Dear Class of 1999
Unless we’re “friends” on Facebook, chances are you don’t remember me. Which is understandable. We had a graduating class of 1000 students and me, well, I tried really hard to be invisible. I had Dr. Estes lock me (quite literally) in the AP English classroom rather than attend pep rallies. I made the art teacher let me stay in his classroom during lunch. I went to the Junior prom with my sister but didn’t dance a single dance. I did not go to the Senior prom. I didn’t go to one party. I was not part of any school-related extra-curricular clubs/activities. I never went on a single date. And, with the exception of a very few couple of people, we probably never spoke… and, even if you were one of the three or four people that –did– communicate with me somewhat—I didn’t really give you the opportunity to know me very well so… chances are fairly good that you don’t remember my name anymore. That’s okay. Because, once upon a time, you –did– know my name. I know this for a fact because, after moving away, when I returned to McGavock the following year, you would actually smile at me and say, “Hi Tiffini” when you passed me in the hallways. You have no idea how this stunned the heck out of me. You have no idea how much it meant then, nor how much it continues to mean today. I used to be terrified that no one would want to sign my yearbook because no one knew me. But, lo and behold, when the yearbooks were distributed, each and every year, not only did you all sign it for me but you wrote really kind things. I know, because I went back and re-read some of the signature notes the other day.
By the time I got to high school, I had decided that I would rather fellow classmates think that I was a snob because that would mean that I was a loner by choice, rather than simply because I had not the foggiest notion of how to make, or be, a friend. So, I stuck my nose deep into a book and did not remove it. In fact, I was so buried writing all the time that the Astronomy teacher asked me one day what I was writing. When I showed him that it was a book, he said, “Oh. I wondered. I thought, ‘ it can’t be notes she’s writing’.” I wrote because I was afraid. I was so, so very afraid…. of you. My 9th grade year, I went to a private school that, pretty much, left me drained and not very happy. I felt like a bug there. My mother was scared of McGavock. My sister was scared of McGavock. And I should have been. The place is enormous; I was blown away when I realized they have 2 large cafeterias and, not counting the Central Office, four offices. I thought the lockers were the stupidest thing ever because who could get from their locker when it was downstairs North side when they had to be in their classroom that was located UPstairs in the far South corner in a mere 7 minutes? I never had a locker for that reason. McBee and Wright’s 60-kid class intimidated the heck right out of me; but it was in that class I learned the names and types of 100 plants. I thought it was insane to stand in line for a ticket to get a spot in a certain teacher’s class but I knew on day 1 of his class that Stackhouse’s class was worth the line. The presence of the police pretty much should have paralyzed me with fear. The rumors I’d heard about all the gangs and drugs and fights and who knew what all else should have scared me spitless.
It really should have.
I was not very healthy as a teenager.
I was hurting.
And I was scared.
But something beautiful happened to me at that school.
The students that passed me in the hall and said goodmorning or hello or even just smiled. I completed a full year there my 10th grade year. When I started back there as a Junior, I cannot explain the joy I felt at recognizing some of you, and of having –you– recognize me. I got to sit in Mrs. Waller’s class for a 2nd year. I got to know that Stackhouse got to his classroom at the break of dawn, then disappeared for about twenty minutes before the first bell. Even though I never went there, I knew where the smoking porch was. I knew that I could buy an orange juice and a little snack between second and third periods in an upstairs classroom from the teacher, if I hurried. I knew that there was no pool on the third floor, but paid 2 dollars for a key that supposedly unlocked the gate that led to the staircase one year because it made me so happy to BE a part of McGavock. Like everyone else, I was terrified of Dr. Estes who, the first time I met her, wasted no time in correcting me when I mistakenly called her “Ms Estes.” But, once I was actually in her class, my fear turned to compassion and confusion when I passed every, single test she ever came me with an A—-even though I KNEW half the answers I gave were wrong. When a boy stopped me in the hallway to ask me about a test, and we spent 2 minutes pondering the mystery, I was so… touched. I wasn’t an island. I was… part of… everything.
One year, I gave a girl I didn’t know very well my Senior book to sign. Unbeknownst to me, she started reading my reflections and discovered the name of the boy I was quite sure I was destined to marry. He sat just a few seats ahead of her. When I heard her gasp and I turned to see her face, she stared at me with an open mouth, then looked at the boy. Fear rushed to my face and I made the “shh” signal. Miraculously, as far as I know, she never uttered a word. She didn’t embarrass me or use the knowledge against me, as people in other schools instantly would have done.
I moved to Memphis over Christmas break my 11th grade year. It traumatized me. When I came back for a visit, I went to say hello to Mrs. Waller and Stackhosue. On the way up the stairs, I saw two girls. We’d always been friendly to one another, but we didn’t really hang out or know each other (which was the relationship I had with most everybody at McGavock). But she told me I was missed, and that she wished her sister could see me before I left. She made me feel like the kids hadn’t forgotten me yet, and that I had been missed. When I sent a letter to a friend in the care of her foreign language teacher, the teacher actually gave it to my friend, who then took the time to write me back. Amazing.
One day, while in Stackhouse’s class, I mistakenly said, “I can’t do grammar.” He signed deeply and then, right in front of you all, said, “The only reason YOU can’t do it is because you keep TELLING yourself you can’t and, quite frankly, Tiffini, I’m about tired of it.” I was shamed, and embarrassed, and wanted to cry. But then, one of you said, “Yeah. What he said,” which made me smile. When he put his hand on my shoulder, another time, and said, “Will you put your hand –down– for awhile, you’re starting to make me feel bad?” one of you said, “And she’s prettier than you are, Stackhouse, too” (unless you were a part of Stackhouse’s class, you’re not going to understand!)
