Breaking Down The Barriers

By Jacob Martinez

Platt High school was covered with blue and yellow banners draping the walls and HUGE panthers painted on everything within sight. Before I get the chance to look around at the big space, I was immediately greeted by the resource officer, Officer Blake, who was at least 7 feet tall and had his hair perfectly faded from the bottom to the top and kept the top gelled up like he was a Jersey Shore cast member. He smiled and kindly said “Good Morning, best of luck today” to every student and each one would look up and continue anxiously past without an acknowledgment. As I continued past him, I could still smell the gel for a brief period but once I went further, the smell of marijuana and cigarettes from the older kids lingered in the hallways. It was as if someone dumped an ashtray on themselves, and you wonder, how does someone walk by this 7-foot man and not feel a sense of heightened anxiety? For me, a student walking past with nothing to hide, I had severe anxiety. I felt so minuscule in comparison to him, and now to be a first-year student and walking amongst the crowd of students 3 years higher than me, it was a nightmare. This all brought me much anxiety to add on top of the anxiety I already had. My anxiety held me back from standing tall in the crowd of students. I would lay low but still felt as if after your entrance into the school you were swallowed up amongst the crowd of bickering students. I do not like big crowds, so being amongst this large assortment of individuals I did not know was like a pillow was draped over my face and pressed snug enough to my nose where I could not breathe. That same feeling steered me away from my education and led me to procrastinate every moment I should have been learning. 

Platt High School

That first interaction with my school was so unpleasant that it set the tone for my first year in high school. I would go to school, fight my way through the crowd as to ensure I did not touch anyone, and find myself eventually sitting in a steel cold desk chair listening to a lesson and not retaining any of the information as if it were in one ear and out the other. This was if I showed up to school. When it came to the lessons, there was not one single class that stood out. The information was all mumble jumble to me. It became even more mumble jumble when it came to reading. I swear the teacher was speaking Swahili to me. Based upon my understanding from the class I would still manage to interpret what the homework was. Our class assignment was to read 30 pages in a book, and I dreaded the thought of that. I would only see words. Words and more words that had no meaning to me. I had only wished that things would get easier for me because I wanted to graduate. I would love to say I took something with me over the course of the following semesters as a first-year student, but unfortunately, everything after that felt like the same motion repeated daily.  

Miraculously enough, I snapped back into reality during my final days. I realized I made it. I made it through the year. My first year of high school was finally going to be completed and I did not gain one single piece of information to retain, but I somehow managed to get the same letter that my fellow students got in the mail.  

“To the Parents/Guardians of Jacob Martinez,  

Congratulations on completing your first year as a Platt Panther!  

Please enjoy your summer vacation, keep up with your summer readings, and look for your new schedule mailed out shortly enough.  

Your faculty will soon see you again, and are eager for your return. 

Signed,  

Principal Montemurro, Vice Principal Verdi, and the rest of your staff here at Platt High School!”  

I was shocked to have gotten this letter. Did I even do any work? Was I even here to learn? “WOW” that is the only thought that could process through my head. It is quite surprising that I was allowed to move on to the next grade, especially with the blanked-out brain I possessed from the last several months.  

I rode that high horse of accomplishment all the way through my summer vacation. I did not take a single look at a book and continued to enjoy my summer, just as the letter I received stated to do! Sure enough, this “wow” factor I was possessed with, came to a drastic halt when I realized, my second year of high school starts tomorrow.  

Coming into my second year of high school, the anxiety was still there as I passed by Officer Blake. He greeted me with a warm, “Welcome back.” The strangest thing happened, and I replied. “It’s nice to see you!” and smiled back at him. I walked through the blue and yellow covered halls amongst the crowd once again. I fought through the crowd to get into my first period English class. I finally got to sit at my desk and as I am adjusting myself, I notice engraved words within it “school sux.” It was like my mind laser engraved the words I was thinking into my desk. I just wanted summer again! My eyes are drawn away from my desk extremely fast as my English teacher walks in. A very professional looking woman with a nice blue dress walks in and smiled towards our class with a smile that left an imprint on us, as if the red lipstick she was wearing smeared on us and could not come off. She introduced herself, “My name is Ms. Grabiec, and I will be your English teacher for this year.” It felt as if her simple introduction electrocuted me with shock as I found myself believing this year could be different. I found myself feeling less anxious with such a warm presence around the classroom. Ms. G seemed so genuine and gave off the vibe that she wanted to be there, and she wanted to help her students.  

Basic short stories and introductions to start the year. Does not sound bad right? Well for me it was a problem. I slowly retained the information but still found myself looking at the work as if it were directed at me in another language. I attempted the work. Work which may not have been up to par, but it was completed. It must have been evident that the struggle was real. After receiving a grade back for completing these assignments, a strange little message appeared in the top right corner of my short story questionnaire. “Please speak with me after class” Oh no. I am in trouble now! That same suffocating feeling of anxiety I experienced during my first year has now overcome me. My gut felt heavy, and my thoughts were racing. It is funny how anxiety can leave you with this looming feeling of thoughts taking over, all while you choke on the drippage of saliva in your mouth as you realize you can breathe but have totally forgotten how. Was I overreacting? Who knows?  

