My last day at MVHS was a complete blur of “goodbyes” to teachers and classmates who I considered friends and “good riddance” to some classmates and my wonderful incompetent and uncaring guidance counselor, Sylvia Fasulo. My eighth-period Health class was the last class I’d ever have at MVHS. It was the class where a drug-dealing-student who lived near East Lincoln and Sheridan had suggested that Saran Wrap was a good substitute for a condom. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. After class, I walked down the second floor steps and the first floor halls of the high school to my locker one more time.
While clearing out my locker, Estelle Abel walked by and asked to meet with me. I went over to her office, and for the next fifteen minutes, she proceeded to explain to me how much of a disappointment I was while a student at MVHS. Abel claimed that I had underachieved throughout my four years as a student, that I should have been ranked in the top ten of my class, and that my performance in AP Physics was beyond abominable. All I could focus on was the amount of anger and emotion she possessed in her voice and eyes. You’d have thought that I’d been expelled from school or had raped her daughter.
There were two really odd things Abel said during her attack on my character. One was that I had let down the Black students of the school and “my community” by not finishing closer to the top of my class. She said, “You could’ve been a shining example of achievement to us,” all but hinting at Sam as the person I should’ve been like. I guess I did let my Black classmates down. I only ranked second in GPA among Black males and eighth among all African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans in my class.
Abel’s other comments really surprised me.”You don’t have any excuses! There is nothing going on at home that could justify your performance.” When I disagreed, the Science department head’s face turned stern. She said that nothing occurring in my life would ever compare to the problems Blacks faced “back in the 1960s . . . I marched with Dr. Martin Luther King!” My mind clicked off my eardrums at that point. Short of showing her my war wounds and having her meet my family, what could I possibly do or say to that?
I left her office feeling like my years at MVHS and in Humanities were just bullshit. I was in a mood and in a mode in which I needed someone to be there for me, to not judge me, but to save me again. If anyone had walked up to me on my way home to tell me how great a place Mount Vernon was to live in, I would either chewed them out or punched them in the jaw. Mount Vernon, MVHS, Humanities, 616. I saw them as different sides of the same box, a place of isolation, ignorance, abuse and apathy, a macabre place where only the stereotypical and the cool could survive.
My opinion about Mount Vernon hasn’t changed much in the twenty-four years since Estelle Abel acted an ass with me present. Despite all attempts by former classmates and former neighbors to make Mount Vernon sound like, say, the Black suburbs of Atlanta, it isn’t that place, not by a long shot. When one in five residents are below the poverty line, with a school district among the worst in the state (even though I know it’s getting better), a crime rate that would make folks in the DC area take notice, and with a generational and ethnic divide still in existence, I think that it’s difficult to argue that Mount Vernon is a great place to live. But then again, I’ve seen the worst the former “city on the move” has to offer.
I guess that it wasn’t all bad. I miss Clover Donuts, Papa’s Wong’s, Prisco’s Used TVs and Radios, the Army-Navy store, Mount Vernon Public Library, some of my teachers, and a few folks I did get along with. Those places of business mostly don’t exist, the libraries I go to now are just as good and the buildings much better maintained, and many of the folks I liked are either dead or scattered to the four corners of the Earth. I guess that you can’t go home again, in this case, thankfully so.
With the exception of a few friends, 616 and Crush #2, I really had left Mount Vernon in my mind by the time I walked out of MVHS for the last time as a student. There are some things I wished I could’ve done growing up there. Like hanging out more, going to the basketball games and other sporting events. Or spending more time at public gatherings in Hartley Park or at th Wilson Woods pool. Yet it wasn’t to be. I was a Mount Vernonite, in it, but certainly not of it.
Maybe that’s why I don’t feel like I’ve ever really had a hometown, why I prefer my remains to be scattered in Seattle or in the Atlantic than buried in the city of my birth. All I know is that by the time of my last day at MVHS, twenty-two years ago to the date and day, my hometown had shown no interest in me or in my success. That, folks, is reason enough to not see a place you grew up in as your own.