Because I got a Master’s degree, son!
On December 5th, 2019, from the confines of my bedroom, I finished and submitted a final examination for my International Business Law class. A week or so later, I was met with a detailed transcript breaking down my past 6 years of academic accomplishments, amounting to over 150 credit hours. Looking over this digital document, I let out a small smirk, sat back, and murmured something under my breath.
It had taken so long, but after so much time, effort, and dedication, I had finally finished the dungeon known as school, emerged victorious, and would receive a document proving my accomplishments a few weeks later. Now with 2020 well underway, I feel it is a good as time as any to reminisce about a segment of my life in great detail once more. So hold onto your butts, it’s time for Natalie to ramble about school!
Part 1: Pre-K, Hold The Pre
As I have said again and again in these introspective summaries of my existence and livelihood, I did not attend preschool as a young child. From my early years, my parents recognized that I struggled in more social environments that had me interacting with other young children, so my mother opted to not bring me into the very accommodating daycare program they her workplace hosted, and instead decided to have me spend much of my early childhood at the home of my paternal grandmother. An environment where I was largely given autonomy, allowed to play with toys and watch television at my leisure, but throughout the day I would be prompted to pursue more educational activities, starting at age 2.
It was then that she began teaching me how to read, write, do mathematics, and develop the rudimentary skills that one is typically imparted on during traditional pre-school, but in a very focused environment. Or at least, focused in the sense that most days it was just me and my grandmother, who also spent a great deal of time just playing games with me, taking me out to the park, or teaching me little things, as older people tend to do when around toddlers.
The general point of all this is that when it came time to go to Kindergarten for the very first time, I was prepared academically, but not really socially. You see, I was never part of any particularly large groups as a young child, with the exception of boisterous family get-togethers held during Thanksgiving and Christmas. So when I first attended school, I was more than a bit intimidated by… everything. The volume of children my age, the singular adult woman looking over us, and the shared educational environment that had us sitting at tiny desks. It was all vaguely similar to when I was around other children at my grandmother’s house (she looked after other children on occasion to make some extra money), but involved a lot more moving parts.
This, in turn, caused me to behave very passively and not be nearly as socially active or friendly with any of my peers, to the point where I actually went the entirety of Kindergarten without making a single friend. I still knew who they all were, memorized their names, and picked up on details about them, but I did not really enjoy engaging with them, and much of that has to do with another factor that I had to contend with in school. The noise. I hate loud noises. I hate shouting, I hate screaming, I hate the noises that typically accompany a mass of small children, and I generally dislike the sounds children make as they play. Even when I was 5, I took umbrage with the furor that my class would get into on a daily basis.
This, more than anything, helped me place myself as an ‘other’ in the environment and caused me to avoid much prolonged social interaction with my peers during free time. During playtime, I would nestle myself in the faux kitchen area where I played with the plastic approximations of food. During recess, I would leave the playgrounds themselves, go past the gate, and into this retention pond that was technically part of school property. Well, I say pond, but really it was an area for excess sewage and rainwater to pile up in the event of excessive rainfall, being large indent in the ground spanning the size of half a block, and probably something like 2 meters deep. I would go there, walk around, and pretend that I was looking for alligator eggs or other washed-up treasures, while occasionally making idle conversation with any other weirdos who decided to join me.
Thus far, you could probably infer that I was a bit of an odd child, but I wasn’t just odd, I was special. I had speech problems that necessitated that I meet with a speech pathologist during my entire duration at public school, where a nice man or lady would help me say the Ch, Sh, S, R, T, and L sounds, none of which I could say properly at age 5. I had hand-eye coordination issues that inspired my parents to have me enter a program called Hands, where I would be asked to perform tasks meant to improve my fine motor skills.
Or to summarize, I actively withdrew from social interactions, had trouble speaking, and had crummy coordination. My school district and mother, both of whom were very accommodating and generous in trying to pinpoint this, pieced things together, sent me to a doctor, and determined that I had Asperger’s Syndrome when I was 6-years-old. A developmental disorder that was eventually folded into Autism Spectrum Disorder. This meant I had a developmental disability, and most good schools react to this by developing a series of accommodations for each individual, also known as an Individual Education Plan, or IEP.
This meant that while I was subjected to the same assignments, classes, and generalized expectations as my peers, the school was more understanding in the event that I acted out, got into a fit, or was struggling with something academically or socially. However, at the time nobody actually explained that to me, and throughout the bulk of my time at school, they just seemed to ignore it, said that I was fine to partake in the usual lessons and that I did not need to actively seek out any aid beyond weekly interruptions from class where I would meet with a speech pathologist or a social group where I was encouraged to speak to other children, as I seldom ever spoke in class.
