Educational Larceny. The unlawful theft of knowledge that is not your own. The origin of this term can be traced back to the transfer student section of the University City district webpage. “Violators are actively persecuted” ominously follows this alien term. A slap in the face to the inhibitions and schemes I’ve meticulously crafted in support of my own indoctrination.
January 27, into the new year. I found myself stuck in a situation of unfortunates. An unexpected journey began before I was aware, and soon I was thrown into unfamiliar endeavors. Phone call after phone call, Dozens of voices all repeating the same condolences. “Unfortunately, your address falls outside our jurisdiction.” “Unfortunately, we are no longer taking applications at this time.” “Unfortunately, our programs are only accessible to the students of this district.”
The opportunity to advocate for myself and my situation became beyond limited as time went on. Missouri state law, which incorporates jargon-esque word choice, and undisclosed moral rationale, declared of the 48 public school districts available in the greater St. Louis City area, my father’s address was only eligible for one. No transfers, No expectations, No chance.
“A high school is high school,” my father’s words echoed behind my eyes as another Google search presented a Wikipedia page which highlights, “a previous large predominantly wealthy Jewish school,” located in the Central West End of the greater St. Louis metropolis.
My father, a self-proclaimed St. Louis native, despite living here for just a few years, assured me that we were upon the better parts of town. I naively began to believe him, as we made the 22-minute journey from the south side to the school of international studies. The acceptance of his words came not from the little trust I had left in my father. But my optimism was restored from the foreign comfort of the goliath city block homes, and luxury buildings occupied with yoga studios, the onslaught of traffic filled to the brim at 7:30 in the morning with expensive cars. Mercedes-Benzes and Teslas, which I assumed were all filled with business men and women with beyond appropriate means.
During that car ride, I squinted my eyes hard and tilted my head far enough so that I could see past the thoughts of my own shortcomings, and for a moment, I was able to view the glistening path of opportunity amongst the bleak skies.
We continued driving, past the colossal private banks and law firms. And then we turned onto a street that was significantly dimmer than the others. The sickly perfume of roaches, that seems to waft in certain parts of town, began to attack my nose. And the sentencing began.
I felt swindled, cheated, and lied to by everyone. When the realization struck, I could feel my intellect, a raft I held on for the duration of my life, being stripped from me. The rest of my humanity followed as we pulled up a little past the flickering lights of a gas station and the sudden abundance of liquor and tobacco stores. We finally ar- rived at the cathedral of a building quite different from the pictures displayed on the internet. By then, I was little more than an empty husk. My disappointment inevitably reminded me of my younger brother.
Six years ago was the first time I ever came to the city. I was just a visitor, an observer. Wearing blue and red, playing the oboe for my middle school band inside Busch sta- dium, eating hot dogs with my friends amongst the other people that could afford the tickets. The only thing I bothered to consider during this grand adventure was why such a boring game had such a large stadium.
My younger brother didn’t get such an introduction. The first time he visited was when uprooting his life to move with my father, pursuing his falsified grandiose tales of the cultured city of Saint Louis. He traveled the two-some hours it took to get here and could do nothing but stare at the city, wide-eyed and excited passing by the infamous arch and the malls and the abundance of beautiful hotels and restaurants.
There we stayed onlookers in the city we were supposed to call home. In all reality the place where he was to reside was a one-bedroom apartment set to be shared with my father, tucked away on the other side of the red line. Centered in a neighborhood with violent crime rates 420% higher than the national average. I later found out the poverty-stricken home lacked heat and air conditioning as well as a working refrigerator. For a while my brother ate cold food from dollar dented cans and was able to somehow remain extremely optimistic and trusting when it came to my father. Reciting the spoon fed lies, of “a boy needs his father” whenever I asked why he was so insistent on doing this. Pitting himself through what I consider a needlessly tortuous experience.
I wasn’t like my brother in the persevering sense. But even then, we would indulge each other; similar in many so many ways from our appearance to vernacular. When the day came for our separation. I considered begging him to come back with me to live with my mother in Illinois. But my brother had a tendency to be hard-headed and stub- born, so it wasn’t really worth the extra effort. At the time, looking back on all those years, I guess, nobody really thought he was worth the effort. For that alone I really wished I would’ve taken the extra time to hug him harder before I left. But for all the other things, is why I truly regret letting him go.
