Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An exploration.

As most regular visitors know by now, and as a heads-up for those who might be new here, I write in a very... present-tense, stream of consciousness style.  This entry is likely to be a bit different than others, though, as it is an exploration of self and my experience as an underground gifted child. I'm never brief enough for these things, but I'm hoping to compress this to less than a giant Wall Of Text.

photo by Sarah Klockars-Clauser
As a small child, nothing was really amiss.  I was definitely “more” than my brothers were for the same ages, but honestly, it was the seventies, and nobody was really feeling too into diagnosing whatever was up with their kids, it was more about training them to not be that way.  When I arrived in kindergarten, I was one of two children who could already read.  This wasn't any particular oddity, as I was the eldest, and there was no baseline that said four year olds shouldn't be reading. Because it was kindergarten in the early eighties, it wasn't a big deal.
Class was mostly play, anyway.  In first grade, the only thing I really remember was that I was writing my numeral threes backward, and had to stay in from recess to practice writing them correctly.  Third grade sticks out as the last 'normal' year to me. I remember frequently being reprimanded for talking... and eventually I just stopped.  I also remember that during this time I had three friends – the two girls who lived next door, and one girl who lived down the block.  I heard no end of “school is not for socializing, Miss Wilson” from teachers, and the end result was that I didn't really have school friends.  I had a couple acquaintances from school, sure.  The people who sit in the desk next to you, or who share a table with you. I had a positive nickname at that point – I was “tennis ball” ... because “Wilson” was the prominent brand.  Some of the other kids were Forest, Certs, and Mars Bar.  No big deal.  Fourth grade, everything shifted again.  I had no real friends.  The only friends I had were a boy called Craig, who was as outcast as I was, and whomever was new to class or school... until the new kid found 'cooler' friends than me. Grade 5 was a nightmare.  My teacher told me there was no such thing as Santa Claus.  I was determined and steadfast in my belief up to that point.  One of the other kids asked, deliberately, “What if we still believe in Santa?”  The teacher's reply crushed me: “Then you must be pretty foolish.” This was the hardest year of elementary, as needless to say the rest of the year did not go well. I made up a story about how I had found out there was no Santa, not being brave enough to just write “You told me.” in my journal notebook.  I got an A on it, not that I was surprised by that. Things went downhill from there.

In junior high, the bullying intensified. Every class period had at least one person who would sneer at me and call me ugly. My mother's insistence that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” did not go far at 12.  In eighth grade, my reading teacher joined in the fun.  She had handed out Scholastic book order forms, and the books had come back.  She and several of the girls who enjoyed making my life hell spent the entire period mocking me – I had gotten a book about boys.  It didn't help that I had an appointment for a haircut that evening; it became “common knowledge” that I cut my hair because the book told me to.  I was good at nearly every class I took... but not too good.  Math... Math I got busted down, because the teacher couldn't think of a better way to explain algebra than “It's like Sesame Street... the 2 is wearing the n like a backpack!” over and over again.  It was assumed the fault was with me, and back to “regular” math I went.  Home ec was worse.  I remember the boys. Their names. The sing-song of “Oh, combat; oh, combat; you look like a wombat”  Naturally, I was “combat.” In all this time, I had one friend that didn't move on.  I'm not sure why, but she didn't. Others moved, changed schools, whatever, but this one stayed. We weren't in the same school, which I'm not sure if that helped or hurt.  But either way, I had a friend.  It didn't stop me from thinking the world would be better off without me, that I'd be better off dead, but it was something.

Photo by Miroslav Vadjia
High school was a little better.  My friend and I were in the same school now, and I could slipstream behind her and be mostly invisible, and protected from the worst of the bullying by the fact that she was extremely popular. In high school I found my niche.  I was, effectively, Willow Rosenberg, circa Buffy Season 1.  I made my way out of the worst of things by being willing to do other people's homework for them.  Anyone who was nice to me without such prompting, I was certain was only there to yank the rug from under me. That's what experience had taught me. I was a low-rung kid, with a high-rung friend.  It helped, sort of, until that friend transferred schools. Then I was on my own again.  I spun out a bit, and found a home with some other then-social-rejects - for various reasons, usually to do with a bit of social awkwardness.  I eventually got tossed from that group, too, for refusing to berate my then-boyfriend.  I left in a spectacular huff of self-righteousness.  I found out much later that day was the first time anyone stood up for me.  My then-boyfriend's brother stood up, walked across the school's lunchroom where we waited for class to begin, and promptly tore into that group of would-be friends. First time for everything, and Randy deserves full credit for his awesomeness. High school was the first time I'd ever had a 'real' boyfriend... and because I was so desperate for someone – anyone – to like me, I let him sexually abuse me.  It didn't matter, as long as he wasn't making fun of me, right? It was several years of being on my own before Randy and his brother Jon were in my life.