In retrospect, I suppose that I gained something by attending these special classes, but at the time I simply lacked the wherewithal needed to understand why I was enrolled in these programs, or that I did, indeed, have a disability. Why did I, someone who had never heard their own voice before, need to attend speech classes? Because we told you so. Why did I need to be social in a group setting, when I preferred to be quiet and alone most of the time? Because we told you so.
Again, there was a benefit to these accommodations and actions by the school, but I do think that my overall development could have swayed slightly if I was sat down and explained what autism was, and what it meant for me. Which incidentally is probably why I had a complex for a few years in my late teens where I began to think that I wasn’t actually autistic, that I was misdiagnosed, and did not deserve the accommodations I was being provided. Or in other words, if you have a child with a disability, explain it to them and ask them what precisely they need, rather than just blanketly telling them that they needed something.
Autistic diatribes aside, I have a fairly fond, although very foggy, memories of Kindergarten. Despite having various quirks that made me one of the oddest children in my class, I still enjoyed the act of attending school, appreciated the novelty of the activities they did and was receptive to the prospect of learning new things every day. I did decently well from what I can recall, and after a much-anticipated graduation ceremony in May, I was as prepared as I would ever be for elementary school.
Part 2: Elementary, My Dear
Looking back on it, Elementary School really is just an evolution of Kindergarten, albeit one where you leave the classroom more often to attend various elective classes (gym, art, music, drama, etc.) and there is significantly less nap time, snack time, and playtime allocated throughout one’s daily schedule. In that sense, I view elementary school as a gradual escalation into academics and one that I was fairly receptive to at the time.
Around that age, I did not especially enjoy school, as it was a place filled with noisy children and where I had to do some things I did not especially want to. But I did everything I was assigned with little resistance, did well in the bulk of my classes, and have overall fond memories of, on account of having a series of good teachers and also, for the only time in my life, friends. …Lord do I sound sad when I phrase it like that.
As I previously mentioned in my post about being trans, autistic, and weird, I managed to garner a menagerie of friends throughout elementary school, with Ashour, Michael, Sony, Andrew, Danny, Anam, Jack, Max, and some others all making up a circle of friends that I fostered for a few years between being class buddies, playing together during recess, and even visiting each other’s homes on playdates. Though the details are now lost to me, I remember these encounters with a great deal of fondness. These people, as far as I could tell, accepted me and like me for who I was at the time, being receptive to my abnormal tendencies and willing to engage with me, even though there were dozens if not hundreds of children across the playgrounds at any time.
However, all good things must come to an end, and things began taking a bit of a dark turn for me to come in fourth grade. It was here where I began drifting apart from the circle I had established and became subjected to bullying from my former friend Michael. Nearly every day during recess, he would find me, mock me for my interests, eccentric behaviors, or occasionally the color of my reddish hair, spurring me to get angry, chase him, and subsequently fail to catch him on account of how I was a very slow child.
I tried to inform my teachers of this bullying, but nothing happened to prevent or discourage Michael’s behavior until his teasing led me to an emotional breakdown one day during recess. After several minutes of sitting in a fetal position, sobbing profusely, I was finally found by an adult, they took me to someone, I genuinely have no idea who, and I explained my story to them between sniffles. Afterward, I never spoke to or heard from Michael again, as he stopped interacting with me entirely. The following year, in fifth grade, he moved away, and I have been trying to forget about him ever since.
I have been trying to forget about him, and also the person I was during fourth grade. Either in conjunction with Michael’s bullying or because of it, I began to adopt a number of more… troubling tendencies during that year. It was during fourth grade that I started plugging my ears with my fingers when my peers became too loud, wearing noise-canceling headphones during independent study, failed drama class because I refused to participate in any class activities I didn’t like, which was most of them, and began struggling with the prospect of maintaining friendships.
My sole friend during fourth grade, a boy by the name of Zack, was as kind and receptive to me as just about anyone could, willing to talk to me for hours on end about video games or the like. But I frequently pushed him away, got into petty pointless fights, and ended my friendship with him about 20 times throughout the duration of fourth grade… before he eventually moved to Las Vegas and I never heard from him again. But I do still fondly remember the time we spent together, the sleepovers, movie watching, and game-playing experiences we shared. The same is true for all of my friends from my childhood.
From scourging throughout Danny’s house to find loose pennies. Seeing Dragon Ball Z Budokai for the first time at Sony’s house. Walking up to a 7-11 to get AirHeads with Andrew before playing Spiderman on the N64. Exploiting the black hole glitch in Melee with Marlon, who later started going by Gio or Geo (I’m not sure how he spelled it). Playing Yu-Gi-Oh with Max. Talking for hours and hours about Dragon Ball with Ashour. Playing Pokémon Blue for the first time at Michael’s house via Pokémon Stadium. Watching Jack play Jak and Daxter because I didn’t know how to use a PS2 controller and just wanted to watch him explore this vast open world. Or that one dream I had with Anam where I swapped bodies with her and was then injected with lethal amounts of poison by a spider crab.
