Overheard: High school’s not like I thought high school was going to be.
Where it took me: This one’s a bit circuitous. I had a prompt to write something that scared me as a child. I remember being scared of my first day of high school, and somehow (too much TV I’m going to guess) thinking there were girl gangs in the bathrooms waiting to knife me. I grew up in an upper-middle-class area just outside the centre of Toronto. Girl gangs were not an issue. Wearing the right clothes, yes. Knives, not so much. But then I also remembered being terrified of dogs as a very young child. So I combined these fear experiences to write this poem.
We walk the path from our street,
between two houses, to the schoolyard.
It’s not the walk that scares me,
though my only company is another five-year-old.
I find my sense of direction early,
never take the kind of wrong turn
that sees my junior-kindergarten sister and her friend
frozen by the roar of cars on Sheppard Avenue.
It is not the brief disappearance we have to make
from bungalowed streets onto school property.
We are not the only children to pass this way.
It’s Igor. He rules one of the fenced yards
with bellows that echo the mountains
of his St. Bernard ancestors.
I hear nothing in his frantic bark
but a refrain I translate to “I want to eat you.”
There’s no bite, I come to understand.
Dogs generally do not eat little girls.
Next, I am petrified by Nero,
the black lab who lives next door in our next house.
Later, I imagine girl gangs in the high school bathrooms,
though it turns out there is much more to fear from girls
than their steel-toed workboots behind closed doors.
You always know what’s making a dog bark.