He keeps referring back to school days
And clinging to his child
Fidgeting and bullied
His crazy wisdom holding onto something wild
He asked me to be patient
Well I failed
“Grow up!” I cried
And as the smoke was clearing he said
“Give me one good reason why”
(“Strange Boy” excerpt–Joni Mitchell. Happy Birthday, JM!!)
I was never an outcast. If I was, I never noticed. However, something mysterious was apparently amiss in the first grade to warrant seeing the school psychologist a few times. I vaguely remember. Dr. Richardson, a thin, blonde professional-looking woman in a suit, something notable for the year 1966 to even me at my meager six years or so. She was kind, thin with narrow, burnt red lips. She made me feel comfortable as much as possible given that I was ultimately aware that I joined the good doctor for some reason I neither understood nor cared for. What was wrong?
I only knew that I sat at a desk stationed near the teacher, Mrs. Moynahan, and suffered from the angst of not knowing what to do at times, lost inside myself. Not knowing the way, the code, the proper steps or a place to start always sliced deeply, caused undue distress. Missing information meant I had no control over my environment and fulfilling others’ expectations of me.
I recall the first day of kindergarten not wanting my mother to leave me, and she having to wait outside the classroom while I was inside knowing she was out there, or thinking she was, and even considering the possibility that she was not actually outside the door but making me believe she was. That latter idea, the fact that I could not know whether she was out there was more distressing, keeping me on the edge of tears more so than the abandonment itself. Abandonment fears were not in my mental vocabulary. Being deceived piqued my radar more than a fear of being left, which rarely occurred to me.
On the first day, kindergarten felt like fear and restrained tears, despite the sweet, slow-moving, wide-girthed, dark-skinned Mrs. Dudley, who cajoled song from us five-year olds, cheery angled songs that induced amnesia, like the distractions any adult relies on to detour a child’s unwanted emotional expression. Do you know the muffin man?
I knew being left with questions. But that was all I recall–that and my trips to the psychologist in first grade, moving up two classes in the school smarts hierarchy in fourth grade, being teased by Mr. Muller in fifth grade for having the same name as someone in a newspaper clipping who married someone with the same name as a boy in the class, Robert Pitt. I was mortified. I remember having Denise Eccleston back in class with me then after missing her in fourth grade, the year of my upgrade. She was my best pal in third grade; we loved silliness and laughter. She was my one good friend in fifth. I only needed one–one at a time.