Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School

I’m in my hometown this weekend. I was here last weekend. It’s a little much. I don’t like being here. I never belonged here, and now that I feel let down by the police department I am that much more uneasy. But before my disenchantment with the PD there was RFH.

I entered my freshman year as a weird girl who enjoyed school quite a bit. I was an avid rule follower and loved having good relationships with my teachers. I became less of a pure goody-goody as the years went by in that I would do things like chew gum and text during class, but by and large both in class and out I tended to play by the rules.

Until the last quarter of junior year I was consistently on the honor roll, and I expected nothing less of myself. But the second half of junior year I was being sexually abused by my best friend and suffering from an eating disorder. That took a toll on my performance in school.

For years I’ve believed that, although math was my best subject, I was terrible at precalculus, because I suddenly couldn’t pass a single test, it seemed. The last quarter of junior year I got a C+ in the class, the only marking period in all of my high school career I failed to make the honor roll.

My third quarterly exam for AP biology junior year I got an F. My teacher pulled me aside one day to tell me so I wouldn’t be surprised when she handed back the exams, and I had such a breakdown I was permitted to leave class, roam the halls, and take a nap in the nurse’s office.

No one seemed to pick up on my grades dropping suddenly. I didn’t either. And to be fair, I was able to maintain most of the rest of my classes. But it’s one of those things that looking back it frustrates me the school didn’t think to check in on me, especially considering at the same period of time my principal and assistant principal had a confrontation with me.

It was my junior year post prom. I was an emotional wreck during this time. One of my good friends who I happened to be living with and who I confided in about my eating disorder was being supportive of my latest mental breakdown. As the rest of the students were in the cafeteria watching a magic show, that friend and I were in the band hallway. I was crying about something probably eating disorder related. We had been there for a while, and I was still crying but considerably calmed down when my principal and assistant principal walked side by side down the hallway and demanded to know what was going on.

I told them that I was going through something but that I was confiding in my friend about it and it was helping so I would be fine. I assumed they were concerned about me but was taken aback that they believed I would tell them anything about my personal life or even worse that I owed them such details.

But, they did. They really did. They seemed extremely disturbed that I wouldn’t share intimate details about myself with these people who were essentially strangers to me besides by name. I tried to explain to them that I just needed a friend and I had one, but they believed this was so outrageous that I must be drunk.

So they called my dad at this hour, sometime after midnight, to tell him that they believed I was drunk and that he needed to come pick me up. He told them they were talking about the wrong kid because I don’t drink, which they assumed was him being a naive parent because they knew nothing about me or my passionate membership in RFH’s own straightedge group. Knowing nothing about me, they had no idea that I had never had a drink of alcohol and still haven’t to this day.

My dad convinced them to let me stay, but they forced him to come escort me out at the end of the event. I can’t imagine how such a solution made sense besides some kind of relief from liability, that liability being me. So at three or four or whatever hour in the morning, my dad woke up, drove to the school, walked with me out of the school, and went home while I went to iHop with my friends as planned. I wouldn’t speak to my principal for over a year, so it appears she wasn’t too concerned about my wellbeing after all.

My senior year I had deteriorated significantly. My eating disorder became visible and moreso by the day. If there was any doubt of this, the confirmation comes from my guidance counselor, the only faculty member at the school who made any attempt to address the issue.

I had been close to her since freshman year, and one day the spring of my senior year she called me into her office and confronted it head on.

She told me she was concerned about my weight and asked me if I had been eating. I lied to her face and told her of course I was, I had been training for a marathon so that’s probably the explanation for my extreme weight loss but that there was no way I could do such training if I hadn’t been eating enough.

She didn’t let it go at first but eventually did when I refused to admit it. However, later that same day she called me back in because she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Again, I denied it vehemently and she knew she had done what she could, and she had. At least for the time being. I wasn’t interested in getting better. I believed I needed the comfort of my eating disorder at the time. Now, I am grateful that she tried, and for everything she did for me.

My final interaction with both my principal and my high school was the week of graduation. There were three graduation rehearsals, which seemed excessive for people like me who are last in line and had to do nothing but stand and sit and follow. But they were mandatory, and that was clear.

The third graduation rehearsal fell on a Friday morning. Because I did dual enrollment at the local community college my senior year, I didn’t attend the high school at that hour. In fact, for months my schedule had included going to a yoga class at the time that rehearsal was scheduled for.

