Elementary school my way (memories of pain)

Things I remember

Of these things that follow, I have memories in motion, pictures, snippets of audio. I have memories of remembering over and over and trying to understand. But I also have emotion and confusion. I present them organized as best as I can remember, but my sense of time is ultimately faulty and these may be placed out of time.

School life and home life do not connect in my mind. I hope to follow this with more slices until I have recorded my own sense of who I have been.

Kindergarten
Edith Landels elementary school, Mt View, California.
While living on base (Moffet Field)

I am dumb – my teacher never says it in front of me, but the other teachers do when they visit, the other kids do. I do not understand what I am there for, or what people expect of me. I do not understand how to do the things they ask me to. I do not understand much of anything about my classmates.

The playground is small and watched, but I get hit a lot. Casually walking past me, I get punched, poked, kicked, knocked over. Adults see and ignore. In class either I do not talk to anyone or they do not talk to me.

I learn to memorize my phone number. I am taught to be proud of this. I never understand why that was such a big deal.

First grade
I’m having trouble reading and sent for tests. I fail the tests.
I’m sent to do tests a lot for a while, I think my mother knows but nobody explains why to me — the adults call me words I did not know and can not remember, but I remember the emotion of disdain and dismissal when they use them. I remember learning that I’m flipping a lot of letters backwards (q=p=b, 3=E=8). I learn to memorize their charts of letters and numbers, because they never change them. They pronounce me fixed and stop testing me. I am incredibly happy to stop seeing them in the dark rooms. Nobody mentions it again.

We play duck duck goose as a class. I’m kneed in the back by so many kids, they slam my head when they ‘goose’ me, but if I react with defense, I’m scolded by the teacher and told to behave [I don’t know if this teacher just didn’t see, or was just ‘kids will be kids’ ing]. I hate duck duck goose, but I learn to run really fast. Yet I am filled with anger and reaction, so if I catch someone I shove — I am timed out. I prefer time outs, people stop hurting me.

We are in the lower grade play yards now, there are supposedly adults watching, but they just seek each other out and chat and ignore the children. I am chased. If I am found hidden from the adults, I am beaten by groups — primarily one group of girls, led by someone that constantly tries to hurt me. They grow bolder and start ganging up in groups of 3 or more and drag me to the places where I cannot be seen in order to beat on me. The adults laugh when they see me being dragged off. “I should enjoy the attention.”

Second grade
We play red rover [red rover, send right over] now, instead of duck duck goose. Giant lines of people. When our group calls someone out, and it’s one of my attackers, they start bowling me over. I get kneed in the groin, I get elbows to the face, I get trampled a lot. I learn that when I am called, I can run so fast that I can break apart the handholds of any pair of people. I learn that they can hurt me, but that effort weakens them and they never get past me. The adults clearly support the violence, so I learn to stand stronger than the hits. They still try.

I have a friend, a girl that also likes to hide. We find places hidden from the playground and be silly. We make animal noises, we talk randomly.

But the gangs are larger now, and they have people stronger than me, I will still get thrashed if they catch me, though I run faster than most of them now.

I have another friend, he’s smart unlike me. He understands books and things being taught, and he tells me some of the things about them. I don’t know if he taught me these things, or if knowing they could be done helped alone, but I stop being confused and start being driven. The gang that chases me catch us unaware — I escape but in doing so they all gang up on him. I attack them as much as I can, but my experience and knowledge is escape, not attack, not the protection of another. They drag us both into the girls’ bathroom, in which the walls are quite literally lined with girls. A solid wall of girls — laughing, pointing. They don’t even bother holding us in there, they just pull us in and drop us. This is utterly emotionally humiliating, as I’m sure it was intended.

I was invited to his birthday party. I remember thinking I was going, but I don’t remember it. I don’t know if I went or not. At school later, none of his friends like me. I do not get to hang out with them, though he’s still friendly to me when we have time alone.

I once run across an older gang, from the other side of the kick-wall wall — the upper classes (4th-6th? 7th?). They catch me going from hiding under the bleachers to heading back to class — it’s a route that skirts the border between classes to avoid those who regularly hunt me. I do not remember the conversation well, but I am clearly informed of trespass, and while I am naive to most social signals, I have learned the signs of power and abuse, who is the bully, who is going to hit me. A few kids show those signs as they approach. I absolutely go berserk.

