We moved to Colorado Springs, CO in December. I was 13 years old and it was 1993. We landed at the small airport at the base of the mountains around midnight and the snow was waiting for us. I hadn’t lived in America for 3 years, had never been to the state of Colorado and was scared.
Three days later, my parents dropped me off at school while they went to look for a house. Two hours later I went to the restroom, was offered marijuana, and thought it best to suddenly come down with an ear infection. After mom and dad found out, did better research on school districts and focused their search on a different neighborhood.
My parents found a nice part of town called Briar Gate. It offered beautiful views of Pikes Peak, good schools, and enough houses, families and kids to last a lifetime. Our neighborhood was as idealic as you can get. We lived on a quiet street with kids my age and had a house with plenty of room and a large backyard. It was different than our time in Germany, but as I adjusted to the altitude and dry air, I found myself enjoying my time in Colorado more and more.
My parents registered me at the local middle school who’s mascot was the Timberwolf. I was the “new girl” for the 2nd time in two weeks. Daunting, yes, but I could handle this.
After picking out my classes and being assigned to one of three 7th grade “teams,” I was directed to my first class. The pre-algebra class was already 30 minutes into it’s lesson when I made my way into the room. All eyes were on me as I scanned the room for an empty desk. One problem: All of the desks were empty. My heart raced and I didn’t know what to do. All of the kids were in groups on the floor, and nobody seemed to think this was unusual. The teacher just looked at me.
“Can I help you?” He asked.
“I’m Natalie, I’m new and I’m in this class,” I replied.
“Okay, go sit with that group,” he said as he pointed to a cluster of kids situated at the foot of his desk.
I made my way over to the kids who might as well have been monsters. Nobody said a word or moved an inch. I set my bag down and introduced myself to little fanfare. The kids murmured their names and went back to solving for “x.”
I opened the book that the worlds worst teacher had just handed me, and I stared at it as though the pages would magically give me the answers. The math class in Colorado was about 3 weeks ahead of where I had left off in Germany. Uh oh.
I did the best that I could, trying to work with my unhelpful group to make sure I was doing the right thing and then realized that I could compare my answers to answers given in the back of the book. Odd problems only, but still – it would help me figure out if I was on the right track or not!
After working on the first five problems, I flipped to the back of the book to check my answers. I thought I was doing the equations correctly, so I was excited to see if I was in fact correct. But, before I could get to the right section of answers, I heard my name being screetched from across the room.
“Natalie! We do not cheat in this class!” Boomed by teacher, Mr. Jerkface.
I turned every color red you could imagine. I stammered, not being able to explain myself quickly enough and then just shut my mouth and pretended to go back to working on the assignment. I was burning up inside, dying of misunderstood humiliation, and my group tried to contain their giggles but failed miserably.
The rest of the day I just tried to be invisible. Word had already gotten around that there was a new girl, and apparently, I was already a trouble maker. Great. I was off to a wonderful start.
Fast forward about a month, and I had settled into my time at the home of the Timberwolves. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was decent for a 7th grader. I made some friends, was figuring out my way academically and adjusting to life in Colorado in general. All in all, things were going pretty well.
We lived within walking distance of the school, so there was no bus to pick me up. It was either walk or be driven by my parents. Since both of my parents worked, being chauffered by them wasn’t an option, so each morning, I walked the mile to school.
But friends, I have to explain something. This wasn’t just an average mile of paved roads with tree lined sidewalks. No. This was a mile long walk with a 1/2 mile of sand dunes to climb. SAND DUNES. UPHILL!
Though that area of town has now been built up, and the sand dunes replaced by houses, when I lived there, all that laid between my house and my school were the dreaded piles and piles of sand. I tried to will them away, every single day. I hated them, and I hated them even more when it rained. There were a handful of us who made the trek each day, climbing over the hills like freaking camels in the Sahara. By the time I reached the cold steel doors in the morning, I was grateful to still by hydrated and alive. My shoes were often filled with sand and my hair a sweaty mess. It was a great way to start the day.
So I was busy being a 7th grader when I met a boy named Ty. The girls that I hung out with encouraged our junior high romance and soon our “relationship” was created by our friends speaking on our behalves and declaring us a couple. We talked on the phone for the obligatory 10 minutes a night and referred to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend. Typical 7th grade nonsense.
A week later in English class, I slammed “To Kill a Mockingbird” shut and prepared to head to my dreaded math class. The bell rang, and I stepped out into the hall to see my friend K, tearing down the hall at a world record pace, yelling my name.
“Natalie! Natalie! Natalie! Ty wants to break up with you!!!” She yelled for the entire school to hear.
“Okay.” I said.
Moments later, Ty and his friends walked by me, I went to math class, and we never talked again.
That afternoon, I emptied books and homework from my locker and loaded everything into my backpack to prepare for my adventure in the sand back home.
I had no worries.
Not the math teacher, the silly boyfriend or even the sand dunes. I had something that would bring me a smile on the horizon, and nothing could ruin that.
It was 2:45. I had exactly 15 minutes. If I navigated over the sand dunes quickly enough, I could make it home in time to leave my bag and my worries at the door. I could grab a snack, plop on the couch and catch Saved by the Bell from the very beginning; The highlight of my day. Life was good.