…What was I talking about again? Right, elementary school.
Despite some negative associations I have with it, I still hold a very strong fondness for my school as a physical location. Even to this day, I can still remember the halls vividly. How the drama and art classes were nestled right next to the lunchroom, which made them annoying to visit in the middle of the day. How I had to pass by the music room to get to my speech pathologist. The treks from the second floor used for third graders to the gym on the other side of the school. And the courtyard observable from the library, hallways, and certain classrooms. The one place in the building I never got to visit. Yes, even the little girl’s room, which I did go in a few times out of curiosity when nobody else was around. …I’m trans by the way.
Though my favorite place across this entire school would easily be the playground itself. As a child, I lived very close to my elementary school, a mere two blocks away, and because of this convenience, I insisted that I walk to school on my own, every day, starting at age 6. However, that was not quite enough for me, and I made it a point to always leave for school at 7:45, even though the school did not start until 8:30 Why did I do this? Because I was ready. I got up between 6:30 and 7:00 back then, which gave me ample time to eat some cereal, get dressed, and brush my teeth. After doing all of that, I felt like there was nothing for me to do before school began, so I just left.
I walked out of my house, around the block, said good morning to Ike the friendly crossing guard, and spent the remaining 40 minutes loitering about the playground with only a few children to keep me company for the first 20 or so minutes. It was during this free time I would wander throughout the grassy fields, dusty kickball fields, well-worn blacktop, plastic play structures, and most especially an isolated bench area surrounded by bushes that served as a quiet respite away from the noise that so frequently filled the playgrounds during recess.
I loved that bench area. While the recycled gray plastic benches boiled during the summer and were magnets for rainwater, it was a place of calm and tranquility for me, one where I could chat with my friends in peace, where I could be alone with my thoughts, and where I could fiddle with various rocks and twigs without being scrutinized for my behavior, because nobody was paying attention to me or really seeing what I was doing.
It was a happiness that was the polar opposite to many of the more boisterous and loud activities that filled my school, such as lunch. A hectic noise-riddled room where conversations were hard to make out even under the best of circumstances. Most of the time, I just got tired of being there and would eat whatever my mother had prepared for me before leaving the lunchroom entirely, hiding behind a stairwell where I became lost in my own thoughts once more, or wandering about the halls by myself, all until it came time to return to class.
On the subject of classes, a running trend throughout my educational life is that I by-in-large enjoyed most of my classes. I may not have liked a teacher, or how a class was being taught or assessed, but I always enjoyed the process of learning a subject through and through, and being able to walk away with a degree of mastery of it. There is a very gamey quality to it, and it is, for the most part, a rather passive activity that one can breeze through by paying attention, taking notes, and following the materials provided to you. I never necessarily struggled in any particular class because of the subject matter, and that certainly was not the case in elementary school. That does not mean I was a flawless student, as my report cards were a scattering of A’s and B’s, mostly B’s, but at the time I never felt that it was necessary to try and get straight As (this is what we in the business call foreshadowing).
My parents were happy so long as my grades were above average, and weren’t the sort who would demand that I get high marks all the time, though they did chew me out for getting that F in Drama class that one time. However, my report cards from this time consistently featured a remark from a teacher claiming that I needed to participate more in class. Yes, I was rarely the sort who rose their hand when questions were answered and I was the sort who detested being called on and put on the spot (I still am, but that’s beside the fact). I was a timid and nervous child who did not like to speak up, and when I did, it was almost always because I was scared that my grade would be marked down for inadequate participation.
That was, as far as I can remember, my only major academic shortcoming, though that did not stop my elementary school from occasionally chucking me into the room with the special needs kids. Children who had Down’s Syndrome and comparably imperative developmental disabilities. People who were very much not on the same level as a high-functioning Aspie such as myself. I never really did much with those children other than play assorted games with them, nor did I really understand why I was there in the first place, and I considered my time there to be awkward, if not a bit frightening. I do not remember much about any of the given children, aside from one boy who looked like he had no chin and another boy by the name of Nicky. He was a giant for his age, both with regards to height and weight, and had this habit of flailing his arms around while muttering incoherently.