In all candor, I don’t know much about my brother’s excursions in Saint Louis. I never really talked to my brother after he left. On some level, I never forgave him for leaving, and on another, I assume he never forgave us for letting him. The only person he kept in contact with was my mother, and after a while he stopped speaking to her as well because he hated making her cry.
For years, my brother was replaced by stories. Stories which I never really listened to because
I never truly wanted to know how many times I failed my brother. I didn’t wish to know in detail the times I’ve allowed him to suffer through hope-shattering disappointment until he became forever dismayed in his seeking for beyond. I choose to remain igno- rant of when it was his soul that was finally broken, and his dreams that were tossed aside.
When my brother finally allowed himself to return home, he was completely different from the boy he was when he left. To this day I have wept for him, an innumerable amount, for the pain he endured during his time here, for the innocence that was stolen, and for the desolate man he was forced to become. I weep for my mother too, because she now bides her time in Springfield, Illinois, trying to mend the irreversible wounds to his soul.
I walked up the steps of the high school, and all I could do was make a comparison to something out of one of the prison documentaries I used to binge when I was younger. As I came upon the doors, I felt my freedoms and sanity slowly relieve themselves of me.
Me and my father stood in the cold January frost for longer than was comfortable. Not that school seemed to bother itself with novelty ideals of things like comfort. We both trapped underneath the weight of silence, and my own crushed expectations. I couldn’t shake my unlawful urge to run away back home and try somewhere else. The screech of the buzzer interrupted my conclusive thought. My father was the one to grab the eroding handle and wait, impatiently, for me to go inside. I stared at him as he turned to walk away, thinking to myself how many empty promises he would have to make in order to earn back my forgiveness.
A short woman with gray hair was standing emotionlessly behind the metal detectors. Awkwardly I endured the ritual of removing objects from my person, and going through the detector. At first, I thought our performance and the pat-downs were just a formality, after all I was trying to appear as non-threatening as possible.
I smiled and asked my well-trained “good mornings” and “how do-you-dos” as I set my things down gently and moved ever so slowly through the metal detector. I kept my hands visible and raised my voice a couple of octaves higher. I smelled good and my hair laid flat. I pressed my clothes and I cooperated. My desire to turn and run, paralyzed by lack of choice. My objections in these territories would continue to fall upon blank ears. The audience I was indifferent, unsympathetic to any of my subliminal flattery. Her eyes were dark and deep, sunken. Her fingers weary from years of doing the same job. I noticed her eyes specifically, because they only looked past me, as if my presence bored her.
Just like my mother, I feared the woman, who knew little of convention. For she spoke none of the pleasant greetings I practiced assimilating during the school day. She asked no questions except the ones she was paid to ask: Name? Temp? Why were you late? She did not care who I was or what I had to say because everything else was answered with just my being there. I felt belittled and reduced to irrelevance the moment I walked through the door. The corridor stripped me of any and all titles I had before entering, and left me vulnerable and person-less. I was just another student of Soldan.
I cried every day of the first week. Monday through Friday, tears fell down my face in a silent prayer begging for the 2:07 pm emancipation to come quickly. The school on the inside was just as demoralizing as the exterior. The plaster paint was peeling, and the scent of filth had overtaken everything. Five hundred and fifty adolescents, all accumulated beneath the four stories of concrete and wood foundations. I spent my lunch periods in search of a place of solace. The bathrooms were often populated with groups of girls sharing the one battered metal mirror. Too occupied tending to their own accelerations of youth for entire hour and half periods at a time to begin conversation or much less pay any attention to me. Then the bell would ring and I would watch a new group arrive like clockwork.
I often bypassed a library locked and forgotten on my way to see the counselors. Like the rest of the school, the walls were bare besides the occasional military recruitment propaganda and trade school flyers. It was all the same. Beneath the crushing weight of my current reality, my dreams seemed nowhere to be found. My place of refuge quickly became a solemn vestige attesting to all that lacked: No colleges, no real expectations of the future. Everything inside those walls felt futile, a way of occupying time.
Even the teachers refuse to look the students in the eye because even they know of the great crime that was actively being committed against us. I pray for the 48 days I have left until the end of the semester.
I roam the hallways. I stand outside myself and watch as I convert into a walking corpse similar to the purgatory struck faculty. Sitting through the extended periods, listening to the world go on seemingly without me, I wonder how many kids think about the world past the one we were all confined to. I dolefully consider those who are unaware of such a place and predestined to spend the remainder of their incidental lives trapped in affliction.