From the "stories I've never told" file:
In 1980, at the age of thirteen, I began attending the York School, a private Episcopalian college prep day school in Monterey. The school had grades 8-12, and I entered in the eighth grade. I lasted six months, and was kicked out ("dismissed") from school in March 1981 (just days before John Hinckley shot Reagan, for those who remember the era).
I was dismissed because I was caught stealing money from the boys' locker room on campus, but that wasn't the only strike against me. I was failing algebra and chemistry, and had a reputation as a trouble-maker. On a very conservative campus, I had distributed copies of the Socialist Worker, and had openly defaced a Republican campaign poster (signing my name to my handiwork) days before Reagan defeated Carter in the tragic November 1980 election. I was not a popular boy -- sullen and quiet in the classes I didn't like (math, science); boisterous and obnoxious in the classes which I enjoyed (English, geography, Latin). I have no doubt that the school was grateful that I gave them an excellent and justifiable reason to dismiss me when I was discovered pilfering change from other student's clothes.
A note about the theft: I wasn't stealing bills. Indeed, I left the "real money" alone. What I wanted -- all that I wanted -- was change for the soda machines. Cokes cost only a quarter, and I was as addicted to caffeine then as I am now. It was a sad little incident.
In any event, the Monterey Peninsula is very small, and was smaller in 1981. As in any small-town community, word of my dismissal from York (I was the first student kicked out in three or four years) spread rapidly. My mother admitted to some understandable embarrassment, and I had to endure much teasing when I was forced to re-enroll in the local public junior high school just before the end of my eighth grade year. Everyone knew I had been kicked out of York, and was now back at the same middle school I had left the previous June.
Over the years, the rumors about what had led to my dismissal grew more and more elaborate, to the point that I was said to have been dealing drugs, or -- my favorite -- caught having sex with another boy in the showers. (Whether this non-existent partner of mine had been dismissed as well was never clear.) Alas, the truth was far more prosaic.
Why tell the story now? Well, it's a small part of my life, and it was a terrific learning experience for me. I learned that I had a defiant, rebellious streak that could be harnessed for good but which could also get me in a great deal of trouble. I learned that my recklessness had consequences, and could hurt people who loved me. Indeed, this was the first time I realized that my carelessness and defiance did have a very real impact on those around me. It took me another twenty years to truly grasp what that would mean, of course. And when I run into kids in youth group who are struggling with authority, working way below their potential, and getting into trouble, I can tell them my story of being thrown out of prep school and establish some reasonably good bona fides.
I learned, thank goodness, to knock out the stealing habit -- though the soda addiction has proved far more difficult to kick.