He scared the shit out of me as a child, killed me in at least one nightmare, and struck me as ‘inhuman’ in his demeanor, to the point where I began wondering why he was even being kept alive when he more resembled an animal with his behaviors and excessive body mass. All of which culminated in a vivid fantasy I had one day where Nicky was shoved into the school kitchen’s oven, baked alive, and served to the children, who gleefully consumed his ‘faux-human’ meat. I knew it was wrong to think of such cruel things at the time, that Nicky was still a person, and that eating or killing people, disabled or otherwise, was very much wrong. But I nevertheless found this fantasy of mine fascinating, and would regularly return to it periodically throughout my life, until it served as the narrative starting point for my 2014 novella Psycho Shatter (95YcH0_Sh4πeR), which would later be reimagined as my 2019 novel Psycho Shatter 1985: Black Vice Re;Birth.
That covers the bulk of noteworthy events of my elementary school career, though I do want to discuss the matter of summer and school for a moment. Every year my elementary school, and middle school, would hold something called Field Day. A day to commemorate the conclusion of school with food, festivities, and generally accepted merriment that I absolutely loathed because of how it was the antithesis of the structure, routine, and learning that school had been founded on. Every year I found something that would make me miserable. Whether it be an activity that I hated, free food that gave me diarrhea, God-tier noisiness that set me off on a tizzy for the rest of the day, or something else that led me to spend an hour or so huddle up into a corner before an adult found me and took me inside where it was quiet.
The only good thing about it was how it was the second last day od the school year. Not to be confused with the last day of classes that preceded it, or the actual final day of school. Where students would arrive for 20 minutes of goodbyes and report card distribution before being released to their summer vacation. A time where children were allowed to laze about and play for upwards of 3 months with no restrictions… but I was never necessarily granted that luxury, at least in its totality. Ever since the summer following third grade, I have been attending summer school to some extent. Whether it be 3-hour-long school days or an entire semester-long class truncated down into six weeks.
This is for two primary reasons. One, I went to summer day camp during my early childhood, and I loathed it. It was a series of social activities in the hot sun, where I was encouraged to do things I did not enjoy around a bunch of random strangers. Most days I would just sit out on the activities, cry over how I wanted to go home, and bide my time by playing with rocks. And two, my parents wanted me out of the house when I was younger and would bribe me to take summer school, even though I did not need to undergo rudimentary lessons on math or reading. Again, I got A’s and B’s in (most of) my classes.
As for high school and college, I just took summer classes so I didn’t need to take them later. I wanted to get more study halls in high school so I could do more homework at school, and I wanted to be done with college as soon as possible. But I suppose I am getting ahead of myself, as I need to describe the low point of my educational life, and one of the two lowest points of my life in general, middle school!
Part 3: Middle of Hell
…Middle School was pretty much just a crappier version of High School now that I think back on it. It did away with the single-room structure of elementary school by allotting children 3 minutes to travel from one end of the school to another, quite literally in the case of one of my classes. It significantly increased the workload and emphasis on homework compared to what came before it, setting a standard that was never, in my experience, meaningfully exceeded in higher education. Grades suddenly became of great importance with the introduction of grade point averages, a quarter-based grading scale that had students’ grades reset every 9 weeks, and a new grading scale that made a 93% the threshold for getting an A.
All of this made for a not-so-great time, but there was something else that made this time in my educational career particularly sour, and that thing is known as puberty. Yes, that obnoxious thing that caused me to rapidly grow out of my clothes, coated my body in pesky hairs, conjured up erections at inopportune times, and did a bunch of crap to my body and bone structure that I have spent years undoing with facial surgery and hormone replacement therapy. As a trans person, I have no shortage of reasons to loathe my adolescence, but the frustrations with myself at that time are not limited just to my body and stem well down to my mental state at the time.
At that time in my life, I was not very sound or stable mentally— I mean, I’m still not, but that’s a topic for another day. I would regularly have panic attacks, get into tizzies from fairly minor things, and has this nasty little habit of being filled with such hatred and vitriol for myself as a person that I would bash my head against a brick wall until either I was restrained, or had fallen into deep immobilizing sorrow.
My mental state being like this could be attributed to a multitude of factors, such as the hormones changing my brain around, and my autism throwing everything into a bit of a tizzy. But what consistently put me over the edge and drove me to self-harm was the stress of school. The stress of trying to get on the high honor roll with this harsh grading scale and dealing with all my assignments made me feel like I was constantly teetering on the edge of failure.
I was told that I needed to get good grades to get anywhere in life, so I desperately wanted to do was to understand the material and get the elusive A’s at any opportunity. And while I did manage to develop the study skills needed to retain and fixate on the truly important information imparted to me by my teachers, it was always a struggle. My grades were perpetually temporary. My achievements could always easily be undone by one bad test. And if I fucked up here, then the scars would follow me for life.
