The entirety of my high school years weren’t exactly what you’d call normal, after all, my life has always been atypical and completely different from what Venezuelan society deems ‘normal’ in the first place. About eight years ago I discarded a lot of old things from the past, including what I believed was, all of my high school and college stuff—I wanted a clean slate, and some more space.
As I continue my efforts to attain a visa and migrate with my brother to start a new life away from this country, I’ve found myself going through some more old stuff, sorting and choosing what clothes and things I can give away, and setting aside what to discard. This prompted a conversation between me and one of my younger cousins that ended up with me searching in a place I hadn’t bothered searching or even peeking at in years.
I stumbled upon a stash of things forgotten by time, a real snapshot of 13 year old me: Cardboard paper swords that I taped together to play around in my solitary self, real memorabilia of the time, including some pirated PS1 games, and even pictures of my mom’s old travels (and a bit of foreign currency in a sealed envelope to boot). I even found drawings and sketches of locations from a very old teenage prototype of a then illusory world that through time, evolved into becoming what I now collectively refer to as The Vaifen Saga.
Much to my surprise, I also found the entirely of my 8th grade books, it all survived the culling I made years ago simply because they had been stored in the wrong place—seeing them after twenty years filled me with a barrage of emotions, from nostalgia, to feelings of dread of what could’ve been but wasn’t, smiles, longing, all that brain stuff.
Perhaps it was fate that compelled me to search and find this stash at this precise moment of my life. Eight Grade (2000-2001) was, by far, my worst high school year in terms of academic performance, my greatest failure as a student—second only to College, but that’s a tale for the future.
I can draw many parallels between my life as a 13 year old back then and my life twenty years later as a 33 year old. They were both complex (but different) scenarios where I’ve felt like I kept failing no matter how much I tried. Two (out of many) time periods where I’ve felt depressed—back then perhaps fueled by puberty, and today because I am exhausted and utterly broken after the past years of my life—three of which I’ve spent trying to get a visa to no avail.
The fact that these two periods are almost exactly twenty years apart nurtures my obsession with noticing repeating cycles and patterns in my life, even if perhaps, they’re entirely coincidental.
Regardless, not everything was bad in my life twenty years ago, and not everything is bad today in my 33rd year of life—they were just complex moments overall, both from a personal standpoint or a country one.
The events from that time, which climaxed in 2001, were a prelude to a huge turning point in my life that I can best describe as a completely new chapter—and here I am, in 2021, doing my best to make manifest a new turning point in my life, working towards attaining a pair of visas that’ll allow both my brother and myself to start a new life, to finally take control of my life, and find my role in this world.
I seriously think that me having omitted to discard these things after all these years—only to rediscover them when I needed to see them the most can’t be a coincidence, like I said, perhaps it was an act of fate that these things were not stored along with the huge pile of things that I got rid of years ago.
It is time to bring closure to that chapter of my life. That is why I am writing these words. I will be doing so through a trilogy (or quadrilogy) of posts, with this being the first part: the intro.
Simply put, this is another exercise of me coming out of my social outcast shell by sharing bits and pieces of my past.
But before I can start bringing closure to that era, I think it’s best if I set the stage properly, and begin by going over the events that preceded the start of my disastrous Eight Grade year, that way you get proper context from where I was coming from and get a clearer picture of my headspace at the time.
I: Fall from grace
This will certainly sound cliché, but before we moved to Caracas in 1999 I really was a ‘brilliant and gifted’ kid that went to two different Marists schools (John XXIII in Punto Fijo and Our Lady of Chiquinquira in Maracaibo). I’d constantly get high grades on every single test you’d throw at me, I’d study hard and diligently, and would present you with the most impeccable homework a kid would procure, with my clumsy left handed butchery of the Palmer Method calligraphy being my only flaw (which I was never able to correct).
I was a happy, obese, and nearsighted brilliand child, with grades worthy of my mother’s intelligence, and for a time, all was good—that is, until life had us move to Caracas, and then I became the living enbodyment of this meme in record time.
I did Seventh and Eighth Grade in the same school in Caracas. Seventh Grade, the first of the five years of high school, was also the start of my downfall as a student. It was a really rough time for me, and for my family. We were all crammed in a single shared apartment: My mom, my brother, my grandmother, my two aunts, three cousins, a dog, and me.
I went from sleeping on a bed in Caracas to sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and having to do my homework either on that mattress, on the floor, or sometimes on the dining table—with all the distractions of my cousins (who would call me names and whatnot) getting in the way.
