memories, mental health, true crime

I wouldn’t want to go back to high school… would you?

Yesterday, I was binge watching the third season of Cobra Kai. It was a YouTube Premium show, but now it’s on Netflix, which makes it nice for me. Now, I don’t have to wait for it to show up on iTunes. Watching the third season of Cobra Kai led to my having some rather vivid dreams this morning, but happily, they weren’t nightmares. I was actually kind of afraid I would have bad dreams, because the last episode had many snakes in it. I don’t hate snakes… I think they’re misunderstood. But I would not want to fall into a snake pit, either. Yikes!

Anyway, as I was watching Cobra Kai, I noticed an article that was being re-shared by The Atlantic magazine. It was originally posted July 6, 2016 by Jeff Maysh, and it was titled “Why One Woman Pretended to Be a High-School Cheerleader“. I was intrigued, especially since in 2016, we neither had Donald Trump as president nor any worries about COVID-19. I figured it was the perfect thing to read as the headlines grow more alarming.

Maysh’s story was about a woman named Wendy Brown, who in 2008, decided to pose as a high school student at Ashwaubenon High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Although many of us would like to forget our high school years, Wendy Brown had wanted a do-over ever since she’d quit school in the early 1990s.

Wendy had two children, Joey and Jaimi. At the time of Wendy’s strange trip back to high school in Wisconsin, her children were enrolled in a high school in Nevada, where they were being cared for by Brown’s parents, Joe and Judith. Joey, named after Wendy’s dad, was conceived when Wendy Brown was a high school student at Harold L. Richards High School in Illinois, where she was on the track team. When Wendy started throwing up after races, her mother suspected she was pregnant. Sure enough, she was, and she delivered her son on her 17th birthday. Her son’s father abandoned them both, and Wendy’s school career abruptly stalled.

Three months later, Wendy got pregnant again, this time by another boy. Her daughter, Jaimi, was born nine months later. High school had been a misery for Wendy, and she’d never managed to finish. Besides being pregnant when she was a teen, Wendy also had a speech impediment that caused her to mispronounce words her r’s. Instead of saying “rabbit”, she’d say “wabbit”. Other kids made fun of her.

Making matters worse was the fact that Wendy had siblings who did comparatively well in school. She had a younger sister named Jennifer, who was a social butterfly and a cheerleader. She had an older brother who was a football player. Both got through high school unscathed, while Wendy floundered. She was very jealous of Jennifer, who got to wear the school’s black and gold colors on her cheerleading uniform and seemed to have a great life.

Throughout her 20s, Wendy drifted through dead end jobs at discount stores like Walmart and K-Mart. She waited tables and worked in fast food places. She’d even worked as a stripper as she migrated from state to state. Stripping turned out to be her longest lasting paying gig.

Freshly married in June 2006, Wendy and her new husband went six months before domestic violence became a problem. In Cass County, Illinois, where Wendy was living when she was first married, the police were frequently called to their home to break up their fights. Wendy’s husband would lose his temper and knock out all of the windows in the home.

In 2008, the pair moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, while Wendy’s kids moved to Nevada. Wendy had an old friend who lived there and she thought maybe she and her husband could make a fresh start. They rented a small apartment near Ashwaubenon High School. Wendy could hear the football team practice. She was sad that her children weren’t living with her anymore, and was feeling hopeless. That’s when she got the idea to go back to high school, posing as a fifteen year old kid and prospective cheerleader.

Wendy was a very petite woman who could pass for fifteen. She weighed just 103 pounds and easily fit into junior sized clothes. She put on a girlish speaking voice, styled her hair the way kids in 2008 did, and bought herself a new bookbag. She enrolled in school by herself, telling the guidance counselor that her name was Jaimi and her mom was “hard to reach” when she was at work. The counselor apparently took Wendy (posing as Jaimi) at her word, and for a several weeks, Wendy went to classes and even tried out for the cheerleading team, which she made. She also got into a choral group, in which the teacher noted her unusually “mature” singing voice. It was hard for Wendy to get used to being called by her daughter’s name, Jaimi. One time, a teacher called on Wendy three times before she realized she was being addressed. The teacher chalked it up to Wendy “daydreaming” because she was new.

