Been doing a lot of thinking lately, mostly about the past and how things don’t jive. And I ended up chuckling over a memory that when I look back is funny as hell to me. It wasn’t funny at the time. My 6th, double 7th and 8th grades were some of the worst in my life. They are the worst years of my schooling. It’s also when the sexual abuse was at it’s height.
We had mastery tests back then. My 7th grades tests tossed the teachers for a loop. I aced the English portion but the math portion said I needed to go back to kindergarten. Of course I failed and repeated that grade. The second time I took the test, the reverse happened. I aced the Math but sunk the English so bad it said I needed to retake the 3rd grade. For some reason, the English department took serious offense.
The whole department was on my case and it felt like harassment. At that time in my life my hands and feet were at their worst. I have a form of juvenile dermatitis, (though I believe keratolysis exfoliativa should have been added to the diagnose but this was the ‘80’s after all) which my hands and feet peeled skin, cracked open showed my meat and bled. My hands were raw, red and almost always fighting infections. Walking and writing were painful. I had to fight for simple accommodations, like being handed the sheets the teacher used on the overhead projector so I continue copying them as I was slower than the rest of the class, like being allowed to turn in typed assignments instead of handwritten ones, to being allowed to tape record the lessons so I didn’t have to copy everything down by hand. Even with all these issues, having lost my mother the summer between 5th and 6th grade, having to go home and take care of the house and prepare for everyone coming home (all house chores fell on my shoulders including cooking and watching after my little sisters) I attended school rather sporadically. I missed about 78 days that year and in 8th I missed over 86 plus days and I passed that year too. I’m rather proud of that fact.
To say I was defiant to their efforts is an understatement. I was called into a meeting of the English department mid year. They wanted to discuss my academics and behavior. They wanted me to put more effort into being in school and in doing my work. As was standard for the time, they pulled out what they called a student contract. In it, it was outlined a simple affirmation that I would commit to doing my best to do uphold my grades and get my assignments in on time and attend school. (Failure to do so would result in in-school detention and possible suspension.) The remarkable thing to all this, is I had to fight my way up to the school board just for the few accommodations I had received. I was hated by my classmates and was attacked often inside school. I was already an outcast. The prescribed lanolin cream used for my skin was not odorless so I was the ‘stinky’ kid. I smelled like a sheep. I had teachers lie (this was proven over and over) about what I had done (which ended up with me taking a lie detector test to prove my innocence). Yet, I had the whole English department on my heals. Those test scores from the previous year, that’s all I can figure, those test scores were top of the class for the whole school. I was the ace English student and I was sinking hard. (I was one of five ace English students out of my elementary school.)
But they put this contract in front of me. Simple stuff, I read it. They wanted me to sign it. I told them I wasn’t going to sign it. I watched them sit there stunned. I told them that this was a contract and as a minor any contract I sign is null in void and thus I would not sign it. I watched as their brains fell out in incredulousness. I told them if they want that signed it would have to be my father to do so as I was not signing it. The bell rang and I got up saying I have to get to my next class and left the room. I was quickly surrounded by the entire English department walking with me to my class, doing their best to convince me that I needed to sign this, that I needed to make an effort to do better. To say their words fell of deaf ears would be to mis-characterize the situation. I heard them and I heard the subtext in-between. Not a single one of them asked me what was going on. Not a single one of them reached out to me as a person. Not a single one of them ever showed kindness to me. Not a single one. I was the failing English star who somehow had pull with the school board and their jobs were at risk.
I look back at this and all I see is a giant red flag flying briskly in breeze. Somewhere between the two 7th grades I must have switched out. For me this explains why Isa had trouble with English from then on, as she was main front. I had retreated and this is my memory rather than hers. We all could see there was a huge problem. No one knew what to do and they manged to make things worse.
But this memory makes me laugh and shake my head. If they only knew what I know now, what would they have done? But damn, I had moments where I walked with my head held up high.