It seems rather inauspicious, though, to be finishing my degree on the very day of the largest school shooting in U.S. history. I suppose some would look back on my reputation in high school and say it is fitting… I vividly remember almost getting arrested in the days after the Columbine shootings because people thought I was keeping a hit list on my website. (You can imagine the resulting interaction with the police in the principal’s office. Fortunately for me, the Vice Principal knew it was all garbage and stood up for me, allowing me to explain the situation to them thoroughly. It was then I discovered that it was a very bad joke indeed to link a modified 404-error page to my “click here to see my non-existent hit list!” link (this was pre-Columbine) and make fun of people for thinking there’d be one there. People are just too dumb, and it wasn’t even all that funny.)
As for the hit list itself, it was one of those rumours that just wouldn’t die. Now that I have a huge audience of old high school acquaintances on Facebook, I might as well set the record straight on it now: the hit list idea was started in Grade 10 Math with Ms. Campbell (Semester II, 1996-1997), when Tyson Hubley was driving me up the wall with his usual shenanigans. In order that I might tell the absent teacher about it later (keep in mind that this is long before I learned about having a sense of humour or social skills), I asked Tyson for his name, and I duly wrote it down on my notepaper.
Someone standing over my shoulder asked, in a characteristic drawl, “Is that your hit list, Will?”
“Um… yeah! … Um, what’s a hit list?”
“It’s a list of people you’re going to kill, Will.”
“Yeah, okay, it’s a hit list.” And then I probably went back to drawing comic strips or writing stupid short stories or whatever it was I did in those days when I was supposed to be doing math. Someone probably thought I was serious, and since I hated them, I wanted them to think I was serious – but practically speaking, I wasn’t serious. And in a twisted way, the existence of this rumour and others like it gave me a perverse feeling of importance, which I probably fell back on because I wasn’t getting my feeling of importance any other way (for instance, being smart about things in class simply led to my derision and ridicule).
Through the intervening years, I was more than my worst enemy – if I had had the fortune to learn something about human relations (and general social skills), I could have nipped it all in the bud. Instead, I continued to be – well, I don’t apologize for being so, but I was weird. That’s basically my business, though. I think where the problem started (in general) is that I tended to be weird without reference to anyone else around me. I think that offended people somehow. And then I’d open my mouth to pronounce some opinionated judgement on something or other, and even if I was right I’d stir up the wrath of dozens every time. I’m convinced that it got to the point that for every friendly acquaintance I had, I had two naysayers who knew nothing about me but told stories nonetheless. I guess people do that, and who can blame them? At the time, though, I saw red. Deep red. It got to the point where I hated all “stupid people” – and my definition of stupid people grew to include people who were probably much smarter than I was – and I would walk through corridors swearing or giving everyone the finger just to show everyone how much I truly hated them for being so insufferably stupid.
And the harassment! I haven’t even really touched on this, except to mention Tyson, and he was just being a goof – he was just trying to get a feeling of importance from putting me down, and even when he did that he wasn’t cruel about it at all. I’m on great terms with Tyson now, and moreover – Tyson was just the tip of the iceberg! There were hundreds more much worse than him! The harassment was pervasive, persistent, and spiritually punishing. In the face of the constant, ceaseless harassment and ridicule I crumbled. I didn’t take the lemons of pariah-hood and make lemonade. Instead I continued to fight back (usually verbally), and I would always be the one getting in trouble. I felt utterly helpless, so all I could do was continue until I proved everyone wrong, even though my ridiculous behaviour was never, ever going to prove me right.
It was an argument that nobody could win (least of all me), and eventually Mr. Whitman (the principal) got sick of it and yanked me out of there. (And contrary to popular belief, I did not “punch him out.” There was definitely yelling and swearing involved, however.) I spent a good part of that 1997 spring semester expelled from school. In fact, I missed two full months – almost an entire term.
I came back at the end of May, though – partly medicated (I’m ashamed to admit that I was ever medicated, but by Grade 12 I gave up the pills and I haven’t gone back since) and partly beginning to realize that my antisocial actions had consequences. I didn’t quite understand why I had to restrain myself in the light of people being so relentlessly cruel to me, but I suppose if I understood that I would have been able to address people’s cruelty – I’m ashamed to admit that all though I school I barely ever tried to make people like me. I didn’t know how to make people like me, but I didn’t really want to try either – except for a few crushes and a couple of friends (and who knows how I made them?), I really didn’t care what people thought of me.
In Grade 11 (1997-98) I discovered the internet, and I think that helped me more than just about anything else. It certainly encouraged some bad habits like wasting time, but getting online really helped me get out of my shell and gain some perspective. Things were changing at school, too – more and more people were getting used to me, and I didn’t live every day in fight-or-flight mode.
Later that year, Brian Haas and Shawn Ahmed were instrumental in getting me to run for Student’s Council Vice-President. That was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done, and my advice to you is to not die until you’ve experienced a gymnasium full of students give stomping, cheering standing o’s, shouting your name repeatedly at the tops of their lungs – and this is just when they’re listing the candidates! Yes, that was the atmosphere for the candidate’s speeches, and they’re a cherished memory. After a tight race (the numbers were never revealed publicly), I finished just behind Colin MacDonald, who went on to do a better job that I could have done anyway – I knew nothing about dances or … well, it’s safe to say I knew nothing about nothing.
I got on Student’s Council anyway as a Grade Rep, and in that role I learned a lot of the tips and tricks of the popular people, a lot of the times without realizing it. I’m convinced that being on Student’s Council, even though I wasn’t really cut out for it in the traditional sense, was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. It forced me to get involved in the world around me – I’m sure a lot of people made fun of me, selling pop at the dances like a little kid, but it was of critical importance!
I carried through this sense of involvement to Saint Mary’s, where I was neither a good SRC Frosh Rep (2000-01) nor a very good Frosh Leader (excepting perhaps my third and last go at it in September 2003), but I got to meet kajillions of people and, fortunately, most of them were pretty civil.
And after almost ten years and tens of thousands of miles travelled, I’m living in a whole new world. Still, when people ask me where I went to high school, I usually just say “CPA,” and change the subject. =)
~ Will Matheson