Five years old, and this is my first day of Boarding School. Some things I remember are:
I remember that dark falling into a bottomless pit feeling of going to sleep by myself alone at night, and waking up in the morning and I’m still alone. I remember that the first month (or more) of boarding school, when I was 5 and in first grade, I would wake up every morning with my eyes glued shut from so many tears the night before. I couldn’t even open them some mornings unless I first got the crust off.
I remember that I never fit in, and nobody every really accepted me. The other kids seemed to have a secret language that I wasn’t privy to. I never could get the soap out of my hair when I washed it because having water on my face panicked me. So my hair was always dull and looked greasy and dirty. I envied the other girls their shiny hair, and the way they all seemed to look good, their buttons all buttoned in the right holes – mine never were. I was so alone. And so one day I put Vaseline in my hair to make it shine. What a disaster. Irene Drown helped me get it out. I was the laughing stock. I retreated ever more deeply into my shell, into my cave of never fitting in, never looking OK, never saying the right thing.
The first year of boarding school was in a big old building, it was one of those old Spanish mansions. A big square building 2 floors and a basement – I can even remember the layout. The bathroom was huge (to me) and tiled, and seemed to echo.
The first week I was in school, someone told me to put the toilet lid down. I didn’t know what they were talking about, so I tried to take the porcelain top off the toilet tank, I thought I was supposed to put it on the floor or something, it was very heavy, and fell and broke. I remember being in a lot of trouble for that. In the medicine cabinet was a bottle of baby aspirin. I liked how it tasted, and one day I ate all of them. Nothing happened to me.
I never told anyone that I was the reason the baby aspirin disappeared. By then, I knew that you should never admit to anything. And after that I never did. If I would have been caught red handed with my “hand in the cookie jar”, I would have denied the whole thing. Never tell the truth. That’s what I learned early on. Never tell the truth, never admit a mistake, tell no one your secrets, and basically, just keep your mouth shut.
We walked to school every day, and along the way we were sometimes bombarded with dirt clods and spit as well as insults. It was a time when Americans were very unpopular.
The 2nd year of school, mother and daddy were the dorm parents. I was really looking forward to it. But I think those 2 years may have been some of the worst. They were so determined to be “fair” that they went out of their way to treat me just like the other kids. I never felt close to them after that. It was awful. Everyone had to say “yes sir.” and “no ma’am”. I didn’t get tucked in at night, didn’t get any of the physical affection I was used to at home.
By this time I was pretty much in my own little hell, very withdrawn, hiding behind my hair, twirling it, sucking on it, a dark cloud followed me everywhere. I never felt clean. I don’t know if it was a mental perception, or if I just wasn’t able to cope with the weekly group shower. My hair was always tangled, I chewed my fingernails to the quick every day. I remember it as being particularly painful and excruciatingly humiliating to be me.
One afternoon, I was down in the living room area and the lamp somehow got unplugged. When I plugged it back into the wall socket, I got a small electrical shock. I thought I had been electrocuted, so I lay down on the couch and waited to go to heaven because I knew that if you got electrocuted, you died. But I didn’t die. And I remember being very very disappointed.
Mother and Daddy got me a “Barbie” for my birthday when I was 7. I had it for 2 days, and then it disappeared. I later found out that the other girls buried it in the back yard. They were jealous. Mother and Daddy did get me a lot of presents, they left the goodbye gifts under my pillow when they left, and I loved that, to me it seemed like a link to them and the love I so desperately missed. But, in retrospect, it really seems cowardly to leave without actually saying goodbye. I’d wake up, they’d be gone, and in their place was a present. What a bittersweet feeling that was. Pleasure/pain.
I get that feeling sometimes even now… hmmm… A kind of heart clenching anxiety… mixed with oh, how nice…. I get that same feeling when thinking about having to do a dog training class. Interesting…
And at the same time, it caused problems in my already precarious relationships with the other girls. None of the other parents did stuff like that, and it really made the other girls jealous. Hence – the burying of the Barbie. And the funny thing is that I wasn’t that impressed with the Barbie, and I didn’t really miss it when it disappeared. Had they buried my beloved teddy bear – it would have been a different story altogether.
The only place I really felt comfortable was under the house with the dog. It was a fuzzy medium size mixed breed dog, I called her Bear, I’m not sure if that was really her name or not. She lived under the back steps, under the porch. I would crawl under there and sit in the dirt with her. Sometimes I heard the other kids talking about me. It was never anything good. Usually something about how I was stupid, or weird. I remember once she had puppies. I got a lot of comfort sitting in the dirt with the puppies sleeping on me. Often I cried when I held them. My face would be streaked with dirt and tears, and then I’d be in even more trouble for getting dirty.
When I was in first grade, I got chicken pox. I remember lying in the top bunk, praying that I would die. Begging Jesus to come and take me to heaven. It was agony. The other kids, and Aunt Edith (the dorm mother) all told me that if I scratched the blisters I would be hideously ugly and scarred for life. So I didn’t scratch them. Not once. It was one of the most difficult times in my life.
Gosh! All this is making me cry!
On Sundays we had to write letters to our parents, the big kids helped the little kids write them. I asked mother and daddy to come and get me and take me home. Aunt Edith tore up the letter and made me write a different one. One that said that I was happy and doing fine. I never asked to go home again.
Well. That’s all I can cope with right now.
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