this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on April 3, 2001.

At first glance, everything looks so innocent, so pure and clean. Who would suspect that behind its lovely walls, its air-conditioned classrooms and peaceful surroundings lie a life so treacherous? I should know because I’ve been there.

My past seven years were spent locked inside its walls and imprisoned in its surroundings. That place became my new home where I had to spend eight hours of my day, five days a week, nine months in a year. Sometimes the hours would slow down and it would feel like I had been there for a month, but then there were times when the day would quicken and leave me feeling like I had traveled on a bullet train. Most of the time, however, things would be normal and the days were just days and weeks just weeks.

Within its walls, I have learned a lot of things. It was there where I met my friends, my enemies and my teachers. It was there where I learned Math, Language, Science and other subjects. It was there where I learned about life.

The teachers never discussed life and so I had to learn that alone. There were also no special books where I could take a look and know what life was all about. Instead I had to experience many things before I learned about it. And what was worse was that I had to experience some of those awful things over and over again before they whacked me on the head and I learned some lessons.

School life was so different from what I expected it to be. I remember that seven years ago, when I was just an incoming prep student, my eyes shone with happiness and my heart pounded with excitement. But after the first four years of grade school life, I began to dread school days.

It was in Grade 4 when I lost my best friends and I had to eat my food all by myself and walk by my lonesome along the hallway. Sometimes someone would join me or I would sit with somebody, but most of the time I was alone.

I preferred it that way. I was alone with my thoughts. That was all I did whenever I was alone: think, think, think. It came to a point when I thought of the weirdest things and it began to scare me. So I figured that I had to share my time with others before I drove myself out of the zone of sanity.

The next year I looked for friends, any group that would accept me. That search was tough; it took me two barkadas to find where I really belonged. Finally, the third group accepted me for what I was, and so the year ended with me having as friends the members of the group.

But after some difficulties in Grade 6, our friendship was lost. It was my fault really. I guess that the things I did irritated them and so they began to talk about me behind my back. Before long I realized that I had to go because they wanted me to.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to apologize-or rather I didn’t want to. I don’t know, but up to now, I’m not sure of my feelings toward them. And so up to now, the wound has not healed. I don’t know how they feel; perhaps they don’t care anymore. But I still remember all the things they did to me and the things I did for them. But past is past and there is nothing one can do to change it.

Grade school wasn’t fun for me. Of course, there were times when I was happy. But there were so many times when I was hurt and the wounds caused great pain. I remember that I used to be a favorite topic of conversation among some people who enjoyed tormenting souls. I know. I can hear their mocking laughter and their looks filled with scorn. It was torture for me and it filled my heart with great sadness.

But I am also grateful for those times, for they made me strong. Early on, I wanted so much to rise above my class. I wished to belong to the select group of people liked by everyone. This group was made up of fortunate students who didn’t suffer criticisms by fellow students. They were the girls who were admired by the geeks and accepted by the popular.

I, however, belong to the autistic group. My friends didn’t but I did.

There was another group of loners who didn’t belong to any other group. They were the most unfortunate of all. They weren’t liked by anyone and were often mocked by everyone who didn’t have something more interesting to talk about.

Of course, there are the popular girls. There were two kinds in our school: the good ones and the bad ones. The good ones were the students who excelled in every subject. The bad ones were the people who broke the rules and had “relationships” with their friends. Personally, I think they were highly misunderstood and that deep down they had golden hearts.

Truly grade school taught me a lot of things. More things than I expected. Not only did I learn Math, Science and Language, I also learned a few things about life. It was there where I realized that life isn’t a wheel or a complicated road with many twists and turns. Life is life. There is no way to describe it. And if one wishes to know what it is all about then one must go through it and search for its meaning. And only then will one realize that he or she has lived.

As I leave grade school and move on to another phase in life, I’m sure I will miss the lovely walls, the air-conditioned classrooms and peaceful surroundings. But then again, there’s the complicated life that is well concealed within its walls, waiting for another innocent soul to teach. I know. I’ve been through it.

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