Stylized line drawing of mark playing the flute

Freshman year in hell

I spent my freshman year at Nova High School in Redding, CA.

Nova opened in 1967 and ran until 1990. My class was the last class to attend before it became Foothill High School.

Incoming freshman from Shasta, Enterprise, and Central Valley High schools all went to Nova for their first year, then on to their respective schools for the next 3 years.

I donΓ’know whoΓ’bright idea it was to house 2000-ish freshman in one building but it remains, to this day, one of the worst places IΓ’ ever been.

Jim Rocca was my 8th grade homeroom teacher. He was also my favorite teacher during the 3 years of torment that made up middle school. His only advice about Nova was: show up, go to class and go home.

DonΓ’do any clubs. DonΓ’do any sports. Keep your head down and just wait for it to be over.

The violence there was constant. There were brutal fights every single day.

I saw a girl stuff another girl into a garbage can and throw her down a set of stairs.

I saw the vice-principalΓ’son bludgeon someone with a full can of soda before the police came and hauled him off.

I saw an endless parade of people cornered and beat up for no discernible reason.

I saw people carrying knives and brass knuckles.

I saw people dealing drugs in the locker rooms.

I loved school dances in middle school. The first dance I went to at Nova ended early because of the threat of a drive-by shooting. I never went to another one.

I had 15Γ’ minutes at the end of each waiting for the bus to come. One day, I was sitting on a railing outside the gym when a kid ran up to me and pushed me off the railing as hard as he could. When I tried to get up, he punched me in the stomach.

He said he was sick of my shit and he was going to kill me the next time he saw me. IΓ’never even seen him before. I spent the last month of school hiding until the bus came, then running to the bus as fast as I could.

In the late 1980's, they shipped teenage gang members from Southern California up to Redding to live in group homes. There was also a huge influx of immigrants from Laos and Cambodia, many of whom were gang members.

That, combined with so many hormonal teenagers in one building, made Nova the perfect storm of awfulness.

I never once ate in the cafeteria or went outside during lunch because I was too afraid. I bought a candy bar (and maybe some Mentos) from the little candy stand at the school and then hid in the library until lunch was over. They had giant books of quotes from famous people. I read quotes and wrote down my favorites in a notebook I carried everywhere.

The most successful days were when I managed to be invisible. I got good enough at it that I could stand right behind people and watch while they opened their lockers. I had dozens of locker combinations written down, not that I ever did anything with them.

There were moments of levity too.

A friend of a friend was taking typing. He would finish early and write bizarre stories on scraps of paper. My friend would get gum wrappers or torn pieces of notebook paper with typewritten stories and pass them along to me.

I took a photography class where I learned how to develop black & white film. I even got permission to take pictures when we played football during PE. I think our teacher realized I was in trouble when we did weight training and I couldnΓ’even bench press a 30lb bar.

I took a fantastic drama class and even got a minor role in a school play. The play was about juvenile delinquents. Each act was the story of a different kid and how they had ended up in jail. I played a lawyer. My costume was the suit my Uncle David wore for his wedding.

In the end, I survived my time at Nova and switched to a small, private Catholic high school the next year.

It was a tiny school with 120 kids and two hallways.

A breath of fresh air.