I do not remember the moments, nor the results. I remember I am still standing there, and the older gang has dispersed — at least one of them went to the nurse. An adult is telling me I’m a bad person and I’m not allowed to hurt people. I am not allowed to hurt people. Whatever they think they’re saying, the message was clear: Bullies are allowed to hurt you, you are not allowed to hurt them back. But something else was clear that day — I can fight back, and I care about it more than they do, so I can bring much more to the game than they can. [Note: I have learned ‘total war’ by modern parlance]’

Third grade
My female friend is gone, I don’t know where. I am still sad.
My male friend is gone, I have vague memories of learning why, but I forget.

The girl who beat on me now tries to be a friend. She tells others we have always been friends. I am angry, but I am also alone, so I do not tell anyone otherwise. I do not know how people who have been in the same school believe this.

An election is occurring, my teacher tells us all how horrible Carter is, and that our parents should vote for Reagan. I believe her at the time, and detest her now for the lies that led me to believe 80s republicans were great for the people. Republicans as a gropu hated people like me and my friends then, as they do now. My teacher used her authority to lead me into support of the same people who beat upon me.

I start to learn things — not just by necessity or force, but I can connect things now. I just have to ignore what they want me to learn and see what the knowledge and practice exposes.

We are moving to Virginia now, my dad has been transferred.

My class writes invites to other classes for something, I don’t understand why. People are pointing at me now, and giggling.
We go to the library — one of the moments of peace in my life. I’m told I can stay there longer — I do not know why, nobody has ever let me do this before. The rest of my class leaves while I am ‘allowed’ to stay there. I get lost in the books for longer than I was supposed to, but no adult is watching me.

I head back to class, and encounter someone. Memory is hazy — sometimes it’s the girl who abused me, sometimes it’s someone I don’t know. I am told to go to the auditorium, where the principal is going to perform a wedding between my abuser and myself. I do not believe them, assuming they are attempting to hurt me with a trick. I go into the class and sit and wait.

And wait. And wait.

The class files in, sullen. The girl sees me, bursts into tears, and is taken away. I’m shoved and poked and prodded as if it were kindergarten again. No teacher speaks to me. Several people “confirm” the wedding scenario [I have no clue whatsoever, beyond the words of children — both abusers and those who ignored me — that this is true, because:]

Now everybody hates me. Strangers from other classes jeer and point. The girl who abused me actually walks up to me in a quiet hidden spot, and though I tense for an attack, she apologizes, and seems to confirm the entire thing. There are other words I cannot remember. I do not remember anything else from this state. From this moment until much later in Virginia, I am blank.

I was happy to leave that school, we travelled during christmas break, and I never had to deal with the issue again. I have never learned the truth, as opposed to what children said to me, but that has also left this a permanent confusion.

Third grade – Virginia
Pembroke Meadows, Virginia Beach, VA

When I first arrive, I am ignored or merely called names. I am happy and feel safe.
My teacher is demanding, pushy, and unbending. I must attempt the things she requests, and I must show effort to improve. Yet she is clear in her focus. She does not hurt me, she also does not allow others to hurt me. She wants me to get better. I am told that I was very upset with her a lot, but I only remember appreciation and the imbuement of power that she gave me.

I show up on the late bus, just in time for school [no need to be around morning social scenarios, which pleases me]. My teacher lets us ‘laties’ [who go home on a later bus as well] goof off quietly in her classroom. She plays the radio or cassettes for us (1981, she plays new wave — in retrospect this feels like an echo of a better future reaching back to me — 8675309 was my first experience singing with others).

I gather that I was not expressing happy emotions about third grade at the time — but I had goals and support and learned to improve. This is the only time my cursive is good, because my teacher would accept nothing less than that. I only have happy memories of this year.

Fourth grade
I am tested and join the GATE plan — “Gifted and Talented”
In Virginia at the time this meant that every [2?] weeks, I spent an entire day at a different school taking exclusively electives.

I find a new friend in regular school — an outcast girl. I am told by others that she is poor and smelly and I should stay away from her. I do not, we spend every lunch hiding from others. Because bullies chase her and beat on her. Now they chase US and TRY to beat on US. I don’t care, I’m not alone.

I do not go to the cafeteria, even for lunch most of the time — it’s a guaranteed way to get tripped and pulled under the table and utterly beat upon. Adults do not enter the cafeteria chaos.

