One of my favourite books is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. In the story, Atticus tells his children that to kill a mockingbird is a sin, because mockingbirds only create music for our ears to delight in. Mockingbirds represent innocence, and in a lot of ways innocence is destroyed in this book, especially the innocence of the young children Scout and Jem.
I think that all children are born with a mockingbird within them. Their innocence is something that sets them apart from the rest of the world and makes them precious. There is a time when each child’s mockingbird dies, and this is the story of the death of my mockingbird.
When I was in eighth grade I experienced the true loss of my innocence. You would think that after the abandonment of my father, and the experience that I had losing my step-siblings, that I would have lost my innocence long ago. But, I clung to my childish ways and my mockingbird still sang a beautiful song in my heart.
When I was in eighth grade I made friends with a young girl who was quite similar to me in a lot of ways. One day she confided in me that our teacher’s brutish words and discipline was so extensive that it made her almost suicidal at times. I didn’t know what to do with these words, but I could understand what she meant. Our teacher (let’s call her Mrs. D) was quite harsh and had a way of hurting you with her words. I wanted to protect my friend, but I didn’t know how. I decided to approach my trusted Religion Teacher with this information (let’s call him Mr. M). I don’t know what I expected him to do, but I trusted him to provide me with an answer or some guidance on how to deal with the situation.
Later that day I was pulled aside by my teacher, Mrs. D. I was terrified. She spent over an hour drilling me about my friend, why I would try to hurt my teacher in this way, and on and on. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach, and I didn’t know how to respond to any of my teacher’s questions.
The next day I went to school praying that this nightmare would be over. I felt like my trusted teacher Mr. M had sold me out. I was angry, and positive in my heart that I had done nothing wrong. That day I was called down to the Principal’s Office. I had never, ever been called down to the Principal’s Office. I walked into his office and found seated at a table: my principal, Mrs. D, Mr. M, and my mother. I knew immediately when I saw my mother that something was terribly wrong. I spent what felt like hours being drilled by 3 different adults. They all wanted to know who my friend was. They all wanted to know why I was being so difficult, why I would condemn Mrs. D in such an awful way. Mrs. D suggested that I was looking for attention, or maybe I was mentally ill. My mother, who was seated across the table from me, heatedly defended me. I could see the outrage on her face. She was on my side, and this comforted me greatly.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I blurted out, “it’s me! I’m the girl I was talking about!” I couldn’t believe how my school was reacting to this. If my friend was in this room I knew the outcome wouldn’t be good. I was hurt, angry, and confused. Who were these people trying to help, or protect? I knew that I could never tell them who my friend was, and that I could never trust these people again.
The rest of the year I fought to just stay under the radar. I didn’t. I was sent down to the Principal’s Office countless times. I felt like I was constantly under a microscope. I missed school all the time because I just couldn’t face Mrs. D. I was physically sick and lost a lot of weight.
Looking back on this situation as an adult I can understand what happened that year and why. Mrs. D was pregnant, and worse, her pregnancy was high-risk. My Principal and Mr. M weren’t concerned with protecting the students in her class; they were concerned with protecting her and her unborn child. In many ways, I can’t blame them. At the same time, I was made to feel as though I had done something terribly wrong. My words were twisted, and I spent an entire year fighting a futile battle that I didn’t even want to be part of.
The year that I was in eighth grade has really changed the way that I see the world today. Before, I was so innocent and trusting of the people in my life, especially those in leadership positions. I learned that life is more complicated than I could ever imagine, and I had to be extremely careful with the words that I say. The hardest part of eighth grade was losing the trust of my beloved Religion Teacher. I hadn't lost hope in all men, and I looked to Mr. M as a caregiver and protector. Afterwards, I didn't feel cared for or protected by any man. My mockingbird, my innocence, just couldn't survive the eighth grade. I lost my innocence just in time for one of the most difficult seasons of my life: high school.
TO BE CONTINUED...