I look at the clock to see several minutes left in my course. In what felt like the snap of a finger, the bell rings. I approached her desk with my head down low.  

Hi Ms. G, you wanted to see me?” still looking at the ground, she replies with a high energy toned,  

“Jacob, my friend, what is going on with your work?”  

I stayed quiet as I did not want to look stupid expressing my hate for school, or to even tell her that I hear her instructions in different languages. My silence was a good enough answer for her. She continued to speak and the next words I heard shocked me.  

Take your time, do not force yourself to understand literature. Let the literature understand you.”  

It made sense to me and with that, I thanked her for her time and left for the day.  

The following day is upon us as I walk into my Ms. Grabiec’s class with my bookbag hanging off one shoulder, a planner in hand, and my trusty pen. I was prepared to put her words to the test, or so I thought.  

“Class, we will begin reading George Orwell’s 1984. I need you all to take a copy and then read the back of the book and we will discuss what we think this story is about.”  

My mind shuts off. I totally lost track of the rest of the class, and now even the rest of school! I now find myself at home sitting in my room, with the lights dimmed down. I hear nothing but a ceiling fan slowly humming over my head while I try to read George Orwell’s 1984. I read the words on the page, but I do not get what the point of me reading the book is. I battle with myself, counting the times the blades of the ceiling fan pass over my head, I sweat, I procrastinate, I seek other work that may be easier to complete, ANYTHING to get me out of reading this dreaded book for my English class. I reflect on my thoughts and fight even more in my head. The harder I fight the more I see that these thoughts are persistent with who I was before my talk with Ms. Grabiec. I then start to hear her voice in my head increasingly more, “Take your time, do not force yourself to understand literature. Let the literature understand you.” I go back into reading as to not let my teacher down. I flip back a couple pages in my book and seek out lines that may stick out to me, “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” (Orwell 2). I ponder in my head, thinking of what this book could be about. I started to form a theory. The book was interesting to me now at this point because I was forming connections. I found my love for Sci-Fi and futuristic themes being brought up throughout this Utopian universe within the book. I then find myself indulging in the book, finding more lines that stick out! “Thoughtcrime does not entail death: Thoughtcrime IS death” (Orwell 28). Delighted now to have flipped back a few pages to try and restart, I continue to hear Ms. Grabiec in my head, offering me more words of wisdom to try and feel the words rather than just read them.  

As I continue to read, I feel almost haunted by the pages. Winston, a character within 1984 was realizing that there was much control around, and I as I looked back into my life, I was seeing control too! My anxiety was through the roof as I think back to Officer Blake. Why did we need a Police officer there anyways?! Especially someone so tall and scary to me! This was all about control. It had to be!  

Just thinking about the similarities between the book and school kept me intrigued to learn more. And the more I read, the more I thought, “How did someone predict these types of conditions in our everyday life so far back in the past?! This guy must be a time traveler.”  

Despite the image of control around me, I did not let it phase me. I broke down my barriers around me to see reality more clearly while reading this book. This allowed me to realize that the knowledge to educate oneself in the English literature was always there. I never applied myself enough to notice this because I let the feelings of anxiety hold me back behind those walls. Once I could eliminate those barriers, the words on pages were seen more vividly and understood in an even clearer context.  

Her words stick with me for the days to come, and soon to be years, as I continued through high school for my junior, and senior year. These following years, more confidence was instilled within me.  

It was my first day as a senior, and I approached Platt High School. The school looked different this year. It was covered with scaffolding and giant metal trailers flooding the lots. It was time for the school to get a makeover. Just like my school got a makeover, I did too. I walk under the scaffolding with a whole new attitude. I get to the front door where Officer Blake stands, and before he can even acknowledge me, I speak up and greet him!  

“It is nice to see you again, Officer Blake! Hope you enjoyed your summer!”  

Work Cited  

Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Signet Classic, 1950.  
 
Instructor: Alexa Carey 

Course: English 095 

Assignment: Literacy Narrative 

  
Instructor Notes: One of the reasons why I selected this piece was to teach anecdote. Jacob did a fantastic job of introducing a minor character, Officer Blake, through three anecdotes that occur within the narrative – at the beginning, middle and end. Each one illustrates his journey as a high school student and progressively shows his evolution and growth. Another noteworthy aspect is the connections between the 1984 book that was assigned in school as it related to the high school experience itself, one that includes monitoring, surveillance and policing.

Photo Credit: “Suzio 2017-10-19 Platt High School Ribbon Cutting” by CT Senate Republicans (Creative Commons)

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