Eleven is a tough age. It pulls on every fiber of your body. It tugs at every neuron in your brain. It entices you (demands that you) double- and triple-check every move for perfection.
There is no leeway. No latitude. No wiggle room for error. You’re under scrutiny, under investigation. You can feel it in the judgmental stares and snarky head-to-toe looks.
You brace yourself. You know what’s coming next.
And, as if on cue, there it is.
The interrogation begins.
“Why don’t you ever wear shorts?”
Because I don’t.
“Why do you always wear your hair in a ponytail?”
Because I do.
“Why do you always talk to that guy?”
Because he’s nice.
“Do you watch ‘Saved By The Bell’?”
Because I don’t.
“Why don’t you wear makeup?”
(These girls are also eleven, mind you.)
Because it’s greasy. It makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel uncomfortably noticeable.
“Why do you sit in the front?” (They’re referring to the classroom.)
Because I can pay attention more easily.
“Why do you wear pants like that?”
Because they’re comfortable.
You get the idea. The questions go on for all eternity.
Until the bell rings, and the saving grace of the teacher’s voice overrides all others, telling everyone to take their seats.
The bell itself is a welcome diversion; I’ve indeed been saved by it. Maybe I should watch an episode of that show after all…
The teacher’s commands are icing on the cake, the final proverbial gavel-bang.
Another morning survived. At least, until lunch. Then the teachers retreat and their presence inversely correlates with the interrogation.
It happens every day, almost. Sometimes I duck into the classroom unnoticed. I don’t want to be noticed. I’m here, against my will, to learn what I can from a school system I’ve already long been astute enough to know is broken. Hell, I had that one figured out not long into my first year of kindergarten, right about the time I was turning five.
I had already tried everything–commanding respect by using my Bossy Voice on the bus on people who were about to graduate high school, trying unsuccessfully to play with kids my age, trying to buddy up next to what I thought would be the protective wing of the teacher (but wasn’t), and so on.
Now, at the tender age of eleven, with both me and my available options exhausted, I just wanted to retreat, to fade into the background and be left alone. That was better than getting attention I hadn’t signed up for and didn’t want.
Just leave me alone. Let me be. Let me exist in peace. Let me do my thing. Let me get through the day.
I didn’t realize it then, but I was already expending enormous amounts of energy just by going to school and sitting in the same room with a bunch of kids all day.
I just wanted the day to be over so that I could go home and bask in whatever solitude I could find away from the ever-critical eyes of my father. Usually, he wouldn’t be home when I got home, so I typically had a few hours to myself. I loved the quiet house. If my mom was home, that was cool, too; we got along well.
But I had to survive the school day first.
I remember feeling immense relief upon getting home. It was hard not to be gleeful! Yay!! I made it! The day is so over that it’s not funny. Another notch in my proverbial wooden stick. I was so happy I hugged trees. I was tree hugging, carefree-skipping happy.
But the light, airy, winged feeling was short-lived.
Oh shizz, I thought. It’s only Monday.
My relief had been false, too good to be true, and the gravity of reality came boomeranging back, snapping me like an elastic rubber band.
And then the Activity in my insides began. Butterflies, movement, uneasiness. I had to do this crap again tomorrow. Today was merely one day out of 180 school days. And I’m only in Grade 5; seven more to go.
I might as well have put two mirrors together, facing each other, and tried to find the end of the eternal illusion. I might have been more successful at that than trying to squint to make out the end of mandatory schooling somewhere in the misty distance.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t come with a Fast-Forward button. Unlike Super Mario’s Nintendo world, there were no warp zones, no way to bypass any part of this.
The only way around it was through it.
One dragging day at a time. A single step at a time, made only by putting one foot in front of the other.
Somehow, somewhere along the line, I did it. No doubt with the incredible support from the handful of friends I worked hard to make. No doubt through the many pastimes-turned-talents developed by default during so many years of content solitude. They were my solace, my therapy, an outlet and redirect of all that nervous energy and helpless feelings.
Creativity was my release valve. I could do it alone, and I could do it how I wanted to. There were no rules, no Learning Objectives, no criteria, no parameters, no limitations. It was only during those times that I felt truly free.
I painted, I composed, I wrote poetry and stories. Nobody came around, nobody asked what I was doing, why I was doing it “this” way, or why I wasn’t doing it “that” way.
Satisfaction complete, inner void filled. I really threw myself into it. So deeply that during our next family get-together involving the extended family, my couple-year-younger cousin said, “why do you sit there and write music all the time?”
I knew he was frustrated, because he didn’t understand and he missed my involvement in the holiday cheer and childhood play. I felt for him, but my desire to burrow down into my projects was even greater than that of appeasing my cousin, even if it only meant I had to put down my music-writing for the day. Looking back, I probably should have, because after all, it would only be for the day.
But I just wanted everyone to leave me alone. I had tasted the sweet nectar of solitude and I wasn’t ready to climb out of the cocoon just yet. I didn’t know it then, but I had found the art of recharging, replenishing, resetting.
And I certainly wasn’t about to disturb that.
The interrogation by my classmates, whom I could’ve sworn were auditioning for a job at a police department, finally stopped.
Suddenly it became cool to be different, and it became cool to be nice.
What nobody remembered was that I had been both of those things before it was cool.
But that’s OK. I had tried so hard to be forgotten, so the last thing I wanted was to be remembered.
If I’m going to be remembered, I want it to be because I helped someone in some way or created something beautiful or cool, not because I had weird, uncontrollable hair. I want to be remembered for being logical or gentle or kind or dependable, not for eating my lunch alone. I don’t want the style or brand of my pants to be the mark I leave on the world.
The happy ending to the story is that I no longer hang out with people who would judge others on such superficial criteria. In fact, the tables have turned, and it’s my turn to do a little (gentle, non-confrontational) shunning of my own. I simply don’t seek those people out, and on the off-chance that I am faced with dealing with them, I don’t invite or initiate contact, and if they do with me, then I keep my responses polite but curt, to send the message that I’m a decent person but uninterested in having anything more to do with them.
And the best part is that I’m rarely faced with such people. We generally don’t cross paths.
I’m done answering those types of questions–hopefully, for good. 🙂
School Life as a Little Aspie Girl ~ June 11, 2016
I Tried To Be Cool ~ February 22, 2017
Sometimes I Prefer To be Invisible ~ January 31, 2017
(My) Asperger’s / Autism and Resentment ~ January 10, 2017
I Probably Would Have Preferred Not To Be Mainstreamed In School ~ November 4, 2016
I’m Sorry, Self ~ April 29, 2016
(Image Credit: Android Jones)