Dear High School Self
You had never been overly bothered by the enormous gap between your two front teeth. You knew you were not pretty but it didn’t bother you.
Until your very first day of high school. You had been excited about starting at your new school. You loved learning, had lots of friends and enjoyed every aspect. You played in your middle school brass band and had, subsequently, joined the Dereham Town Band. Life was more than ok.
Gripping your friends’ arms with excitement you had gone to your first classroom, exhilerated at having found it at all in the huge rabbit warren that was Northgate High School. Within seconds your beaming smile was wiped away. One single word shouted across the room, aimed directly at you.
A bony, almost feminine, witchlike finger was pointing directly at your face. GAPPY! The voice of the skinny, spotty boy with the gruesomely protruding Adam’s apple punctuated the air around you as his huddled friends repeated his discovery.
WHAT A GAP!
Mortified, you slipped quietly into your seat, blushing furiously and fumbled in your schoolbag, waiting for the lesson to begin.
Gavin Selwyn, you later discovered, was his name. Little did he know, or care, at the time, but those few uttered words, echoed daily when he passed you in corridors, would become the bane of your adult life. Your confidence was shattered and the beginning of a lifetime of avoiding public speaking, reading aloud in class and a hatred of collective attention came into being.
Gavin Selwin, it transpired, was the overly-confident son of one of Northgate High School’s maths teachers, his advantage already at a high long before becoming a part of the year group who moved into high school at year six. Unlike you ‘townies’ who didn’t join until a year later, in year seven, those coming from village schools into high school, had a full year on you later joiners. A full year of familiarity with the school layout and getting to know the teaching staff, their confidence sky high long before your group joined them. Back in 1981, nobody thought to question the difficulty in integration of the new arrivals who were simply expected to ‘suck it up’ and get on with school life.
Being at a disadvantage made little difference to you in that respect, your confidence already shot down by Gavin Selwin’s taunting and that was enough to mar the remainder of your school life. You did ok at school, gaining plenty of O’ Levels, and you muddled through, but the confidence from your early years was long gone.
You begged your mum to ask your dentist for braces to straighten your teeth, thus closing the gap a little. She did ask the question once but hung onto his negative response to the request. Mr Dennis, of Baines and Dennis dentists in Dereham, did not see any reason to investigate and felt your teeth were strong and a gap to be lucky. LUCKY! Your mother didn’t question him, preferring to agree with his response, over a worried daughter. You never mentioned it again until, mucn later, way into your forties, when your dentist discovered a wayward adult tooth which had not descended into your mouth but had grown horizontally in your gums and was now damaging some of the front teeth. The three front teeth to one side needed to be removed and were replaced, following painful surgery, with a partial denture.
The gap could still not be fully closed because the tooth on one side remained healthy but it was much smaller and, thanks to a wonderful new dentist, Jason Stokes of Cathedral Dental in Norwich your smile is now a little wider than all those years before. You are currently waiting for a new, stronger and more comfortable denture, the possibility of implants a long way off due to the awkward positioning of remaining healthy teeth.
One throwaway word, repeated over the course of four years of high school is enough to damage a person beyond belief. You will never forgive Gavin Selwin for those years of high school name calling but at least you will know in your heart that you are a far better person than he ever was.
With love, and confidence,
Your happier future, bordering on fifty, self.