This is the part of the story where life seemed to have stopped for me. Kids are pretty challenged when it comes to change; they just don’t always transition very well. Considering where I had come from it remains a challenge for me; I have access to words so I can express these fine adjectives now which is quite a nice thing. My whole life changed in the 2nd Grade and as I sit and reflect on those changes it was the start of feeling angry, invisible, manipulated, depressed, a burden and yet hopeful with a side of creativity. Kids are also quite resilient and I was not an exception to this rule, but rather a shining example.
My people pleasing came from a need to survive at a young age. Pleasing my teachers was very high on that list since I received immediate rewards for it. 1 book report due? Yeah, I would do 5 instead and not just because I loved reading. I wanted to see the smile on Mrs. T’s face when I turned them in and she never let me down.
My school was a special little school. The class sizes were very small and the teachers paid close attention to you. This could be great if they liked you, but not so great when they didn’t. Mrs. T was the teacher everyone loved. She had us singing in class to learn to spell, reciting poetry in games and putting on plays to entertain our parents. She made school really fun! Unless your name was Darin and then your life was not so fun.
Mrs. T taught me, although not intending to, that it is important to ease your way over to the person with the most power in a situation. Don’t get too close but let them know you are there and not a threat. Mrs. T was cruel to Darin. The kid was going through a nasty divorce with his parents (and I mean NASTY) and here he is just trying to survive. His crime? He couldn’t sit still and he was craving any type of attention. At one point he was gone from class for about one week and when he returned Mrs T told him in front of the class “You know Darin, it was so nice here without you. I’m sorry you had to come back.” OUCH! I have always wanted to ask him about this now that we are adults, but don’t want to bring up that pain again. Mrs. T showed all of us that she had another side to her and it was not the side you wanted to be on.
So, as I saddled up next to her while not getting too close I noticed she also had favorites. 2 girls who were best friends and mom’s were head of Brownies; these two got to be the stars of anything we were doing in class. ANYTHING! They were Winnie The Pooh in one of our school plays, they got to sing the lead in the songs we recited, they stood out in front all of the time whenever we had anything happening outside of the classroom, all in all they were given a lot of power by the adults. I hadn’t really cared about them before, but now I needed to be their friend. It’s this odd pack mentality that comes over children if the adults don’t step in. Whatever these two were wearing, I wanted to wear. One of them decided to change the way she wrote a “2” on paper, and so I changed the way I wrote “2” on paper. I was conforming but the invitation was not quite there from them.
As these new 2nd Grader rules were being carved out a horrible accident happened. My dad was at work and slipped 6 discs in his back. He has never been the same. My dad was my world. My protector, my comedian, my comfort and all of my familiarity. And, now he was in the hospital getting ready to have what would be the first of many surgeries. They cut him up, but they didn’t put him back together again. It was the beginning of his drug addiction which would last for 25 more years. You know that saying of having a monkey on your back? Well, it applied to my dad for a long time considering how heavy that monkey was on his broken down back.
My daycare was literally up the street from my school. This is where I was when Oliver pulled into the driveway. Oliver had never come to retrieve me from daycare, but I was happy to see him. He seemed serious and didn’t really talk to me while we were in the car. When I asked him where we were going all he told me was “the hospital.” It never occurred to me on that car ride that something was wrong. I was one of those kids that just kinda liked goin with the flow of things. As long as I felt safe everything seemed okay. It was when we got to the hospital that my feeling of safety left me and didn’t come back for a very long time. It seemed a requirement to hand it over as I walked through the door to see my dad. It was the cost of a cover to get in, but there was no option to turn around. No refunds. Safety and I, well we broke up for a long time. Safety had abandoned me when I was living with my mom, but it came back when I moved in with my dad. And, now I could feel it leaving once again but this time it didn’t feel like a petty argument where we could make up. This time Safety was leaving with no plans to return.
My dad came home from the hospital about 1 month after he was admitted. We had to play nurse to tend to his surgical wounds; I liked to play nurse because it gave me a purpose and I got to see where all of my dad’s discomfort was coming from. The doctors had provided him with a lot of pills too. At first he was goofy on them and then something went grey in his deep blue eyes. He opened one of those pill bottles and didn’t come back. He just slid on down into the abyss of it all. Addiction wasn’t as studied at this time and so when the doctor gave my dad liquid cocaine to help ween him off the pain killers he had been taking for 2 years now, he climbed out of the pill bottle willingly and stepped into the 80’s cocaine party.
I can’t remember exactly when he went from just not coming home for a few days to not ever wearing short sleeved shirts again, but it was sometime when the state announced it was cutting funding to our schools. These cuts had been planned (BIG middle finger to the Gipper on this one) since the California property tax initiative had passed AND taxes on the wealthy had been greatly reduced. It was only a matter of time before the state became lean on cash and I guess the powers that be felt the schools were a brilliant place to start slashing (to be fair, mental health also got hit hard – all of the state mental facilities were pretty much closed and so now you have skid row in LA to handled these people who need assistance). Yes, I was caught in the crux of when California had the top schools in the country to when they started to fall (did I flip good ol Ronnie Reagan off yet?). The school where I was attending would close the following year. I was now sentenced to go to school where the “bad kids” went to school. They were taking me out of my social bubble where the grass was green on all sides to a school that was known for elementary school kids cutting class and getting into fights that drew a lot of blood. Great. Just great.
The parents tried to intervene. The nightly news came to our school to interview the weeping students, but the verdict had been rendered and our little butts were being sent to another school.
I had a couple of really good years of learning to trust adults again, but now I was back on that familiar rocky path. For a 7 year old, this was not great.