Wendy Brown’s ruse was destined to fail. She got busted for truancy when she didn’t return to school after her first day. One of the principals called the school where Wendy had noted she had studied previously– the school in Nevada where her daughter, Jaimi, was a student. The staff there informed Ashwaubenon High School’s associate principal that Jaimi was in school in Nevada. The principal called the real Jaimi’s grandmother, who explained that her daughter, Wendy, had a history of committing identity thefts. Meanwhile, Wendy had posed as the manager at her apartment building and ripped off a security deposit from a prospective renter.

In the end, Wendy wound up being found not guilty “by reason of mental disease or defect” to a charge of identity theft. She was subsequently committed to the Winnebago mental health facility in Wisconsin for three years, having been diagnosed with bi-polar II disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and two personality disorders. While she was locked up, Wendy was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent chemotherapy and two surgeries, all alone. She also divorced her husband and earned her G.E.D., but was not able to get her certificate until after she was released from the psychiatric hospital where she was incarcerated.

Apparently, all she’d really wanted was a “do-over” of her high school years. And although this case was very embarrassing to the staff at Ashwaubenon High School, no real harm had been done. No one at the school wanted to speak to Jeff Maysh about this case, though. Sadly, Wendy’s children were also estranged from her, as of 2016, and Wendy had yet to meet her grandchild.

There’s more to this story, of course, and you can read it for yourself. I was left kind of flabbergasted when I read it. I suppose there are times when I kind of miss high school a little. Those were simpler days, and I spent a lot of them hanging out with my horse. On the other hand, they weren’t the happiest of times for me, and I didn’t have a particularly enjoyable experience in high school. I mean, on one hand, it’s kind of exciting because that’s when you start making plans for your future. You have your whole life ahead of you. On the other hand, it’s also when a lot of youngsters are insecure and immature, and if you’re not “popular”, it can be a lonely time.

Me in high school, aged 17… That hair is killer.

I also would not want to go back to living with my parents. Wendy Brown didn’t do that, of course. She would fake being a teen by day, then go home to her depressing apartment and be a wife to her abusive husband. But the idea of going back to high school, even if I could do it as an actual teen, doesn’t really appeal to me much. The only thing I might have done differently was take some different courses and study music. But if I had done that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Things might have turned out very differently. Maybe they would have been better. Maybe they would have been worse.

Anyway… I don’t know why The Atlantic is currently sharing these old stories on Facebook. I’m glad they did share that one, though, because it was a nice distraction from politics yesterday, and I’ve only been a subscriber for about a year. And it gave me a reminder that I’d rather be 48 than 15 again, even though it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I was in high school. I think today’s students have it a hell of a lot worse than I did. For one thing, we didn’t have school shootings. For another, COVID-19 wasn’t a thing, either. Neither was social media, for that matter. I think Facebook probably makes high school much worse.

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book reviews

A review of Hurry Up Nurse: Memoirs of nurse training in the 1970s

Sometimes, I like to read self published books. I find that they don’t have the same slick editing that comes from a lot of books released by major publishers. Self-published books are sometimes a little bit rougher around the edges, yet more candid. That makes them more interesting. Dawn Brookes, author of Hurry Up Nurse: Memoirs of nurse training in the 1970s. I can tell by the way the book is written, but also by the publisher– Dawn Brookes Publishing. We know what that means, right?

Dawn Brookes is a very British lady who spent 39 years working as a nurse in England. She started in 1977, when she turned up at an interview for nurse’s training in Leicester. The funny thing is, I was actually living in England in 1977. My father was, at that time, the base engineer at Mildenhall Air Force Base, in Suffolk. Dawn Brookes was 18 years old, same age as my eldest sister, Betsy. That little factoid immediately helped me relate to her very colorful stories about what it was like to be trained as a nurse in England during the 70s. She also mentions visiting a couple of places I went to in 2016– Thetford and Watton– both in Norfolk and on the way to Norwich. I went there in 2016 after a Scottish cruise to see Mildenhall and the area where I spent three years of my early childhood. Anyway, enough about me and my British connections.

