It’s time to go back to school. Children are packing their backpacks with fresh notebooks, pencils, rulers, crayons, and all sorts of classic good stuff. I drive by them in the morning, and usually it fills me with warm thoughts of a time long gone. All of the good memories float to the surface like a scoop of vanilla in a glass of root beer. Unfortunately, I cannot escape the smell of vomit.
Before we descend into the ninth circle of my own personal hell, I want you to know what preceded first grade. My early childhood was fantastic. I had my brother, sister, and cousins to play with. My mother and I watched Sesame Street and the like. It was sublime. Preschool was wonderful. Kindergarten was a blast. Then something happened.
I actually remember my first day of first grade. We looked at a magazine with Bill Clinton on the cover and the teacher asked us if we knew who he was. Then we looked in our books as the teacher read from a much larger version of the book that she placed on a podium. I remember that the color of the parrot was different in our books. All this time I kept looking at the clock. I could tell time, and I began to see that this first grade was not like kindergarten. It was such a long day. Six hours! I remember dreading this fact. But much worse than spending an eternity in school was spending it with Mrs. Grant.
According to the Myers-Briggs personality test I am an INFJ. What’s most relevant about that is the N. The N means that I am intuitive. As a young child this caused me much suffering. One time my grandmother came over my house (I was 3 or 4) and she was upset about something. It affected me so deeply that I told her, “Get out of my house.” Regarding Mrs. Grant, I could tell that she was done with teaching. She had one more year until she retired and I picked up on her negative vibes. This was in sharp contrast to my previous teachers and my own mother. They were all warm and nurturing. Mrs. Grant was bitter and strange to me.
One more thing about my intuitiveness. This heightened awareness turned me into a full blown hypochondriac. I was so aware of my surroundings and my own body that I understood my own mortality, but couldn’t rationalize it. As a first grader, I feared the following: that my eyes would fall out, my esophagus was broken, my eyes would get stuck in one position, my toes would fall off… and more that I can’t recall. I would walk around with my hand covering one of my eyes in case it fell out. I thought maybe I could put it back in. This caused me to be extremely anxious.
So you see, I had a fear of my own body on top of a fear of my teacher. Most days before getting on the bus I threw up next to a tree in my front yard. It was so bad that one of my teeth turned yellow. It must have destroyed my baby teeth. Thank God they were just my baby teeth. Who knows what it did to my esophagus.
I went to the nurse many many times. Partly because I made myself sick with worry and partly because I just wanted to get out. I recall the nurse asking me if I read the story about the boy who cried wolf. And another time asking me if I even knew what nauseous meant. My mother knew I wasn’t really sick (maybe in the head) so she would tell them to keep me there. No escape. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
My lunches didn’t help. My mom made me sandwiches with lettuce that would wilt in the heat. I remember how they tasted. White bread, mustard, ham, lettuce. (My mom wasn’t trying to kill me by the way. She didn’t really know what to do with me.)
I found some help in an old school chum’s grandmother who was also a lunch lady. She attempted to bail me out of hell a few times, which led to a meeting with the principle. The principle asked me if I wanted to be transferred to a different class. I refused. Who knew if the change would be better? I would continue walking through the valley of death.
At home, my brother and sister lacked all compassion. (You see, the thing about my family is that we are generally a well off, stable, healthy bunch. The flip side of that was a general lack of compassion regarding emotional issues. We simply don’t encounter much in the way of emotional disorders so when your little brother is a nut, all you know to do is make him suffer.)
Keep in mind that they were teenagers, so don’t judge them too harshly. They would sometimes try to make me throw up. Other times they would play into my health phobias. To them it all must have seemed silly. And maybe it was. But to me, at the time, it was hell.
So that’s first grade in a nutshell. Hell on earth. You may be wondering what became of me as I grew older. Did I still have those fears and anxieties?
All I will say is, you know who I have become. I have no doubt my childhood traumas were a crucial part of my development. As an adult, I faced them again in a different form. But that’s for another day. Maybe.