2002, a year that started simple but marked many points of no return for Venezuela. Massive political turmoil, general strikes, failed coups, and many more tribulations and events that took place. This year that is now two decades past was also a significant turning point in my life.
I shared the tales of my 8th grade experiences with you all almost a year ago, and this time, I wanna do the same with 9th grade.
9th grade was the absolute best and only good time I had during high school. It has now been twenty years since those times have gone and I’ve been finding myself reminiscing those days as of late through what memories are left on my mind, for they were a fantastic but short time of my life.
What follows are some memories, recollections, and anecdotes from the best six months of my high school days.
Unlike most students, my 9th grade school year was shorter than what our regulations stipulate. This was because I had to receive two surgeries on my toes during the 2nd half of 2001, which left me bedridden and barely able to walk for some time — thus I skipped the official start of that school year in October of 2001. I’ve always been chubby, but I significantly gained weight during those months, unfortunately. My recovery from the first surgery also coincided with our moving into this apartment, with my second surgery taking place around September of 2001.
My mom always put our education above everything else, something I did not value until it was too late, I’m afraid. The school year had started and I was not enrolled in any school. Be that as it may, there was nothing else she or I could do about it, it’s not like I could actually walk properly, let alone attend classes. I did, however, grinded the hell out of my pirated copy of Phantasy Star Online on Dreamcast all throughout my recovery.
By December I was able to walk normally again, but I was not able to wear shoes. I’d still need daily bandages and gauze pad changes on my toes, especially if I was going to go outside, for which I had two rather comfortable sandals of a bootleg nature at my disposal. This extended throughout January as well.
Now that I was more recovered, it was time to get back to school, and not being able to wear shoes was no excuse — the problem, however, was finding a school that would accept my brother (who was in first grade, if memory serves me well) and I after the first term (or “Lapso” as we call them here) was done.
My mom, who worked 2 jobs at the time, took time out of her already tight work schedule to scout for such school. The first of them, a big one relatively close (but not quite) from this area, had preliminary gave the a-ok. This school, however, had such an incredibly bad reputation that deterred my mom from enrolling us there — but if there was no other choice for us then this would’ve had to be it.
I don’t know who, how, or when she was recommended to the schools we went to. Whoever was it I will never know, but if by some random act of life you find yourself reading this, then thank you.
This school was rather peculiar, as it was split into two different institutions that occupied different (but nearby) locales. One half, located further away from our home, had from preschool to 4th grade. The other half, where I went, had from 5th grade to all of high school. Functionally and administratively, they were different entities, owned by the same people, but in essence, it was a single school. Kids that finished 4th grade in the first school were instantly offered continuity on the other half.
My mom went and explained our situation, specially mine, and thus an agreement was made:
When it comes to grades, we are measured on a scale from 1 to 20 in every term. You need at least 10 in a subject to pass it. Under normal circumstances, a student’s final grades are the average of the year’s 3 terms. Since my brother and I had missed the first term then our grades would instead be the average of the second and third term.
Whether or not this meant that I had it easier or harder was irrelevant. I had to give it my all and get good grades, that much I owed to my mom after the absolute disaster that was 8th grade and all of my academic failures.
And thus yours truly began an atypical but amazing 9th Grade on the 14th of January, 2002.
THE FIRST DAYS
I remember the exact Monday that I first went to that school, not because I have a good memory and a sharp mind, but because Teacher’s Day took place a day after, so everyone had the day off.
My mom hired transportation for the two of us with this woman that had a vehicle suited for the task. It is not uncommon in Venezuela for people to offer these services, and all of this woman’s children were enrolled in this school too.
I arrived on time, but had no idea where to go. I was supposed to talk to the school coordinator, Mrs. Gilda, but she had not arrived yet. So there I was, sitting on a couch, with my bandaged feet and sandals, my backpack with some notebooks inside next to me.
The whole school day starting ceremony (students line up and listen to the anthem, flag is risen, et al). took place, and every student went to their respective classrooms. I still didn’t know where to go, and I was a naive and shy 14 year old.
I remember that the first teacher that approached me was the Castillian one. She asked me what I was doing there, and I explained my situation, stutters and all. While she welcomed me, she didn’t know exactly what to do either. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Gilda had finally arrived.
This is weird though, I would eventually find out how much the students disliked and feared Mrs. Gilda, but for whatever reason, she was always lovely and kind towards me, God bless her. Anyways, after she welcomed me with open arms, she took me to the 9th grade classroom. She interrupted whatever class was taking place (I cannot remember anymore), to introduce me.
The classroom was pretty much a repurposed large room in a house, typical of most schools around these lands. There were approximately 21-23 teenagers there. All of them were older than me and had known each other for years now — once again, and just like many times throughout my life, I was the odd piece out, the shy newcomer, the stranger.
These lads were like an ensemble cast of students, and were split between their respective circles or groups, just like in every classroom — yet, while I did not fit in any group per se, I was able to squeeze in just fine depending on the situation, like a quintessential piece, but never fully part of any group.
Many of them had an assigned nickname and all. Regrettably, I can no longer remember all of the names and faces of all of the 20-something that comprised that classroom, I still remember some, such as:
Tavo: Of all the people in that classroom, Tavo was the only one I kept contact with long after my departure from that school, to the point that I invited him to play Ragnarok Online and was part of Divine Intervention, the guild that I was part of. He was definitely the closest I had to a friend back then, and the one who I’d joke around and make proto-memes with the most (more on that later).
