When I was a child, I would frequent the principal’s office, complaining of stomachaches. I told him to call my mother or grandmother immediately, I needed to go home. I couldn’t take those damn math tests, I couldn’t go to recess – the pain was too intense. I needed to lay down. He said to get up and go back to class – I was fine.
My father was scary to me. He never came to pick me up and when he did, I didn’t want to go. We always did what he wanted to do and after all the horrible things told to me about him by my mother and grandmother – about what he did to our family – why should I give him a chance to be my dad? I was 8 years old and given the choices of an 18 year old and provided with information no child needed to know – ever.
My principal didn’t know what I battled at home. And he didn’t know I was bullied at school. When I tried to explain this, he laughed. I explained who was bullying me: the Spanish teacher’s daughter. The teacher, who’s husband had government plates on his car, had a daughter who was untouchable. The bullying continued and so did the stomachaches.
My grades dropped, but my grade in Math dropped the furthest and fastest. I remember my math teacher held a contest – the students who reached page 100 in our textbook by a certain date could have a pizza party. I didn’t learn as fast as they did, so I wasn’t invited – the whole 3rd grade class, I heard, had a lot of fun. I was forced to sit in the classroom next door with the French teacher watching me attempt to finish Math problems I didn’t understand. My Math teacher told me how stupid I was. I never told my parents; I thought she was right. I didn’t learn until after college I had a learning disability.
Fast forward: I was hospitalized in 2009 after a huge breakdown overseas on a vacation with my family. I came home and had some very bizarre thoughts (I’m not going to go into it. They were very, very bad.) I woke up after my first night in the ward and went to breakfast and sat across from this lady; she looked very familiar.
It was my Math teacher.
She didn’t remember me, of course. I asked her about her life, what she was doing in a psych ward, blah blah. Inside, however, I have to say a part of me was laughing. Pure schadenfreude. After everything she put me through as a child? My self esteem. My self image. My confidence. She was supposed to recognize there was something wrong with me – not berate me and call me names. What kind of teacher does that to a child?!
Another part of me felt pity. How fucking sad is it that after all she put me through, she ended up here, across from me, suffering from the same shit. You’re no better than the 7 year old child you used to torment; how utterly pathetic. I felt sorry for her.
The question is: did I let her have it? Did I let her know what she did and ream her out for those years of pain? The answer is no. She asked me what I’ve been doing all these years and how I’ve been. I told her I come to the hospital to have my meds re-adjusted occasionally and need to be monitored by my psychiatrist, otherwise I’m doing quite well. I told her I graduated from a Big 10 school and am pursuing my Master’s. She said how wonderful that was to hear, how great it was to see that I wasn’t letting my illness hold me back from pursuing my goals and she’s happy I was still doing well. She said she was sorry to have run into me under these circumstances but glad to have seen me again.
In the end, maybe my not cussing her out was something else. Maybe it was more than pity, more than schadenfreude. Maybe it was empathy. Call me a softy, but kicking another member of my club – club mental illness (contact me after the meeting, we give out membership cards and there are cookies in the back) – when they’re down seems like an awfully shitty thing to do. We’re all dealing with our own stuff; who needs drama from 25 years ago too? I realized that while she was a mealy cunt towards me when I was a child, I’m not a child anymore. I can advocate for myself and no one will ever speak to me that way again. Alison from back then, unfortunately, has a lot of healing left to do however it won’t be healed just by cussing people out otherwise I’d have no voice left for the rest of my life.