I’ve left school.
Not completely, I mean. Obviously I’m not dropping out, because that’s illegal in the UK. As a law-abiding citizen, I am chained to the confines of the crappy-as-heck education system until I’m 18.
Curse these next two years.
Anyway. I’ve left school. My school. The school I’ve been attending since I was 11 years old.
That’s a heck of a long time. I mean, 5 years doesn’t seem like that long, but it’s nearly a third of my life. That’s a big portion of my life.
I spent 5 years and half a term at one school, with one group of people, on one campus, with one set of teachers, one headmistress, one structure to my day, one canteen to buy my lunch from.
I had the same thing for lunch every school day since I was 11, up until last week.
That’s so sad. That’s so, incredibly, awfully, horrendously, sad.
I can’t believe it took me so long to realise that it was time for a change. I mean, the logical time to decide I wanted a change of scene would have been over this summer just gone, after my exams, when loads of people were moving school and going to college and moving from being ‘pupils, to being students’ as my school put it.
Except, it’s not my school anymore!
I never have to go back!
I mean, I will go back, because choir rehearsals are still held there, but whatever.
I never have to go back to the school that I spent 5 years of my life at! The school that I hated for 4 of those years! I’m finally free!
Yeah, 4 years. Let me explain a little why I hated it so much.
The problem began 4 years ago, when I realised that I had no friends.
Yes, how pitiful.
When I was in year 7 – that’s the first year of secondary school in the UK – I hung out with all the ‘cool kids’. The ‘popular ones.’
By the way, I went to an all-girls school. So that’s nearly 2000 insecure, judgemental, stressed and hormonal teenage girls, locked into a campus of 4 buildings for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
I don’t why I’m not dead yet, either.
But when I first arrived, I naively saw it as a chance to reinvent myself. Y’know, shed that ‘nerdy little teacher’s pet’ skin, and become cool and popular and pretty and loved.
Do excuse me for switching metaphors, but a leopard never changes its spots.
For that first year, I tried desperately to fit in. I hung out with the cool kids. I straightened my hair. I acted all confident and preppy. I didn’t read, or write, or do anything that I actually found fun.
But I was still left out of all the gatherings, all the outings, all the parties and cinema trips and meals at Nando’s.
And when, at the start of my second year at the school, I was sick for three weeks and didn’t see anybody, I was hoping that all my ‘friends’ would have realised what a fabulous person I was and that their lives simply weren’t the same without their favourite annoying kid with a gap between their teeth standing just behind them and doing something dumb every chance she got.
Except that what actually happened is that people barely noticed. My presence had hardly been missed. No one cared, except a couple of the ‘not cool’ kids that I didn’t like to hang out with.
They went on to be some of my closest friends. Would have saved a lot of time and a lot of pain if I’d realised what wonderful people they were then.
But no – I spent a year essentially friend-less – drifting from clique to clique, spending more lunchtimes than I care to admit in the library. It was here that I began to resent the school – all my time there was hell – it was boring and dull and I felt lonely and miserable, and I would come home everyday, and read, and write crappy poems and short stories, and in those hours spent at home, in my room, I would be as happy as happy could be, with me and my books and my journal. But at school, I was downright miserable.
It was during this time that my ambition to be a writer really bloomed, by the way – it became something possible, something real, something that I would, and still will, fight to achieve. Because writing became for me then, and continues to be, an escape, a release, a way to forget all the awfulness of the real world.
However, every child needs friends outside of fiction and their own invention, for the purposes of conversation, if nothing else.
And for me, it took a cat to make those friends.
Sad, isn’t it?
When I was eleven, and got into ‘big school’, the very same one that I’ve just left, my parents gave me a kitten, as a reward for getting into this specific school. Not a bribe, not blackmailing, just a ‘well done, small child, you proved that you’re better than other small children’.
It sounds awful, but it was the done thing, at the time.
This kitten is now a cat called Laila, and she is my gorgeous baby and I love her very much, and yes I am aware that I sound like a crazy cat lady but that’s because I am a crazy cat lady.