Mañon: A nickname derived from “Cro-Magnon” that I assume was given to him due to the guy’s physique. Dude was an absolute unit. If memory serves me well, he had a younger sister as well. He was actually the first one I talked to during a class on my first day, because I was utterly clueless about something the teacher had said.
Pablo: Tavo’s friend. Guy had a knack for music, played the guitar, and was easy going.
Quince (fifteen): Before House M.D. had Thirteen, there was Fifteen. This was a nickname given to him simply because he was number 15th on the attendance list. Like Tavo, dude was pretty rad too. He was certainly committed to the Fifteen nickname, to the point that his Hotmail address at the time reflected this.
My arrival actually created two different lists: the Original (and most used) one that had everyone alphabetically sorted by last name (with me being the exception due to my late arrival), and a ‘corrected’ but rarely used one, same alphabetical sort, but with me as number 4 — thus bumping Fifteen to the 16th spot.
These four were the ones that’d talk and interact with me the most. I still remember some others, such as:
Vicente: The Real Madrid guy. He has the same name as my godson and my late uncle, so how could I forget him. Definitely the go-to football authority in class.
Mory and Daniela: These two were a inseparable pair, and the closest you could get to the ‘goth’ kids in class. Don’t really have anything bad to say about them or anyone else that was part of that classroom for that matter.
Flor: Who happened to be the daughter of the History and Geography teacher.
Marisela: The unapologetic Venezuelan opposition enthusiast. She was an extremely nice girl—but boy, mention anything about politics and she’d go nuclear, and this was long before Twitter existed. She idolized this particular Venezuelan journalist that now lives in the United States. The daughter of said journalist now follows me on Twitter — small world, eh?
There were others, like the blonde girl, the tall and brash girl, the absolute smartest ace in the class, the short one, and a girl named after one book in the Bible. I cannot remember most of their names and faces anymore.
In addition to them, there were others that weren’t part of 9th grade, such as this girl that would draw insanely good art. I remember this one afternoon when she showed Mañon and I this piece she had just drawn of a dragon and a female warrior holding a sword. There was also this tall guy from 10th grade that was friends with some of the 9th grade kids and would often talk about geek stuff.
Alas, like I said, I cannot remember most names and faces anymore, even though this was such a good time of my life. The fact that I’m beginning to forget such a good moment of my life terrifies me.
It did took some days for me to slowly get used to being in a school again, and it took some more time to get used to the tempo of things — the most important thing, though, was that unlike 7th and 8th grade, I did not felt scared, and was, for the most part, ecstatic to go to school once more.
Still, there were days where I’d be once again terrified of going, such as the days when I had a test, or when there were classes that I hated and was doing bad at, such as math. I’d still skip some days here and there because of my asthma and whatnot.
It’s been twenty years, and here I am, sitting in the very same bedroom, it all fills me with nostalgia and longing, which, in my case, tends to be a double edged sword.
I’d return home usually at around 1:30p.m. or 02:00p.m. I’d eat my grandma’s lunch, turn on my old Sony TV, and tune in to Fox Kids to watch some Power Rangers reruns. I’d do my homework, play video games, and start going to bed at around 11:00pm, after Spiderman, that’s when my brother would finally go to bed.
At the time, this apartment was way less complete than it is today, and there was only one bedroom: this one. I was still sleeping on a mattress on the floor, leaving the bed for my brother. My mother would sleep in a makeshift room in the place that my brother’s bedroom was built on.
Catching up was still one of my main tasks, but there were three subjects that I really needed help with: Physics, Chemistry, and Math.
A chemistry test regarding the Periodic Table took place a week after I started. Naturally, I was clueless about all of that, and my failure was all but certain. Now, here’s the thing, the students had worked on assembling a periodic table that was on display, and I happened to be sitting right next to that wall.
Of course I cheated because I dared not get a 01 on the test. I thought I had committed the perfect crime but the teacher knew what was up. He waited until the test was over and everyone had handed over theirs to ask me the same questions I had just ‘answered’ correctly on my paper — clearly I had no idea, the jig was up.
I apologized to him and he let it pass only because I had just started and it’s not like I knew any of that — but next time I’d better study or get better at cheating.
While I did not dare to confess my crime to my mom, she knew what was up with these 3 subjects, so she made the extra sacrifice to hire a private tutor that the school recommended to her to help me catch up with Chemistry, Math, and Physics during the afternoons.
I did not see it at the time, but the amount of monetary sacrifice she put for our education is something I wish I had been more appreciative of — I wish I had understood that better at the time, who knows where I’d be at if I had actually pursued a career properly instead of failing so hard with my studies before and after 9th grade.
Every other class I had no trouble catching up, it’s not like you need to memorize formulas or know how to solve equations to answer a History test. For all my efforts, my grades weren’t exactly the best, but they were far better than the disasters of 8th grade.
I was exempt from participating in P.E. classes and would not be part of them until I was able to wear shoes much later down the road. This meant, however, that I was the least physically fit in the class. I’d just sit from afar and breathe in the fresh air, but as my toes continued their recovery, I slowly began to participate in the warm-up exercises with care, better than nothing.
English continued to be my ace in the hole, but I was no longer the only kid in the class with an inexplicable grasp of the English language. Tavo, for example, was just as good as me, if not better. Commerce, a subject that wasn’t part of my 7th or 8th grade studies, was another area I excelled at for some reason. This would end up saving my ass in the long run.
These memories will continue in “Memories of 9th Grade II” which you can access by clicking here.