I used to live on International Boulevard in Oakland, on the more impoverished side of town. The sounds of guns waking us up at 3 in the morning was like an alarm clock for an early riser, sending panic through my mother whilst my dad slept, unaware of my brother and I hiding under the table. I know my mom never wanted us to have this life; no one on our block wanted to have this life.
The roads were bumpy, potholes deep enough to inhabit a small ecosystem: frogs, grasshoppers, grass, and all. Seeing the roads around the lake being freshly paved, I felt as though we were the crumbs at the bottom of an unsatisfying bag of dry pretzels. The neglected corner we lived on was always busy; in the span of me living at that house there were at least 15 big scandals of the neighborhood that happened in front of our gates, two of them even hitting our gate. The least I can say is that my environment added to my character.
When I moved from my elementary school to my middle school and entered sixth grade, I thought that I’d fled from my reality before. I finally felt privileged. It wasn’t until I heard an offhand comment by a classmate about this new school that I felt graciously saved by that I realized I was in the same situation, just in a different part of Oakland. They said something along the lines of “this school is so trashy and poor” and it stuck with me. In my eyes, the new environment was ten times better than what I was in before, but to find out that I was in a school that wasn’t seen as a great school to others was engrossing. Going from thinking highly of the new school to considering it “the worst of the best” will always make a person feel as though you are separated from the majority — lesser than them.
Along with having a fresh start, it was hard to become friends with people. They always had their own pre-established group of friends and didn’t need any more. Finding people that stick, especially those that have gone through and understand the things you’ve been through, is difficult. And because of the trust issues that I have developed over the years, it was hard to actually find genuine people. The feeling of being an outsider always stuck. Being added to group chats with basically the whole grade and only knowing the person who added me, people making references to things I can’t begin to fathom to understand. When we went into lockdown and missed the rest of the year and the whole of our seventh-grade year, it leveled the playing field to an extent. We all didn’t know what was happening and were just as confused. Finally, by eighth-grade, I had an established friend group I could rely on. It felt good to be in the loop.
Entering high school in a new district a year later was hard. Leaving the community I had just built was difficult. Once again, I was out of the know.