My behavior turned radically that second year. I’m not entirely sure why, but I do have a few guesses. First of all, my next-door neighbor, Evan, who was in the grade beneath me, was now on the bus. He was a follower, especially when it came to me. He would say or do just about anything I asked him to do. When we were younger and visited my house, my brother and I would bounce basketballs on his head over and over, and he would just laugh.
Even when it came to another neighbor, Misty, I was outrageously cruel. Misty was overweight, overly talkative, and a bit of a gossip. Perhaps she was displacing her low self-esteem from her obesity with trash talk, or maybe she took after her mother, Rucia, who was just as overweight and even more of a gossip. One day, I found myself in possession of animal horns. I took them to the bus stop where Evan was already standing. Then, I got down on all fours, put the horns on my head, and started mooing: “Moo!!!” I bellowed out to Misty, who was just laughing nervously and probably out of embarrassment.
I kept at it until bus 17 pulled up, and we got inside. Later that evening, her mother rang the doorbell at my house. When my parents opened it, her mother explained what I had done and demanded I apologize to Misty. Although I did, damage is never repaired and people take some things truly to heart. I firmly believe Misty never forgave me for mooing in her face; in fact, this was confirmed in high school when she stated such to a mutual friend. As a second-year student, I knew the layout and wasn’t nervous anymore. That first-year skittishness was over. I knew what Middle School was all about now. I was also more observant when it came to other students. I was less self-involved, not worrying about my every step anymore, and I watched other students more and listened closely to their hijinks. This served both to amuse me, passing the time, and as a teaching point. I would soon come to mirror their behavior on the bus and in school.
Sadly, my first victims were in special education. The first student I targeted was Chris. Although he was in mainstream classes, something was going on with him. As I got my first wind of his emotional issues in class, I couldn’t figure out why he had a special teacher or aide helping him. At first, I was a bit jealous. I wanted the extra help, I thought. Why does he get extra help? I said to myself.
Then I quickly learned that Chris was prone to emotional outbursts, even when participating in class. Sometimes he became so heated, he would get unstable and volatile. For your average student, including myself, this was disturbing to watch. Sometimes, he would get so angry the aide would walk him out of the classroom, to which he would return after calming down.
I learned about Chris’s behavior more closely when I worked with him on an in-class project. I remember having difficulty conversing with him. He always seemed angry just below the surface and, after the thin veneer of cooperation and conversation wore off, he would explode. I don’t remember all of my early interactions with Chris, but I do remember getting quite irritated. So much so that I wanted to lash out at him. I suspect that is exactly how the trouble started between us.
When I wasn’t making prank phone calls with Brian at lunch, I was provoking Chris. I would tease him, call him names, say all sorts of anger-making taunts until he exploded and began chasing after me in the hallways. It wasn’t that I went after him because he was weak; I went after him because I didn’t like him. His weakness and emotional issues did not help, but they weren’t the reason I targeted him. In the end, though, it was the emotional issues that were the prime target of my taunting and of his demise.
I called him every name in the book. Over time, I knew exactly what to say to get him truly angry. And when he chased me into every corridor surrounding the lunchroom, the aides would punish Chris and not me. This was because up until this point, I was always well behaved. It was also because Chris was known throughout the school to have emotional problems. So the aides, upon first glance, saw Chris as the problem kid. This only served to get Chris angrier and angrier. By the time the year was over, and Chris reached his emotional volatility peak, he was sent to an out-of-district school placement, never to return to Wales again.
Excerpt from: Peters, J. (2020). Wales Middle School: The Rise of J. Peters. Authorhouse.
About the Author
Peters’s battle with Schizophrenia began at New London University in his last semester of college. J. Peters was discharged from Greater Liberty State Hospital Center in July of 2008, after spending six months there. His recovery was swift, but not painless, and certainly difficult. Today, J. Peters teaches Family Oriented therapy to social work students at Fordham University at Lincoln Center in Manhattan. J. Peters blogs daily on his site mentalhealthaffairs.blog and for psychreg.org. Mr. Peters has published several journal articles on recovery and mental health, and three books: University on Watch, Small Fingernails, and Wales High School. He is also a board member of the newspaper CITY VOICES. J. Peters currently sits on the CAB committee (Consumer Advisory Board) for the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene in NYC. He also participates regularly with the RAC (Regional Advisory Committee) for the Office of Mental Health (OMH) as a peer advocate