One year, in my AP Psychology class, we had a sub. We were supposed to be working but Pete Moore could not find his pencil. I gave him the only one I had. When that made the sub question whether or not I was working, Michael Burkitt actually stood up for me and said, “Hey, now, she just gave him her pencil.” And Pete Moore (the one I was destined to marry!) said, “Yeah. Tiffini’s probably the sweetest girl I know.” I was floored. For the first time in my entire school career, someone had stood up for me…. and to a teacher! And, not fifteen seconds later, someone else called me “sweet.” Imagine that. When I went to Paris with Coach Bozeman (the football coach who promised his team he’d do something wacky to his wacky hair if they could manage to WIN one game), I bought both Michael Burkitt and Pete Moore mini versions of the Eiffel Tower back and smiled the whole time when I gave it to them.
One day, my mom was a little late picking me up and Jonathan, one of the nicest people I had ever seen, sat in his mom’s car and waited until my mom got there before letting her leave. He didn’t know me. We had never hung out. But he was watching out for me, and I knew it.
A special group of kids came to my birthday party. We had a limo pick us up at school, then take us to the horse stables and joked for years about Charles lowering his window and saying, ‘Excuse me, do you have any grey poupon’ to a woman in the car next to us. We felt like princesses and princes. At least me and my sister did. We did this for two years. And they were the best birthday parties I have ever had, especially when the limo did NOT return us to the school—instead, we rode in my cramped car, some of us in the floorboards, some of us on each others’ laps, all of us laughing.
In 2 and 1/2 years, there was only one bomb scare. Everyone panicked. But they didn’t close school. Still, like most of the students’, my mom wouldn’t let me go to school on the day the bomb was supposed to go off. I was disappointed because I wanted to be there to help you all if a bomb DID go off. Of course, it didn’t. It was just an empty threat. Contrary to all the rumors and bad press the school had garnered, I never saw a single drug deal, I only witnessed 2 real fights. I never saw a weapon. I never felt unsafe at school. I never felt bullied or intimidated or inferior, either. Instead, I was just one of you.
I begged to come back to Nashville for my Senior year so I could graduate from McGavock. Due to an administration’s oversight, I had to take 7 tests, plus 2 AP tests, in 2 days in order to graduate. I was stressed out. But everyone looked out for me. The teacher in each subject had to write the test for me that would determine whether or not I graduated. I didn’t get to be a part of Stackhouse’s 2nd Semester, since we had moved (something that I deeply regret). The only thing he covered in his first semester was grammar. He knew I hated grammar but logic said he’d give me a grammar test. He didn’t. He told me to write him an essay instead. I wanted to cry, and I remember trying so hard to write the best darn paper of my life. I wanted him to be proud. When, after all the tests were taken, I apologized to Mrs. Waller because, on the AP Placement test, I only scored a 4 rather than a 5 which, I was terrified, meant I’d disappointed her.
One day, I carried a baby doll to school with me. I was in the 11th grade. Not one person laughed at me. I, incredibly, got to go to Europe with my group—a dream come true. I remember standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, unable to believe where I was.
The truth is—-I don’t know what you thought of me, when you saw me. I never did anything that I can recall that stood out. I just went to class, wrote and went home. So did you. But you changed me. I knew I wasn’t normal, but you never made me feel like an outcast. You never laughed at me. So…. even if you didn’t know it, you were my friends. And I never forgot you. I never forgot Jenny, the girl who adored everything Eeyore. I never forgot walking in those halls. I never forgot sitting in those desks and listening to teachers who actually cared teach and inspire.
I’m sorry I wasn’t a better friend to the lot of you.
I didn’t know how to be a friend. I was so afraid of being hurt that I chose to isolate myself, who kept me from really getting to know you. But I have missed you. I remember standing in the back of the Municipal Aud., in line for graduation and Pete Moore could not find his cap or gown. All of us cared. All of us cheered when, moments before the procession began, he ran down the hall waving his cap in the air and donning his gown. A success for one of us was a success for all of us.
We were fragile, and we treated each other as though we knew it. At least, that’s how you treated me. I felt respected. I felt accepted. By the teachers. And by you, the students. Having been a part of you makes me proud. I signed up for Facebook because I was trying to track down any of you. I still visit McGavock once or twice a year, to see Stackhouse (who still gets there at the crack of dawn). I maintain a special and important friendship with Mrs. Waller. I actively search for Dr. Estes because I really want the opportunity to thank her personally (if you know where she is, PLEASE help me out!) And, in my heart, I still cherish all of you, the students who shared that year with me–not only in my graduating class but anyone who was there. McGavock was, to me, what schools are supposed to be. The beauty of a school with 2000 kids is the diversity—no one is an outcast. Once, I sat down at a table in the cafeteria, eating my pizza stick. I was by myself, because my sister didn’t have the same lunch that year as I did. I hadn’t sat down long when a girl from a crowded table walked over and tapped me on my shoulder. I did not know her name, I had never seen her. But she told me to come sit at her table. So I did. And I never forgot her, even though I never saw her again after that day at lunch. No one is an outcast, but only because we didn’t let them be.
I wish I had really known you, and I wish I had been able to tell you then how much your kindness meant to me. I wish I’d been able to be a better friend to all of you. So…. eleven years later…. thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I do and will remember you.