This was the foundation for high school. High school was the foundation for your life. If you failed here, it would be on your record. You must always strive. Always succeed. If you fail to meet these requirements, don’t feel bad. Feel horrible. Because if you fail, it means that you should have never been born at all. It means that you should die. It means that you should kill yourself. There is no salvation, no joy of success. Just the pleasure in knowing that you miraculously didn’t fuck up. Don’t fuck up. Don’t fuck up. Don’t fuck— You fucked up. YOU FUCKED UP!!!
A fucking 82%! What kind of retarded little faggot are you, getting an 82% on a test? That’s a C. Only stupid dense motherfuckers get Cs! What the fuck were you thinking? Did you even try? No, you didn’t! You didn’t even try! Fucking fuckity fuck-fuck fuck! Go to that wall and die, you vile little cocksucker, you can’t even do this rudimentary m****r-work right, can you? You should die! You want to die! Die before all of these little pricks and show them what this is! Show them this bitch we call life! Make them learn from your mistakes! Be an example! Be an example and fucking kill yourself! Die! Die! Die! Die! FUCKING DIE!!!
Sorry about that, I was just channeling my inner frustrations and repressed memories about the horrific places my mind went during these formative years of mine. I cannot entirely blame my mental frustrations and attempts at self-harm over getting bad grades at my school… but it sure as fuck didn’t help.
And even then, I cannot say that nothing good came from being so hard on myself over my unsatisfactory academic performance. Throughout middle school, my grades did improve. I became better at studying, retaining, and parsing information. I became a far better test taker. I became a generally smarter individual able to pick apart and judge things more critically, as opposed to being someone who was incredibly easy to please or struggled to find faults in the things they did or consumed. Whether this be due to general brain development, the curriculum I was engaging with, or watching a bunch of online video content on my computer after school, I cannot really say. All that I know is that through the frustrations, discomforts, and suicidal thoughts, I did get out of middle school as what I felt was a better person.
A better person, but one who was also far less sociable, more disconnected with my peers, and who began shutting themselves off from anybody other than their good friend Matt, who was the one person who I actually enjoyed talking to. Well, him, Usman, Eric, and Geet. But I mostly cared about Matt. Why did I choose to become so socially distant? Well, part of the reason was how the class and teacher changed every 42 minutes every day, and another part of it was how middle schoolers suck to be around.
Middle schoolers, generally speaking, are just about everything that sucks about elementary schoolers, but worse. They stink due to poorly maintained bodily odor, they are efficient at annoying others, they can be incredibly loud, and despite being bigger, they were mentally just bigger children who wanted nothing more to do than mess around with their friends. They were a bitch to be around, and while I no longer had noise-canceling headphones, I did very often shove my head down and shut my ears as they wailed incessantly during class.
The teachers were, naturally, less tolerant of this kind of behavior than those I had in elementary school, and would fairly frequently voice their frustrations over how immature their classes were. Y’know, despite the fact that they were middle schoolers, and them being rowdy or irritable should have been expected. I think the worst attempt by any of my teachers to rationalize their frustrations went something like this: He noted that my class members and I were seventh grades, which meant we were almost done with middle school, which meant we were almost in high school, which meant we were almost-adults, and almost-adults are not supposed to act like children.
It was such rubbish and did nothing to quell my peers’ poor behavior throughout the entirety of middle school, which reached a particular low during a group project I had in my seventh period science class. My group members were a bunch of lackadaisical slackers who did not care about the project and missed their deadlines. Because of this, I took their responsibilities away from them, all three of them, and did the work of four people on my own.
And you know what I was met with for my hard work and dedication? For polishing and presenting this project by myself? A 15% reduction to my project grade. My teacher heard from my group members that I did everything, and because of that, I got a 0 out of 15 in the participation category. I was not having any of this nonsense, called my mother in to talk to this asshole teacher, this genuine bitch who would basically call the entire class a bunch of idiots after she failed to give them adequate instructions, and she tried to brush this whole thing off by saying that I would get an A this quarter anyways. Then, come report card time, I got a 90% in that class, also known as a B. I did well on all the tests, did every assignment properly, and even tried to participate on a regular basis. But because I had the audacity to do a group project by myself, I got a B.
After this, I tried to avoid group projects at any opportunity, before eventually getting something written into my accommodations that would allow me to do group work on my own once I entered college. Back in middle school however, my only accommodations were weekly speech sessions, a weekly social group, a daily study called Resource, and remedial English classes. …That last one probably needs some explaining.
So, back in elementary school, I had a problem with using the same phrases, words, and sentence structures repeatedly, and very often began my sentences with the word “because”. My school looked over this, glanced over my below-average standardized reading tests, and decided that I needed to learn fewer language arts and literacy skills, and learn them at a slower pace. To this day, there are a plethora of things about the English language and its structure that I completely blank out on, and I like to blame this all on the remedial classes I took back in middle school, where I was not clearly told what my deficiencies were, and felt like I constantly was not being taught things that were relevant to my skill level. By the time I did return to regular English class in high school, I was kind of lost. I went with the flow, I did well, but I never felt like I fully grasped the material as well as I should have been.