Yoga was therapy to me. It was also exercise and routine that my eating disordered brain could not let go of. I know it’s contradictory, but it was both of those.

With the exception of the lies I told intended to hide my eating disorder, I believed in honesty. Well, I believed in honesty altogether and felt extraordinarily guilty each time I did lie about my food intake, but I did allow myself to be dishonest only then. So when I decided to try to get an exception made for me to miss the last graduation rehearsal for my regularly scheduled yoga class, I approached my principal and told her the truth.

She scoffed at the idea of it. Of course I can’t miss the rehearsal for yoga. She appeared offended I would make such a request. She gave me several seconds total, and then she turned herself off to the conversation.

I asked my mom to call her for me, thinking that if it was clearly with parental permission (which it was), then they would allow it. But they wouldn’t. My principal refused to answer her phone calls, and then she refused to answer mine. So my mom left a message for her saying “Ashley will not be able to attend the graduation rehearsal tomorrow. If this is a problem, please give me a call back.”

They didn’t return her call until after I had already missed the rehearsal to inform her that I would not be allowed to walk at graduation because of my absence from the third rehearsal.

They had established those were the rules, so I’m not claiming to be entirely in the right here. But the way they handled my request and the way they treated my mother was completely unacceptable. And it only got worse.

My mom was much more upset about my not being able to walk than I was. I didn’t care about it at all besides that it mattered to my parents. My mom went to meet with my superintendent to try to convince him to permit me to walk, explaining the situation, but he seemed enraged by the whole thing in his eerily calm way.

My mom explained to him that I had been a model student and had never been in any trouble. I had had one detention for being late too much my sophomore year and that was the extent of my disciplinary history. I had been involved in many clubs. My superintendent decided to shatter my mom’s clearly delusional view of me by telling her, “Your daughter was not a perfect angel.” When my mom inquired about why that was, he explained that I had driven myself to senior beach day. The scandal.

I had driven myself to senior beach day. It wasn’t allowed. I did it because, as previously mentioned, my schedule with the school was such that I didn’t attend in the mornings when the busses left for the beach. When my assistant principal told me I wasn’t supposed to drive myself when he saw me arrive, I apologized and said I would leave if I needed to. He said it was okay to come in and just check in with one of the teachers, which I did. And that was my big scandal. That is the terrible thing I did that my superintendent had to use against me. If that doesn’t serve as an example of just how little I did wrong, I don’t know what would.

My mom left that meeting incredibly upset, and now I was pissed. I went to meet with him. I asked him why he was punishing my mom, and he said, “I’m not punishing your mom, you are.” My voice was shaking the whole meeting. He refused to have any meaningful conversation. I refused to leave once calmly and in my seat, to which he said okay, then I will call the police. Which he did. When the police arrived, I walked myself out. They then told me that I was no longer allowed to attend my high school graduation at all.

That is how my principal and superintendent handled a “missed graduation practice” with a noticably anorexic student who tried to get permission. Again, I was not perfect, but I was the child in this scenario, and they were supposedly the adults looking out for my future.

My mom had another discussion, almost had to go to the police station to sort it out, but eventually it was decided that I would be allowed to attend. Still not walking with my class of course, but I could be on school premises.

When I arrived at the school one of the faculty members I had had a very good relationship with came up to me and warned me that the staff had all been instructed to call the police if I was seen on the school grounds. I told her I believed it was sorted out and was alarmed that my temporary exclusion from the school had been spread so widely and quickly. She checked and was told that I was correct. I thanked her for warning me.

I sat on a bench with my parents and watched my whole class receive their diplomas, including people who had been arrested at rowdy parties. I didn’t regret going to yoga.

I entered my freshman year as a weird girl who enjoyed school quite a bit. I left my senior year as an anorexic girl who hated school, who felt wholly unsafe there. My love of learning has never faded, but my enjoyment of school was both ended and tainted. I was not a perfect person, but I was let down in ways that I don’t enjoy being reminded of. My hometown is a community that doesn’t like to acknowledge problems, and I leave that town constantly feeling like a problem my community wants to sweep under the rug.

Sitting on this train, I can’t be more happy that I have a place to return to that does feel like home.

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