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The Turning Point

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Somewhere around fifteen, I hit one of those times when my life would turn. Until the ninth year of school, after I started paying attention to my grades, I always got A’s, at least how I remember. And in the ninth, right up to the last semester, I did.

My recollection goes like this.

On the last day, you attended all your classes with your report card in hand. You were called up to the teacher’s desk one by one and they would mark the grade, saying a few words of encouragement or give advice on how to do better.

I did that for algebra, history, English lit, all classes, even French, and I received the expected straight A’s as happened all year. I could not recall any comments other than “Good job” or “Keep it up”.

I knew I was a shoo-in for the last one… biology waited. I had not really liked my biology teacher, and I was certainly not his favorite. He was too much of a jock and I was too much a geek, but so far, he had given me the grades I worked hard for and deserved. I expected he would peruse my card, seeing all the previous grades, and certainly continue the fait accompli.

My last name meant I waited while all the Adams, Estrellas, and Kellogs were called before me to receive their just rewards… or not. As we get older, memory changes and I know I was not last back then, but today I remember it that way. When my name was finally called, I strutted to the front, and he took my report, studied it for a bit, gave me a little wry smile, and jotted the mark in the correct spot.

Before handing it to me, he said, “Try harder next time.”

My neck almost snapped as I looked down, seeing a B+ written boldly in the block. I was stunned.

The feeling of being robbed never left that summer. I had worked tirelessly for that grade, giving up countless hours of fun with my friends. I left school feeling dejected. I didn’t love doing hard work, but I totally enjoyed the results of it.

I didn’t know it had changed me, turning my choices a little more to the darker side. My friends and I always took chances, but none of it had been terrible… none criminal. But that summer it would change, at least for some of us. It was the summer of sixty-nine, a pivotal year in our country’s history, and a pivotal one in my life, seeing me continuously making poor choices.

I, like many others of that era, telling anyone who listened, didn’t expect to see thirty. I am sixty-seven as I write this.

Next time I will start to tell you about the rest of that year, one that includes multiple firsts with alcohol, smoking tobacco, and making out with girls. But end with a criminal act, the first step toward a misguided young adulthood, a beginning it would take much too long to overcome.

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