Dawn Brookes was a typical young lady in England, not knowing much about what she was going to do with her life. As it often happens with young people without a specific direction, Brookes found herself in a set of circumstances that led her to enter the nursing field. Her book, which has since been followed by two sequels I haven’t yet read– and hope are better than the Karate Kid sequels I sat through the other night— is about her training as a nurse in England over forty (!) year ago.

One thing that struck me about Hurry Up Nurse is that the years have really flown by. It doesn’t seem like 1977 was that long ago, but as Brookes writes about her days as a young nurse, I’m reminded of how things have changed. For instance, back in those days, nurses in England wore caps and white uniforms with belts. They even had capes and gloves! Nowadays, nurses dress for comfort and practicality. In the early days of Ms. Brookes’ career, patients were put in huge wards with about forty beds. Now, I’m guessing the wards still exist, but they’re smaller. Ditto for equipment that made nursing less taxing on the nurses’ backs and drugs that are better than what was available in the 70s. Brookes mentions drugs, equipment, and treatments that were used 40 years ago, but really doesn’t give them a thorough discussion. They more or less get mentioned in passing. The same goes for the title, “Hurry Up Nurse”, which gets mentioned several times, but not really explained in a memorable way.

Another thing that struck me about Hurry Up Nurse is how very different some British slang is compared to American slang. For example, a couple of days ago, I posted an excerpt from Ms. Brookes’ book about how she used to enjoy eating “faggots” when she was a girl. “Faggot”, of course, means something entirely different to Americans. In British English, it can refer to a pile of sticks or, as I’ve learned because of this book, a type of sausage made of offal. In America, “faggot” is a derogatory insult to male homosexuals. Dawn Brookes uses a lot of British slang and, sometimes, takes for granted that everyone reading her book is from the United Kingdom. It’s not unreasonable that she would assume that most readers are English, since this is a self-published book. And I’m not sad that I had to look up some of her less familiar terms, since I learned new things. I just want to warn American readers that they may have to do a little extra work to understand everything, even if the book is in English.

Dawn Brookes comes off as friendly and funny, and she did surprisingly well as a nurse and earned several qualifications, even though she seemed to end up in the field by happenstance. However, this book, though entertaining and kind of educational in its own way, isn’t very well organized. The book doesn’t really flow like a story and seems more like a group of anecdotes cobbled together. I mostly enjoyed the anecdotes, but I didn’t really get a sense of the people Ms. Brookes writes about. It’s not like Echo Heron’s marvelous book, Intensive Care, from 1987, which told the story of her training, as well as stories about people she’d worked with, and special patients she knew in a linear fashion. Brookes’ book is not linear and therefore comes off as somewhat less personal. On the other hand, at times I was reminded a little bit of Call the Midwife, and it’s a good thing I’ve seen that show, because Ms. Brookes also includes terminology and job titles that we Americans would mostly never get, like “ward sister”. What the hell is that? I could kind of figure it out because I’ve seen British TV, but other readers might need to do some Googling.

The book ends very abruptly, too. I was in the middle of a good story last night, turned the page, and all of a sudden, it was over. I was actually a little surprised by the sudden stop and went looking for more. Alas, that was it, and I was left a little wanting, as if Dawn Brookes had left me with a cliffhanger.

I liked the book enough that I decided to order the next two parts of her trilogy. I expect they will be more of the same… although if they’re as bad as The Karate Kid part III, I’ll be pissed. I got on a Karate Kid kick because I just watched the second season of Cobra Kai, which also wasn’t as good as the first, and needed to refresh my memory about the Karate Kid films. The second part wasn’t as good as the first, but the third part stunk to high heaven. I doubt the next two Hurry Up Nurse books will be that bad, though. I just hope that Brookes finds an editor… not a slick one, mind you, but one who can make her books flow logically and lyrically, so they’re easier and more fun to read and do less wandering. She has some good stuff here– and I did learn some things by reading– but I’m afraid I’m having trouble remembering anything specific to comment on, other than the fact that I learned a new meaning of the word “faggots”.

I’ll give it 3.5 stars out of 5, and we’ll see what I think of her other two books…

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