It really wasn’t a scenario that fostered or nurtured good education, discipline, and learning. Plus, my parents divorce, and my mother’s family and their extreme proclivity to generate and cause drama really did a number on my ability to study—my grades plummeted, bigtime.
To make matters worse, I got a bit sick towards the end of April (around the time of that year’s Holy Week). This coincided with a moment where my family was going through some real financial and housing issues (owners of the apartment wanted to stop renting to us, so we had to start looking for a place to go), all of which kept me out of school for some weeks—making me miss a huge chunk of the last third term. I’d already skipped a fair share of days, some of which were because of the nascent protests at the time.
Whether the sheer plummeting of my grades was all on me, or the precarious economic woes and severe downgrade of our livelihoods did have something to do with all that is beside the point now, I was in real danger of failing 7th grade, and that really troubled my mom—as if she didn’t had enough problems of her own (her divorce, my brother was starting to show signs of his mental condition, her family, job, et al).
The son of a good friend of my grandmother rented us an old but huge apartment for quite cheap so as to help us. We moved in with our grandmother, one of my aunts, and her son, and things improved a little. I once again had a room of my own, which meant space and ease of mind to study. My mom really emphasized and made me aware that I had to get my shit together and study hard from that point onward, and I was ready not to let her down, although I was terrified to return to classes, because I had already been absent for quite some time.
My return to classes took place in the same week that we moved in, and it really wasn’t all that good for me. One of the teachers (the Castilian one) straight up mocked me for having dared to show up again, and I really had no one to talk to in class (only a couple of kids would even talk to me back when I had joined them at the start of the year).
I was completely out of the blue in many subjects (math most of all), and although I was really giving it my all, it all felt so frustratingly hard—to the point that I even hit myself with a metal tube one Sunday night without no one ever noticing, first and only time I’ve ever done something like that. I honestly don’t know what drove me to do that as a kid, but I calmed myself that night, and decided to keep trying, if not for me, for my mom.
The next day I entered that school with a renewed resolve. I even went to great lengths to salute and say hello to teachers and all that—gestures that often went ignored. Nonetheless, I tried my best to avoid a complete shipwreck, but my efforts were simply not enough. As for my brother (who was in pre-school there), I don’t know how it went for him, he doesn’t remember anything from that time.
The final report card was handed over to my mom, my grades were absurdly low, worst of all, I flunked three courses: Castilian & Literature, one that I can’t remember anymore (Biology or History, leaning more towards the former), and my eternal woe, Math. The only one subject that I had zero problems with was English, although my grades had dropped because I didn’t do a few things during those weeks that I was absent.
My mom was disappointed, even if she didn’t fully show it, but considering all that had happened, it really could’ve been far worse—I could’ve been straight up expelled for having missed so many days of class, or I could’ve flunked the entire year had I not at least put that effort towards the end.
I had a very short period of time to study an entire year’s worth of content for those three subjects, and prepare myself for the three ‘Reparation’ tests. The way it works here is that whatever grade you get on each corresponding test supersedes your flunked grade. The tests took place in the same week. I passed the first two with not to stellar grades, as for math, I really fucked that one up, and now I had to ‘drag’ 7th grade math on my next school year.
I know my mom wasn’t 100% happy that I had failed math, but she congratulated me even though I didn’t deserve to be congratulated, because despite everything that had transpired, I gave it my best and repaired two out of the three flunked courses. I still remember that day, down to the striped shirt I wore as our mandatory uniforms were not required on the day of the test. She didn’t berate me or anything, but I know I let her down with math.
Anyways, after a very convoluted 1999-2000 academic period, and a very difficult time of our lives, it was time for some respite. I had a really chill vacation time. Sure, we didn’t have money to go on vacation, but we’d go to the movies whenever our budget (and my mom’s work schedule) allowed. I also had a stash full of pirated PlayStation games, and a little over two months to play without having to worry about homework, tests, or anything.
My mom told me that what was done was done, and there was nothing else to do but to keep going forward—which included the subject of my grades. Eight Grade was to be a new start, where I could recover my grades, fix the ‘dragged’ Seventh Grade math, and become the good student that I was up until sixth grade.
But I failed to do that, I failed even harder that time around, and eight grade ended in a complete academic catastrophe.
To be continued,
This tale continues in “Tales from 8th Grade II: Crash and burn,” which you can access by clicking here.