2001, new year, new life, and all that. My grades were a complete disaster, but still more than salvageable, just needed to put maximum effort into it. “Just try harder this time around,” I said to myself. But as much as I needed, wanted, and desired better grades, I just couldn’t get them.
From what I can gather from my notes, my first day of classes in 2001 was on the 08th of January, one day before my 13th birthday. I can’t say that I was thrilled by the prospect of going back to that classroom—I knew I had to, as it was my duty to study, I just didn’t want to. For whatever reason, that pressure of having to get my shit together and up my grades, instead of making me focus more, did the opposite, and I just kept feeling like this was all too much for me to handle.
The ingrown toenail that I had on my left toe worsened, and the blood and secretions started to stain the socks I wore, which made keeping it a secret harder. Because my life is like that, my other big toenail began to share a similar fate as well.
You’d think that either the school director or coordinator would’ve reached out to me to have a talk about the absolute state of my grades and my performance as a student, but nah, it never happened. I did, however, get called in one day so that I could receive a sealed letter that I never delivered out of fear.
The next day I had an accident in P.E. class. The second term’s sport to focus on was Football (or Soccer, for you Americans). Same deal as with Volleyball during the first term: teams of three, with me just being the autobalance handicap of my team as nobody would pick me.
Me being the careless and clueless kid that I was (still am) is what caused it. I was just standing in the wrong place when a stray football ball hit full force on my head, knocking me down. Naturally, class was halted to deal with the situation, and in my disoriented state all I could hear was a cacophony of voices and some laughter here and there—what a great way to start the year’s P.E. classes…
I spent the rest of the day in absolute pain and half my face swollen. The school director knocked on the classroom’s door to specifically talk to me; it was not to see how I was doing, but to ask if I had delivered the letter I was given the day prior.
This was one of the first times in my life that I was really aggravated by someone’s actions, if I had known the words “the audacity of this bitch” back then I would’ve most likely had them flash in my head at that moment. I was seriously in pain, and I got asked about the letter instead. I just lied and said that my mom was out on a medical conference trip.
Twenty years later I found that letter hidden on the inner pocket of one of my notebooks, it was simply a late payment reminder for a fee my mom simply forgot to pay.
For what it’s worth, I got to skip school the next day. When the school year started, all of the students shared phone numbers with one another so as to have a list of contacts in case you’d ever need it for whatever reason (remember, this was 2001, internet access was not what it is today, and social media did not exist back then).
There was only one person that actually called to see how I was doing that afternoon: the same kid that I gave my copy of Vagrant Story to as part of the whole Secret Santa thing. I didn’t answer the phone, but my mom did. I never really got to thank him for that.
Classes continued to be rather mellow, and now matter how much effort I’d put in I had seemed to have plateaued performance-wise, ok in some, bad in others. In spite of that, opportunities for socializing began to arise, and for the first time, I was ‘part’ of one of the groups of kids in class. We were struggling with class, but that was not what united us.
From movies like Mission Impossible 2 to Pokemon, we found common ground. I, along with those two, started to get along just fine. During those days, access to 56k internet was something I could get from time to time, and among my searches I snatched one interesting bit of information: how to dupe Pokemons in Pokemon Gold/Silver.
This presented me with my first video-game business entrepreneurship, long before the days of WoW gold and Bolivar value comparisons. By uniting forces and hardware with those two lads, we could duplicate rare Pokemons (such as the Mewtwo I transferred over from my copy of Pokemon Blue) and sell them to the kids in 4-6th grade to capitalize on the booming Pokemon fad, splitting the profits evenly as the process required our two Game Boys and a Link Cable.
Since the dupe also allowed you to duplicate items held by the Pokemon themselves, Master Balls and other ‘unique’ items were part of our repertoire. Those were some great days where I’d feel good and was enjoying going to school—for the wrong reasons.
Long story short, I was able to make enough money to buy my very own copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. School began to clamp down hard on Game Boy usage shortly afterwards, though.
In addition to those two lads, I also began to talk to two older teenagers from ninth grade that attended certain eight grade classes that they were dragging in the same manner that I was dragging seventh grade class (from my understanding, they were repeating some of 9th grade and some of 8th grade, and their schedule somehow accommodated for this).
On what topic you may ask? Star Wars.
This was around the time where a now extinct cable TV channel (MovieCity) was doing a huge Star Wars push as part of their programming—it was kind of a huge deal. They were constantly airing the Original Trilogy along with Episode I.
One of them was a huge EU dork. I, in contrast, knew almost nothing beyond the mere basics, but he was more than happy to share his knowledge. In a way, that whole sudden Star Wars thing, and learning more about Star Wars via osmosis out of that guy is what largely influenced me to get into Jedi Outcast two years later—which was the ground zero for my online gaming career.
English continued to be my ‘cool’ trick, and it was only because of it that girls would even talk to me. Why would the group of girls even talk to the fat and lonely weirdo if not to ask for help with song translations and for the meaning of the lyrics of hit songs such as Bon Jovi’s It’s my Life.