This lack of understanding is actually part of the reason why I began Nigma Box in the first place, as I wished to practice writing, typing, and articulating my thoughts via text. Now writing is one of my favorite things in the world, being on par with my love of video games, and is something that I like to think I’m fairly good at. I mean, I was a good enough writer to be complemented by several of my English professors back in community college, and I think that counts for something. Sure, my sentence structure and wording can become repetitious, my grammar sucks sometimes, and my proofreading skills are lacking, but… I dunno how to fix deeply seated issues like this.
…I think that about covers it for my middle school memories, aside from the pertinent question about my self-harm tendencies. Despite being a red flag that should have sent the suicide warning alarm bells throughout the school ringing like a wind chime cart caught in a tornado, my school did nothing to prevent my emotional outbreaks. They just took me aside, asked if I wanted to talk, I said no, and I was let back into class with no fuss or long-term repercussions. I think my parents were brought in for some meetings, but no meaningful actions were ever taken, and by this point, all the documentation related to my outbursts has probably been recycled…
Part 4: Higher Than Thou
If I had to describe high school in a semi-concise phrase or statement it would be, ‘when I began learning that I didn’t really need to worry about school and that I was actually somewhat smart.’ As I said at the beginning of the last section, middle school and high school aren’t all that different. They follow the same ebb, flow, and social dynamics, but with individuals who are slightly more mature, smarter, and bigger (in more ways than one). It felt like going from one building to another, with the only differences being the greater population density, building size, and emphasis on performance… despite the fact that high school was actually way easier for me than middle school.
Middle school was a period of great adjustment, one where mistakes were treated harshly, and students were given less freedom. In high school, I had acclimated to the period structure rather well, was used to process of traveling to class to class to locker to class, and the grading system was far more accommodating. An A was once again earned by getting a 90% or higher. Grades were now calculated on a semester basis, with 40-42% coming from each quarter and the remaining 16-20% coming from a final.
Now, on the surface, this does sound less preferable, as finals have a lot of stressful connotations attached to them, and are generally hard to recover from. I would agree… except for the fact that, in my high school, we were given loads of study materials, which made the process of taking a final rather easy. Just go through the packet a week or so before the final, peer into it on occasion leading up to the final, and about a day beforehand go all-in on another study binge. That is basically how I have studied for every final from Freshman year of high school through my Master’s program in college. And in doing so, I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than 3 hours in a single day studying, and I never bombed my grade for any class by turning in a bad exam.
I’m sure that some people will read that and grow angry at me for having far less… intensive study practices, and ones that primarily involve reading over materials rather than exercises, flashcards, or anything of the sort. But this is honestly how I studied, and thanks to these practices, I have been able to maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher since I started seventh grade, and concluded my educational career with a 3.7 cumulative GPA from graduate school.
So, yes, this sort of stuff started coming to me naturally after learning study techniques and effectively forcing myself to be a better student in middle school, because I was genuinely terrified of not doing well in school, as I genuinely believed that grades, by in large, dictated one’s life. Naturally, not everybody has the same autism-fueled abilities as me, and cannot simply read something over, work through it in their head, and understand it. Everybody learns differently, most schools do not cater to the diverse spectrum of ways in which people can learn, but they sure as shit catered to the way that I learned, and I was able to have a relatively easy time going through high school because of this.
Though, a massive part of why that was the case is because I intentionally avoided submitting myself to higher-level classes. While I did take the honor’s equivalent of Chemistry, Physics, and math, I only ever took two AP courses. The first being AP Computer Science, and the second being AP Calculus. I had to spend more time than normal studying and practicing the material in Calculus, but I still got a 5 out of 5 on the AP exam at the end of the day, so it was all good despite a few hurdles. As for Computer Science, I did not understand that at all and wound up getting a 70% during my second semester.
Why did I bomb a class so severely? Well, the answer is quite simple. It was a class primarily taught via a dry textbook that consisted of paragraph after paragraph of explanation, which is actually one of the worst ways to teach something like Computer Science. I, for all my stated academic intelligence, was not a particularly good reader back in high school, and because of that, I failed to understand damn nearly everything that was covered in the second semester, to the point where I had to meet with the teacher about it.
I forget what the compromise was, but I think he just gave me a C out of pity, and because he did not want to independently teach a student in what was a college-level AP class. A class that, in retrospect, I should not have taken during my freshman year. I’m pretty sure that this experience scared me off from AP classes until Calculus, which I took in my senior year, following 6 consecutive years of being put in honor’s math.
