Thursday, February 3, 2011
The Reason Why
When my son canters on a horse, I bite my nails. When the kids dig an igloo in the snow, I worry it will collapse. When I'm in a crowded room, I unconsciously look for the closest escape route. I hate flying. There's a reason why I'm a bit of a paranoid person. And I know the exact moment it happened. Didn't take any therapy to figure out that a combo of my mother's continual anxiety and one particular incident have made me the way I am. If it hadn't happened, and I had half of each my parent's temperaments, I might be a well rounded person, because Dad is just the opposite of Mom. He doesn't worry. At all. "You guys want to slide off the barn roof? Go for it! It'll join you after I finish melting scrap lead into bullets on the kitchen stove." This is a sad story, or maybe a funny story, depending on how you look at it. Funny in that, one tiny thing can screw you up good. All it takes is a few minutes and life will be different.
I went to first grade. Home schooled ever after that, but in the beginning, I went to first grade. I was the youngest in the class, with my birthday falling on September first. All was well, I made friends, loved writing in my little wallpaper-bound journal, loved putting on class plays, loved to draw. A few weeks went by happily.
There was a boy in my class, Michael Hawthorne...I still despise the name Michael, it took years to call my father-in-law by it without a shudder. (And probably Michael is a delightful person these days, with kids of his own even. Michael, if you are somehow reading this, I forgive you, you were six, but man, you messed me up bigtime.)
Anyway, Michael was the class bully, and I was the smallest, making me an easy target. Mostly it was normal bullying stuff, shoving me in the lunch line, chasing me on the playground, the usual...Cooties and what-not. My girlfriends and I would plot against him in secret under the slide, it was almost fun, in that nah, nah, nah-nah nah, boys-against-girls way that kids seem to enjoy so much.
One day, I had gone into the bathroom which doubled as a storage closet for the painting supplies. The bathroom door had a hook and eye latch on the OUTSIDE as well as on the inside, for whatever reason. I think I remember the door would swing wide open if it was unlatched, out into the reading corner. Plus a first grader's bathroom usually smells like pee. Anyway, point is, I was in the bathroom, and it had a latch on the outside. I had been balancing precariously on the giant toilet with my toes dangling many inches off the linoleum, when a loud alarm started blaring. I heard yells of "Fire drill!" Didn't know really what that meant, only that I'd better get the heck out of there. I hopped off and was hustling my Strawberry Shortcake panties back up when I heard, faintly, over the clanging, the metal snitch of the hook and eye (Michael's doing, I found out later) as the class exited the room. I banged on the door and screamed, but there was too much noise and excitement, they were soon gone, and I was locked in.
In my mind, I was trapped in a burning building. I pounded and clawed at the crack in the door door until my fingers bled, trying to wiggle loose the latch. Heart racing, cold all over. Sure I could smell the smoke, feel the flames reaching for me. Crying so hard. I wanted my parent's to magically appear and scoop me out of there forever. Finally became strangely calm. Or maybe it was some form of shock. I curled up in the corner, on those speckled orange and avocado tiles, arms wrapped tight around my shaking, skinny knees, and waited. Wondering what it would feel like, that last hot breath. Maybe this sounds too dramatic, but I honestly didn't know about fire drills, only fires, I was just a baby with a fertile imagination and this scared the life out of me.
When they found me, they laughed at me and I was scolded about the scarred door and the blood on my dress. What a silly little girl. Why didn't I hurry and get in line with the other children? And it was only 15 minutes. (Why hadn't the, excuse my french, FUCKING teacher counted us? Is what I wonder.) These days she'd have a dandy lawsuit on her hands, but back then, I got in trouble. Not her. Dear Michael had to give me a phony apology which included sticking his tongue out at me as soon as Mrs. Hatch turned away, which was instantly. I'm sure she never thought of it again.
So, that's that. I feel like I was never a real child after, never trusting. Always afraid of something. My mother would get so frustrated with me, after being potty trained for years, when the school bus would drop me off at the bottom of our long, steep, icy driveway, in the dead of winter, I'd slip and fall halfway up, and wet my pants, sliding back down to the bottom in a soggy, teary heap with my lunchbox and backpack crumpled under me. Nearly every day. I never went in the school bathroom again. And I stopped sleeping with my favorite stuffed animals, stopped reading my favorite books, but kept them packed in a bag hanging off my bed so I could it grab quick, in the night, in case of fire. Never told anybody about any of this. The way that woman had been half angry, half scornful, made me think I was stupid. I've been working my whole life to erase the crazy, unreasonable fear...of everything.
Posted by Emily at 6:20 AM