All of that really helped me hate going to school less, but it’s not like it was going to save my ass and the trash fire of my grades so far.
I got my first and only 3-day suspension from school some weeks later, and it was because of something I didn’t do at all, but before I explain why I must first put things into context:
Cell phone usage in Venezuela had begun to massify at a drastically fast pace during those days, a trend that started around early 1999 when Venezuelan carriers began to deploy their CDMA networks. This naturally translated into a number of kids with cell phones in the classroom, myself included.
One of the ‘big two’ carriers in this country, Digitel (which at the time was owned by Telecom Italia Mobile) had begun to implement SMS text messaging in its network—free of charge during those days, if memory serves me well.
Text messaging + teenagers = trouble.
Students with Digitel phones would send texts among themselves to annoy, gossip or for amusement, it was the evolution of passing notes in class, I guess. Anyways, during one class, the teacher had enough of it and demanded that these two guys handed over their phones—which escalated into her seizing every single phone in class. The classroom complied, until one kid said no.
Things rapidly got out of hand and everyone swarmed her puse to get our respective phones back, including mine. That teacher was so infuriated by the ordeal that she had a meltdown and suspended the class right there. She demanded the director issue a 3-day suspension to everyone that laid hands on her purse.
I honestly thought my mom was going to kill me when she’d found out—I mean, I flunked almost every course’s first term, and now I got a 3-day suspension? On shit, I was so dead.
Surprisingly, she didn’t get mad at me once I explained what happened, because in the end, we all did what we did to get our phones back. Who the hell was that teacher to seize that which was ours in the first place, right? She did have to go to a school meeting along with every other parent the next day.
Those were some really long and chill three days where I got to play Final Fantasy VIII again. I even got to watch Digimon live in the morning instead of having to tape it, good stuff. The only problem was that there was this one math test that was scheduled to take place during those three days, and no matter how much the parents insisted, the school director did not agree to postpone it, therefore everyone who was suspended got a ‘no show’ 01 grade on it.
Sure, a bunch of my classmates were panicking about it. I didn’t care cause I was already rock bottom in terms of grades—what was another 01 gonna do to me? Or, as we say here, what’s another stripe to a tiger?
Castilian classes were outright boring to me, but I did manage to completely nullify one one day. The specifics elude me, but the teacher had agreed to let us watch my copy of Bedazzled in class. Watching the ~90 minute movie instead of 90 minutes of a boring class was indeed part of my plan, and it worked.
As the immortal Chapulin Colorado would say, “they take advantage of my nobleness,” and one such incident occurred with this guy. I borrowed my copy of Gone with 60 seconds and never returned it to me—also, I had lent him my Nyko Worm Light for GameBoy Color one Friday morning, and the idiot got his handheld seized for an entire weekend.
Thankfully he got it back the next Monday and he returned the worm light to me, but don’t think for a second that I’ll let pass the fact that he never returned that movie to me, not even after twenty whole years. That’s right, you heard me, Benjamin.
Shortly afterwards, those two lads that I did the Pokemon gig with went to our place to play video games one Saturday afternoon, which coincided with the visit of one of my cousins. We had some great times playing 4-player Perfect Dark, Goldeneye, and other games.
Unlike my Maracabo days, when either going to a friend’s house or they’d come to mine for a gaming afternoon was a common occurrence, this was the first and only time something like this took place in my life during the entirety of my high school years—the last time it happened in my life even.
My mood continued to improve overall, and while I still struggled in class, I was still trying my best, that is, until one day….
There was this rather important Art class assignment, a presentation that you had to do, I already forgot the subject, it’s irrelevant to this anecdote, anyways.
The catch was that the presentation was to be done using the school projector and therefore, through acetate transparencies. I mistakenly misunderstood when I asked if I could use my printer to get them done, and what’s where I messed up, bigtime.
Yes, I bought the acetate sheets without issue, as there was a small shop near our place that had them. I used our Pentium 1 computer and fired up the old but reliable Microsoft Word ‘97 to prepare the text for the presentation. I am bad at drawing and art, but this was a purely textual assignment. I got the theory nailed down, and that was reflected in the quality of the text I typed in.
Everything was fine until it was time to print everything up—on our inkjet printer, at 09:00p.m.…
You’re supposed to print these using a laser printer, which I didn’t know at the time, that was my colossal mistake. The ink wouldn’t stick and I started to freak out. I had no idea what to do, so I just grabbed a pen and tried to just write everything down manually. It took me more than an hour but I slowly wrote it all up, trying my best to have a presentable calligraphy.
The next morning I grabbed the sheets and put them in a folder. Everything was so smudged up by the time it was my turn to use the projector, but I had a presentation to do. Suffice to say, it didn’t go well, and much laughter was had at my expense. That whole experience was demoralizing for me, and I was getting close to giving up on trying altogether, but I needed to keep trying because I had an obligation with my mom.
