I went to a high school that was pretty lax about class requirements. Students were strongly encouraged to take at least three years’ worth of every major subject: English, Social Studies, Math, Science. But the word “encouraged” is key.

My guidance counselor was just too sweet for her own good. Or I guess for my good, really, because once I realized that the requirements were flexible, it was goodbye to Math and Science. Anything with numbers or facts? Peace out, see ya later.

What I loved was English. I was always reading. You know that phrase people (it seems like only old ladies, actually) always say, like: “That Billy always has his nose in a book! Such a bookworm!” I was that bookworm. Literally, though; at almost all times, I walked around with my big nose in a little book. I would read on the bus, step down, and keep reading as I walked across the parking lot to class. I looked like Belle in The Beauty and the Beast, walking through the halls like I was strolling around Paris with a book in front of my face and a croissant in the other hand. If mentioning a non-Pixar animated movie is too archaic, by the way, and the reference has been lost on you, go to 1:45 in this vid. The chick ecstatically sliding across the bookshelf, that’s me.

I also loved languages. Beginning in seventh grade, we had to take a language and our choices were Latin, Spanish, or French. The hot girls took French, the apathetic masses took Spanish, and the parent-pleasing “intellectuals” took Latin. Which one do you think I chose?

After three years of Latin, I liked learning a language so much that I added Spanish, too. I dropped Math in order to do so. Then, junior year, I dropped Science, too, in order to double up in English. Our choices that year were Classical Lit—in which we read Homer, Aeschylus, and other dead Greeks, or AP (Advanced Placement) Lit, which involved Joyce, Dickens, Dostoevsky and blablabla, you know those dudes. The literary giants.

I couldn’t just choose one. I elected to take no Science, no Math, and to make up for the void by adding something called an “independent study.” For my independent study, I sat in a small storage closet with my favorite English teacher (poor, kind man) and we would discuss short stories from the 1800s.

So, to reiterate the list here: I was taking two sections of foreign languages, two sections of English, and a special private study of Hawthorne and Poe. I was a huge fucking nerd.

Senior year, I wanted to do it again—no Math or Science. But my guidance counselor insisted that colleges might not like the discrepancy, and that I should really choose at least a Science class. Of all things, we went with AP Biology, based on the logic that I had taken regular Bio freshman year and scraped by with a B, and hey, it was just memorization, after all. Kingdom, Phallus, Order, Genius, right? Lots of lists and stuff.

On the first day, the teacher announced to us, “This is AP-level Biology, I expect AP-level work and commitment.” Fuuuuck. Then she passed out a huge book and said we would cover a chapter a week and have a big multiple choice exam every Friday.

For the first test, I studied for a little while, memorized the bullshit, and felt pretty good after taking it. She handed them back Monday, and I got an 85. I was pretty happy with that. 85 was a B, and hey, if I could get a straight B in the class, that was okay.

I felt really good after taking the second test. I felt like I maybe even brought up my score from the first one, maybe got into the 90s range. But on Monday, she handed them back and I got a 74. “Hmm,” I thought, “That’s a bit of a drop. But it’s not so bad, and I’ll pull it up next time.”

For the third test, I studied harder than before. I made flashcards, and had my parents quiz me. I felt good. After actually taking the test, though, I didn’t feel so good. I just wasn’t gettin’ this science stuff! We got the test back Monday, and sure enough, I got a 65. Uh-oh. That’s like a D, right? I was upset, to say the least. I wanted to burn my Bio textbook. A year later, in college, I would get the chance to burn a book, but it would be Eccoci, my text from first-year Italian. As I held the flame to its angry pages, I closed my eyes and thought about AP Bio. Note: No books were harmed in the making of this TNB post (nor even in the photo below; after holding the lighter there long enough for a picture, I wussed out).

Meanwhile, we were nearing the deadline to drop a class. Soon, I’d be in too deep. But I also knew I couldn’t really drop the class, because I needed a science corurse.

So, for the fourth week’s test, I really kicked into high gear. I started studying a week in advance, read through each chapter twice, and tried to think of any surprise, trick questions. This time, I wasn’t fucking around.

At this point, you know where the story is headed, don’t you?

I took the test, and boy, it went great. I knew all of the questions with confidence, and walking out of class Friday, I thought that if anything, I had been overprepared!

After completing the test, I felt so good about it that after school that very afternoon, I actually went to the Science office to approach the teacher. I wanted to find out my grade, and I knew that even though we didn’t get tests returned until Monday, they were all graded with the Scantron machine (“Use #2 pencils only! Darken each rectangle fully! No errant pencil marks!”) and therefore took a teacher thirty seconds and zero effort to score each one. She had probably already graded them.

The teacher’s name was Miss Tyson. “Hi Miss Tyson!” I said when I walked into the Science office. “Hello, Daniel,” she said quietly. She looked grim.

Hey, so, I know we won’t get back them til Monday, but I thought maybe if you had already scored them, I could find out my grade from today’s test now? I just feel really good about it and wanted to see mine early!

She looked at me, and said, “Are… are you serious?”

“Yeah!” I said with genuine, doe-eyed enthusiasm.

She looked around the office at the other science teachers like she was embarrassed, and she said, “I’m going to write your score down for you on a piece of paper.”

“Gee golly, okay!” I said, excited to see my A+ grade.

Then she took a little corner of scrap paper and brought out her pen. I still remember it today; it was a purple Le Pen. Felt tip, gorgeous ink. A really nice pen! She wrote something on the scrap of paper and then slid it over to me with her hand covering it. Then she slowly lifted her hand.

On the piece of paper, she had written the number 47.

I gave her a puzzled look and asked, “Oh, was it graded out of 50 this time?”

“No, that’s your score out of a hundred,” she said.

I smiled, and thought for a second. I probably thought about what I would eat for my after-school snack. Then I looked up at her and said, “Okay, will you sign this drop sheet?”