While this was one of the only major kerfuffles I can recall about high school, I did have the sporadic emotional breakdown over a bad grade or something that simply rubbed me the wrong way. So yes, heady-head went bashy-bash many times, but I got over my self-loathing, self-harming, and suicidal urges fairly quickly compared to middle school. Beyond that, it was a fairly easy, breezy, and relatively relaxed time.
A lot of this can be attributed to my class schedule, which consisted of two to three study halls depending on the day or semester. One was implemented as part of my IEP, another was part of how my school handled Science classes, having a two-period class twice a week for lab experiments, and the third one was my lunch period, which I spent in the school library. ‘When did I eat lunch?’ I hear you ask Homeroom. Between third and fourth periods, my school held a homeroom, and while watching the morning announcements I would scarf down whatever I had for lunch, which mostly consisted of frozen pizza and a stalk of celery.
Based on this described behavior, you can probably tell that I was not the most sociable of individuals at this time, and you would be completely right. In high school, I socialized on occasion but was pretty ambivalent about the whole process. I did not want to make new friends, I was not trying to pursue a significant other, and I did not like making small talk. I would chat with a few people when prompted and had little issue talking to other people my age or the teachers for that matter, but I remained quiet and rarely spoke unless spoken to. I viewed the social ramifications of high school as being a paltry amusement at best, and an annoyance at worst. My classmates were, generally, far better behaved than they used to be, but I still detested how loud and rowdy they were at times, especially during the pep assemblies. Oh my lord, the pep assemblies.
Natalie hates loud noises. Natalie does not like it when people shout. Natalie has a history of throwing a fit when surrounded by loud noises. Natalie distracts others when she is irritated by loud noises by curling up into a ball, crying, and shoving her fingers into her ears. Natalie does not like crowds. But the school said that Natalie must attend pep assemblies, where hundreds of children are shoved onto small bleachers and shout.
Never before had I been filled with such malice. Never before had I felt such hatred towards my surroundings that I wished for everything within my field of vision to be obliterated through complete and utter nuclear devastation. Never before had I considered thoughts of terrorism and mass shooting to be a good thing. But then I went to my first pep assembly, where I viewed such things as a blissful fantasy, a salvation from the sensory hell I was being subjected to.
So, yeah, I don’t really like pep assemblies. To the point where I started hiding in the bathroom during them, sneaking out of school early and taking the public bus home, and eventually begging the disability center to allow me to wait out morning pep assemblies from the comfort of their office. They were a dark splotch on what ultimately was a rather relaxed and routine time in my life and one that I look back with some fondness. A lot of which is due to how little school really affected me beyond school hours, and the excess of free time I was afforded.
I’d wake up at 7:00, eat an apple, change my clothes, brush my teeth, leave for the bus on the corner by 7:20, and then sleep a little bit more on the bus until arriving at school. Once there, things proceeded into a mix of class, doing all of my homework at school, and working on personal projects that would soon evolve into Nigma Box. Everything would wrap at 15:23, I’d get on the bus, chat with my friend Matt, go home, watch a bunch of let’s plays and other videos while browsing the internet and eating an early dinner, play 3-4 hours of video games, take a shower, masturbate to some TG stuff, go to bed at around midnight, and repeat the process all over again. All of which is a lot like my middle school schedule, but with more games, more masturbation, and dramatically less homework, to the point where I basically never had to do any homework at home aside from papers, projects, and studying for tests.
This lackadaisical routine of getting stuff done while not worrying about too many things is the general sentiment that I recall high school as having, and leads me to look back on this era of my life with a degree of fondness. Sure, I was pretty lazy and could have been more productive sooner, using my free time to learn new skills on my own. But you know what? Everything has worked out in my life pretty well so far, and I’m not going to retroactively hate myself for enjoying the leisure time I was provided with!
Part 5: Collage of Classes
Seeing as how we live in a world where a high school diploma doesn’t mean jack and higher education is where it’s at, I naturally made plans to attend college after high school. Oh, but which college? Well, my family was wealthy enough to never struggle financially, so I could have really afforded to be shoved off to Fancy-Pants University… but I said screw that and started attending a community college. It’s far cheaper, a good place to knock out one’s general education credits, and there happened to be a campus about an hour walk away from my house, or a 10 minute drive. So, naturally, the choice for me was obvious, and I began attending a summer class immediately after graduating high school.
Now, I would describe college in general as high school, but more focused, less social, and generally way better. The classes are longer, it is not a routine daily activity, and the students attending class consist of better-behaved individuals ranging from all walks of life, instead of being a bunch of minors. Contentwise, they were pretty much identical for the most part. Some classes were more project-oriented, but most were straightforward lectures, readings, basic homework assignments, and occasional assessments that lead into a final to cap off a 16 week period.