Coming out of high school, Jon taught me a great many things.  That it wasn't shameful to be smart. That it was okay to like to read, even read things that were gasp fictional. He taught me to use a computer, to enjoy foreign language films (okay, mostly anime, but other things, too), he taught me how to disassemble and reassemble a computer – and have it work before you started AND after you finished. He taught me it was okay to want to learn. I adored him. And that's when my long term friend made a play for him. She insists she took him out for coffee to be sure he was “good enough” for me. It's been twenty years, and I still don't believe it.

Now, let me tell you a few things about how being friends with this particular friend went.  I often got in trouble coming home from playing with her.  My parents “didn't like [my] attitude” when I got home. I didn't want to have my hair cut short at one point, so she cut a three inch curl off the back of my head so it had to be cut if it was going to be even. We would make plans for things – like Halloween – and then... at the last second, those plans would be broken. She went out with other, cooler friends, and I stayed home and pretended it didn't matter, and I'd rather be at home anyhow. As we got older, she would ask my advice... and ridicule it the moment it left my mouth.  I was never right, I was never funny, I was awkward and “the book smart one” - until she started her post-bachelor's degree schooling, and then I wasn't even the book smart one anymore.  Any slight perceived – whether real or imaginary – was met with full scale assault. You're not my friend anymore. Why are you so stupid? I was reeling. Constantly. The pattern continued as we got older.  It continued until yesterday, when I disagreed with her reaction to what she saw as a threat, and I saw as something that kind of happens in neighborhoods.  I was suddenly the idiot who has no care for her child's safety, who has no boundaries, who doesn't bother to teach her child the basics of street safety (tricky people/stranger danger)... so on down the line. I've quietly called a halt to the cycle. I'm not going back to this. Sometimes things are great. But, like every abusive relationship, it goes in cycles – it's wonderful... then it's okay... then there's the outright abuse... then the apology (which is never an actual apology, but more an understanding that 'these things happen')... and then back to the top.  I'm not doing it anymore. I'm a grown woman. I'm strong and resourceful, and I have actual friends now – friends who don't make their friendship contingent on anything aside from me being me. It's surprisingly freeing, and I'm forced to wonder how I let this go on for so long.

Then I think about it. And I think back to all those things written above, and I realize exactly what happened.  I had no friends, no hope. I didn't care if I lived or died, but I did have her.  There was someone. Because I didn't realize much earlier in my life that I was just wired differently from other people, because gifted programming was a pull-out for compliant, high-achieving students, because I was different in a caged-in society where different is WRONG... I was a target. In fact, I was the textbook definition of a target for abuse. It's no wonder I ended up where and how I did.

But, you see, now?  Now I have a wonderful husband. Now I have my power. Now I have a son.  He's bright and beautiful, and I look at his little face and see my own, the only thing missing is the pigtails. He is, according to all reports, me all over again.  And while that's neat, in that I know roughly how I would have liked to have my childhood go? It's also absolutely terrifying.  I know what happened to me.  I know roughly what happened to Skeeve. I will not, under any circumstances, set my sweet, loving, kind, intelligent, curious, creative, happy little boy onto the path I took.  I won't risk it.  I won't risk his going through what I did.  Now, granted, because I've been through this, I have a different take. When I was small, my parents were both fairly popular in school (or so the story goes), and they didn't really believe me. They never heard about the assault, because by then I knew they wouldn't help me anyway. I don't want these things for my son.  I will keep him home.  Not just because I can offer him a more customized, freer, more appropriate education, but because I can be sure that here at home, his teachers will never laugh at him, berate him, and ignore the bullying that goes on under their watch.  I know that the other children in his classes will not be as horrible to him as what I went through.  And I know that I can help him understand what it means to be different... without going 37 years wondering what the hell was wrong with him in the first place.