I join an instrument class — they show us all of them being played. The Cello reaches out and surrounds me in a floating sense of joy, and I fall in love. I’m too small for the school Cellos, which are dedicated to the better players anyhow. My parents determine that I will not get a Cello, between being too expensive (small Cellos are not available to rent) and my inability to convince them that I will continue it. I am grudgingly [and by now, I most certainly understand when an adult is doing something they don’t really wish to] offered a small violin. I leave the class.

I join a needlepoint class. My mother does cross-stitch, and I wanted to learn how to do that. The class is over-filled [literally, the seats are full, the walls were full of people standing, and the aisles were full of people sitting. While one teacher tells the students some will not be able to take the class, another grabs my arms forcefully, and squeezes it hard while telling me I do not belong there and I was rude to come. I am walked out of the class and shoved away before they close the door behind me.

I am tested for sports [PE teachers take us all out and have us try lots of things while they watch] — I’m good at parallel bars and hand stands, and I’m fast at the sprint [hahahahahah. Sigh]. A PE teacher invites me to join track. I look at the track team — they’re the people who trip me when we’re running laps, the ones who chase me at lunch. I say no, the teacher pressures, and I walk away. I am now, of course, in trouble. But there is nothing the school can take away from me — their punishments are to put me in places where I am safe and alone.

I have to create a board game in class. I have no idea how. I make it up as I go along, creating pieces and elements. I have an idea in the middle somewhere, but when I have to present it to the class, I forget everything. I make a new thing up on the fly, nothing makes sense and I know it. The teacher absolutely reams me out in front of the class for failure, for not ‘trying’ enough.

In regular school, I am finding spelling and math and english to be quite easy finally — hard, but I get better. So now I’m in “Gifted” [shitty fucking word to label a child with] and easily ace most subjects. The poking and prodding and tripping start again. I’m not just a stranger, I’m a hated stranger now.

My friend no longer comes to school, I am alone again.

I end up in the ‘dumb’ class at GATE — where all the kids who can’t “get along” get shoved. {If you’re following along, you might realize this was mostly what we now call ADHD or Autism/Spectrum types}. I wish I could remember the teacher. We play games. Othello and chess and real attempts at checkers. We do logic puzzles and learn Mensa questions. In fourth grade. My class does really good with them, nobody realized they’re supposed to be hard.

I was sick a lot [to my recollection] in these years. Strep — horrible swabs shoved down my throat, utterly disgusting tasting penicillin too frequent. Pain in my throat that overrode any other thought. The weather would shift and I would lose my voice.

Fifth grade
I am no longer abused physically. I run fast everywhere, I know who to avoid, I know how to dig my nails into someone to draw blood without looking like a scratch. I no longer run from abusers, but ignore them. I no longer absorb heckling but I stare the abuser down. I have no friends at school, but I do not care because we’re moving during christmas again.

We make giant paper mache cities, and I make a huge spacey colony-ey thing that’s sorta vague. The teacher grades me horribly, but I do not care because I am proud of it and it has given me many wonderful stories in my mind.

I spend a lot of time in the giant library because I can be in there any time I want, including lunch. I do not eat much – the nurse weighs me a lot at school.

Fifth grade – California again
Ponderosa Elementary, Sunnyvale, CA

Nobody cares here. The mean-for-fun kids use fuck and shit in class occasionally, to laughter and teacher frustration. The “Gifted” class is a mix of the upper class [money] kids who preen and the “smart” kids, who are often expected to do the homework for the others. The teachers don’t really try. It’s one hour every week.

The schools are way behind Virginia schools. They use the same books, but barely finish 50-75% of it, where we did the ENTIRE book in half a year in Virginia, and then teachers would move on to more advanced texts. In California, my teachers apparently are more concerned with not being interrupted. There’s no expectation from most teachers.

The cafeteria is ok, nobody tries to hurt me. The food is tiny packaged junk. I don’t eat there often.

The playground seems safer. I don’t play kickball because people always kick the ball at me, and I get hazed until I learn a variety of different social rules — but it’s not might-wins-out anymore. I get in a couple scraps (nail fighting) but this seems to establish me as not a target, so it ends.

Fifth grade is also the end of my passive experience in schooling. With sixth grade comes a new system that simulates the separate classes of high school, and three smart and demanding teachers who answer questions — Sixth grade to Junior high to High school shows me the same hazing and abuse attempts, but those people become less important and learning becomes more powerful. A precious few adults are there to help, but that’s all I needed.

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