There exists this notion that college will whoop your butt, you will be unable to get anything done, and it is oh so super-duper hard. But in my humble and biased experience, that is a load of blazing bullshit. Sure, you have some annoying gen-ed papers to write, and the tests are a bit harder, but from community college to real college to my internationally accredited Master’s program, I honestly did not see any significant or jarring increase in difficulty throughout the whole experience.
Some projects sucked, such as that one Accounting class where I had to use frustratingly unintuitive proprietary software at one computer lab to extract information from a database, and then use that data at another computer, all while dealing with a professor who refused to give us written instructions. And research papers can be annoying to write, but after a while, you’ll figure out that it is just paraphrasing a bunch of articles from a database into something semi-coherent. They kinda suck, but they’re doable.
College, to me anyway, all blends into this continuous stream of classes, most of them being inoffensive, a few of them being genuinely entertaining and informative, and some of them being major clunkers led by professors who did little in the way of teaching, or were just bad at their job. I’ve had professors who were genuinely incredible at their craft, others who fumbled and were constantly distracted, and a few who I could barely understand from their thick accents.
However, most of them I only had once, maybe twice, and they came and went so quickly after so few encounters. High school mingles a sense of uniformity and community, whereas college was just a series of rapid-fire classes ranging a diverse spectrum of quality and content, all of which mesh together into this collage of education. While the central place was consistent, aside from how I jumped from community college to discount state university after snagging my Associate’s in Liberal Arts, there was rather little in the way of consistency. The topics, the lesson plans, the professors, it was all in this state of flux that lacked the stability of a fixed daily schedule and was muddled further by the jobs I worked from my time attending college. From being a substitute custodian at an office building that was normally cleaned by disabled children to being a tax accountant who was trying to make sense of high volume cryptocurrency trades during the great Bitcoin boom of 2017.
Actually… screw whatever I was leading up to or going to say here. College is something that I view as being a background act, a side gig where one goes through a number of professors who fluctuate between different teaching styles, grading styles, and general quality while trying to get on with the next part of their life. Naturally, this is not going to be the same for everyone, if you were into extracurriculars or were an on-campus student taking 5 or 6 classes at once, I’m sure you would have a very different tale to tell. But this is about me, and my experience was going in, taking a class, and going on with the rest of my life while accumulating both knowledge and credits before getting a piece of paper that says “you are smart”. And at the end of the day… that’s what school is.
However, my pursuit of knowledge and paper is not yet over, as I am currently studying for a super exam that requires an order of magnitude more dedication than anything I have ever studied for before. The Certified Public Accountant Exam. …But that is getting off-topic, and I should probably talk about how my accommodations came into play during college. Which is actually super important, and if you take anything away from this semi-coherent plate of words and thoughts and stuffs, it’s this:
If you have any disability, physical or mental, and you wish to pursue higher education, skill training, or want help in pursuing a professional career, and live in the United States of America, contact your state’s Department of Rehabilitation Services. They have helped me so much with funding, offered to pay for so much of my college education, that I was able to walk away from school with no debt. I have zero student loans, my family paid less than $12,000 to put me through school, and I now have a bloody Master’s degree in Accounting.
They saved my family a life-changing amount of money, and are continuing to offer me assistance in not only finding a job but will have somebody independently coach me for job interviews— something I know I will suck at. I get so upset when I hear about people with disabilities struggling when I know there are resources like this out there, and I want everybody to carry this knowledge with them. Regardless of what you think about your state’s government, if you have any disability, you can get mad cash, sick benefits, and wicked help.
Or in conclusion… school’s pretty alright, it kinda sucks sometimes, it was chill for the most, it made me want to die sometimes, and assuming you are good at learning from lectures and homework, it shouldn’t be that bad, especially once you start going to college. Also, the government will help you get a job and pay for (some of) your school if you have a physical, mental, or developmental disability. Abuse those benefits, because that’s what they’re there for, and in a world as black as this, y’all can’t afford to leave nothin’ on the table. But most of all, I’m done!
I am Natalie Neumann. I was born stupid, but I got better. Education is forever. Nigma Box Dot Com!
A visual novel developed by Bishop that I am too lazy to source properly, but it was used in Press-Switch.
Student Council’s Discretion – Anime Series
My Childhood Friend is Lesbian (?) by Garun
Pupa by Sayaka Mogi – Manga Series
Getting ready for School by ONATaRT
Elfen Lied – Anime Series
The ending tagline was stolen from Tim Rogers of Kotaku, because it is an excellent tagline.