The ingrown nails had seemed to improve on their own, but when they flared back up—much worse this time—there was no hiding it anymore. My mom got upset at me for not having told her earlier.
The time for the second 7th grade math reparation test came, and my mental state became one of fear, fear of failing.
I was terrified, I tried to hastily immerse myself into the subjects that were part of the test, but nothing would stick in my head—everything was just a jumbled mess of numbers and operations that made absolutely no sense to me.
It was a disaster, worse than the first one.
With a lower score than the one I got during the first test there was no realistic way for me to fix this short of obtaining a perfect score on the third and final test—and given my track record so far, well…that was a horse no sane person would’ve bet on.
The thought of it all terrified me, nobody really knew just how bad I felt. That bomb was gonna go off and there was no way for me to defuse it.
That was it, that was the breaking point, I stopped trying.
After that test something clicked in me and I just stopped caring about classes or even trying to improve my grades. I no longer believed I could recover, so why even bother in the first place—even if I was fearful of disappointing and failing my mother all over again.
I began to isolate myself more and more, all that progress I had achieved at socializing was completely thrown out of the window as I further withdrew into my shell. That’s around the time I drew that map for a location for something that was a precursor to Sword of the Nation that I found among my eight grade books.
The pages of my notes from that point onward reflect the lack of fucks given: I stopped writing notes halfway through class, stopped making them all clean and presentable—I didn’t care anymore, what was the point of trying when my failure was all but decreed?
Whether this new lack of self-worth was related or exacerbated by my puberty changes is something I now ponder upon—but it is a feeling that cascaded all throughout my life, and to this day, I’m still struggling with it more often than not, albeit for different reasons, and different failures.
Classes became a mindless blur, whether I passed or failed tests was all the same to me. My grades continued to be one unmitigated disaster, I had already failed the 1st and 2nd seventh grade math reparation tests, and only a miracle could make me achieve a perfect score on the final one. I stopped caring about English even.
Honestly, there was no real way for me to get out of all of this, me being forced to repeat eight grade was becoming the most realistic outcome with each passing day. To make matters worse, the ingrown toenail situation worsened, and only because I kept it a secret for so long I cared so little that I failed to mention to my mom that I had the first of the 2nd term tests the day after we went to get our glass prescriptions updated (which included pupil dilation and all that). I had no idea what to do, I was not prepared for that test at all, and my pupils were extremely dilated.
And then, my life, atypical as it has always been, aligned itself in a way that I was able to bail out of it all, my salvation came at the eleventh hour in a most unexpected way. On that same night, My grandmother had a conversation with my mom. I don’t know the details, but after that everything changed.
I thought my grandmother was joking when she told me I wasn’t going to school the next day, and yet, fear, force of habit, and the remnants of my duty as a student that compelled me to face that test despite being unprepared for it made me wake up very early that morning—but my grandmother did not lie, I didn’t in fact go to school that day. That 2nd term test? Who cares? No school!
It was not until a few days later that I understood what happened. My grandmother called in a favor from someone in Maracaibo, a teacher, to be more precise. She explained my situation and how I was pretty much on an imminent course towards failing eight grade.
The solution was that I was to be transfered from my current school and into his under a special program. Study guides were mailed for me to read, along with a set of tests that I had to mail back—sort of a pseudo-homeschool kinda deal, that’s how I can best describe it.
Best of all, while first term grades were set in stone, I got to do second term all over again. I put my full effort into all that, and lo and behold, my second and third term grades were good enough for me to recover and pass, not with the best of grades, but a victory nonetheless.
I don’t know the specifics of what happened with my seventh grade math tests, but I was basically allowed to redo the second one too through those guides. I fared much better this time, and along with doing ok on the third one, I successfully ‘repaired’ seventh grade math.
So yeah, I was bailed by my grandmother, the humble, caring nurse that treated everyone with kindness defused the bomb I could not defuse on my own, God bless her soul.
I know my mother was not thrilled by the whole thing, but I sure was, because, as long as I applied myself and did this right, I could save myself up from total failure—and not having to go to that school and see those teachers’ faces ever again was the icing on the cake.
The school director was ‘sad’ to see me go, because I was such a ‘good boy’ and all that. My brother continued his first grade at that school without issue and was able to make it through despite his condition.
I didn’t make it out unscated, though. The situation of my two ingrown toenails was dire enough to warrant an ambulatory surgery to remove the two nails, a bit of flesh, and clean the infected toes thoroughly, lest I’d risk losing the toe altogether.
Was it painful? Yes, very much so. The next few days were quite displeasing and full of pain, unable to sleep, with daily betadine washes and bandage replacing, and the eventual stitches removal. I suppose this was my penance, the price life made me pay to get out of my academic disaster.
And that’s how I made it out alive from eighth grade and into ninth grade.
Click here for the Epilogue to this trilogy.