Of course I brought my share of misery upon myself. I picked my nose in the classroom. I mean, I thought I was concealing it, but Amanda wouldn't let it go. She wouldn't let anything go. I disliked her because of that, but she was never really cruel to me, she just called things as she saw them. Later she would say “Mark L.* is up to his old tricks again”, remarking on how the same patterns of torture from him and attention-seeking from me created a toxic symbiosis that readily re-established itself in fifth grade. I know now it wasn't my fault that I went through all this shit. Hell, if I knew what I knew now, I wouldn't have let them take me to school at all – they could take me to jail for all I should have cared. What would they have done, really? You've got to learn to dig in your heels. At some point in third grade I ought to have dug in my heels and said “Screw this.” But that phrase wasn't even in my vocabulary.
* - I'm not concealing his name – that's literally what we called him. We had a primary Mark all through school, a rather congenial fellow I might add. Mark L. was a sort of import for two years, grades four and five.
My first experiences of detention were from this teacher – first in second grade when she falsely accused me of throwing snowballs at recess, second in her classroom where I'd not done my homework three times. Presumably, life for her was a sick sort of baseball. I don't remember what it was I didn't do, so let's say for not doing one of the endless variations on multi-digit adding and subtracting, I ended up in the slammer – the eighth-grade classroom, at recess.
My later escapades of not doing homework and other “outbursts” and things got me into the eighth-grade classroom more and more, to be under the eye of the principal, who also taught. It was actually quite refreshing, because not only was I free from my button-pusher, I also could listen to him talk to his students about something real.
I just went and re-read a note from my grade five teacher that I'd found, typed up and put on my website. I cringe at the defensive response I wrote. (The “Shut Up Juice” part betrays that I'd been watching wrestling.) It's true that I was always looking for an excuse. I wouldn't accept responsibility for anything. Any explanation for how things go that didn't have the most flattering interpretation for me were unacceptable.
Why did I get that way? I couldn't accept that I was damaged goods, so I had to be perfect instead? Whatever was going on, I think the third grade was the year everything fell apart. And all my father would say was, “Grade three was one of my best years.” But he didn't understand, and I don't either. You'll notice that letter was addressed to him. In fifth grade he spoke in terms of making me start over again from first grade and/or that I'd be spending the entire following summer working with him.
One thing that still gets me is the N (“needs improvement”) I got for handwriting. The teacher said to the whole room something like, “William, you got an N because your writing is too big – Stacey, you got an N because your writing is too small.” I remember my grandmother encouraging me to write in a book designed to coach cursive. Now I don't use cursive except to sign my name or write a recipient's name on the envelope of a card that I'm hand-delivering.
I still feel like I haven't really learned stick-to-it-iveness. Whatever I've done, it hasn't been enough. But why should I worry? You can't fight entropy. There's a general malaise and weariness through all things, isn't there? Or are we all just sad right now?
And I still suck at dividing with decimals.