised she had been that day, and for that I was even more proud of her.
I never asked Tara if she had noticed that Mr. Brissaud had been deliberately giving her harder words while giving that boy easier ones for those few rounds.
And I never told her about that evil look he had given me or that I had seen that other official take him to task.
I guess it’s kind of nice to know that some things, and some people, can remain the same, even after many, many years. You know what to expect, even from the most pretentious assholes who have always put themselves on their own self-created pedestals.
So those are some of the events from my own teenage years. And just like I wrote in the poem (which is posted on this blog) that I gave to Tara on her 13th birthday called, “The Teenage Years”, those are the years that you will sometimes look back on fondly but you will never, ever want to relive.
Flushing High School, Flushing, MI
My 1973 Flushing High School Senior Yearbook