Around the time that I was friendless, aside from Laila of course, she gave birth to a litter of five kittens, one of which we sadly had to have put down two days later.
But, naturally, my mum and I were both very proud of the four healthy kittens that were growing up in a box in our kitchen, and wanted to show them off. And, since I didn’t have any friends to invite over, my mum invited her friends over.
One of these friends happened to be the mother of a girl who was in my class, who I’d never really spoken to, because she was nerdy and weird and probably insane and that slightly scared me.
But her mother fell in love with these kittens, and decided that she simply had to have one. This led to regular visits from her, and by extension, her daughter, to visit the kitten as it grew up.
These strange cat-visits led to a beautiful friendship between me and insane cat-girl, as she can accurately be described even to this day. Yes, she terrified me, but not for long.
Insane cat-girl is one of my best friends, and I love her beyond words, and the day I started spending time with her at school is, in my mind, one of the most important days of my life, because it is because of my friendship with her that I am part of a wonderful group of 15 or so beautiful young women and their various boyfriends and gay best friends and boyfriends-friends, that I couldn’t be more thankful for, and it is these beautiful people that made it so hard to leave my school.
On my last day there, one of them dragged me to Tesco for 10 minutes so the others could set up a little party in the bus stop that we hang out in at lunchtimes, with cake and a card and singing me ‘happy birthday’ and tears and goodbyes, because they’re incredible people who sing me happy birthday when it isn’t my birthday.
But, despite these wonderful people, I still hate the school. Because when you’ve spent a year building up hatred for a place, it doesn’t disappear when you suddenly make friends.
The school gave me more reasons to hate it in the following years – unnecessary amounts of pressure, an underlying message that you aren’t good enough unless you get all A*s, and absolutely awful pastoral care for those that required it – and, due to the pressure and all-around soul crushing atmosphere, that was quite a few.
My friends all hated it too – they still too. But by the time you’ve made it all the way to sixth form, it seems stupid to back out. And I thought so too – which is why I stayed. Also, I’d been told that ‘sixth form is so different to lower school’ and ‘they treat you like an adult now!’ and ‘everything is so much better in sixth form’. But it only took me a couple of weeks, and an awful lot of praying about feeling unsettled and unhappy, to realise that the school I was at was quite simply not the right school for me.
And it was hard, telling that to my parents. To my friends, my teachers, my family. It was awful, especially, telling my four closest friends from school. I put it off for days, just because I didn’t want to see the looks on their faces when I told them that I was leaving. But I did it, and they wound up buying me cake for it.
And besides, I’ve made the move now, and am officially a student of an online school!
Or, as my friends like to call it, ‘meme school’.
Either way, I know that I’m going to be a lot happier, and going to be able to achieve a lot more, by being schooled at home. I have more time to read again, more time to go out and get exercise, more time to pursue other interests and skills, more time to read and explore the Bible and my faith, and, last but certainly not least, more time to write – hopefully I can finally finish the novel I’ve been trying to write for two years.
Moral of the story? I don’t know. I’m not going to say ‘do what makes you happy’ because we all know that’s a stupid idea. If I did what made me happy I wouldn’t be at school at all, I’d be holed up on a sailing yacht in Norfolk with 15 cats and a library. (There’s an insight into my mind if there ever was one.)
But, I am doing something different, something that I was terrified to do. The idea of leaving my school scared me to pieces, and I tried to ignore the urge to change something in my life for weeks, just because of that. But I’m so glad that I had that awful conversation about it with my mum, because now I’m sat here in my room using my long half term break to write a blog post, instead of sitting in a classroom surrounded by other unhappy people and an unfulfilled teacher all wanting to go home.
If you really want a moral, it’d be ‘do what makes you scared’, but that’s a pretty awful moral too.
I mean, I’m scared of jumping into a pit of venomous snakes, but I’m fairly certain that doing that wouldn’t ultimately make me happier.
Have a lovely week, and don’t die before you come back, please.
Lots of love, Mima xox