Well this post has been a long while in the making.
Admittedly, I started out life as a rather rambunctious child, and I was quite loquacious as well (And yes, I’ve got the scars to prove my reckless spunk, though I can’t remember half the things my family jokes about when they talk about me *clueless*).While I may have had friends during preschool, I certainly don’t remember them. I see the photographs, and I remember the times I spent hanging upside down on the monkey bars (yes in preschool childhood never focuses on mortality). I can remember the little playhouse we would play in – particularly because one of my supposed friends bit me, over some hair adornment if I remember correctly(I bit her back-under the instruction of my teacher). I also remember that one time that I was mutilating my poor eraser with my pencil and accidentally stabbed a piece of my finger. One of my friends (we barely talk now) took me to the office, the guilty finger wrapped up in her food towel. Like I said, I don’t remember much, but the moments I do remember, are quite the crackerjack to my reminiscent spirit. By now, you would have guessed where I’m heading with this. Distraction number two- my friends.
While in elementary school, I was a bit low on the friend barometer. A far cry from the child that I was during my younger years. My mother had raised me as a sheltered child (let’s ignore the irony). I wasn’t allowed to associate with the other village children while growing up. Instead, I spent my time reading books like they were “going out of style”, and listening to my wacky version of music. While in the village, most of the children didn’t really approach me because they were afraid of my strict mother, and they were very respectful to my family name (the joys of being raised by a family of teachers, police and doctors). To add insult to injury, I was actually considered more intelligent than the other children, which made it very hard to interact with them. This issue was compounded by the accent I carried while growing up ( the pains of speaking “proper English”), as well as the fact that every Sabbath, I was confined to sitting beside my mother. The only childhood friend I was subconsciously allowed by the family, was the daughter of my mother’s friend. Now while my village life was filled with all that wonderful excitement, my school life was far less delightful.
At school, I wouldn’t say that I was shunned. I was simply not the most sociable of beings. I spoke differently in comparison to everyone else. I spent most of my time reading, and my grades were always delightful (before secondary school). Therefore, I wasn’t the kind of girl that normal people would consider befriending instantly 😀 However, I was highly persistent. I think from Prep A (Grade 1) to Primary 4 ( Grade 6), I came off as the annoying, smart girl who always seemed to be around. Eventually I did make friends. I had a chubby boy bestfriend, and some nice (most of the time) girl friends. We talked nonsense, did homework together, went to tutoring classes together, etc. Unfortunately, it was somewhere around this time that my grades began to suffer.
I began to feel uncomfortable when I would be reminded by someone that I was more intelligent than my average age group. It was sometimes rather embarrassing to be known by my teachers, and classmates throughout the school as a mini dictionary. It was difficult having the spotlight thrown on me when I decided to answer questions that other students didn’t wish to respond to. For awhile, I was sometimes referred to as “little Miss Know-it-all” or the old favourite “Bookworm”. With all this annoying attention being placed on myself, I began the well-worn dumbing down routine.
To fit in with the environment, and my friends at the time I stopped participating in class. I helped my friends answer questions that they forgot the answers to- though I never stepped into the hardened criminal world of full out cheating. I no longer studied regularly for exams, and homework became an early morning task that my friends and I did just before class. In regards to the homework, I will admit that there was a heavy workload, the combination of school and extra classes, so on some occasions it simply was impossible to be done in time. While I certainly wasn’t behaving like the little angel my parents had raised me to be, my grades weren’t taking an obvious hit. It was more of a gradual decline. Frankly, if it hadn’t been for my careless behaviour in sixth grade (Primary 4), no one would have said that I had begun to change. In fact, I could probably regale you with the downward spiral of my school life, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m avoiding the real topic.
In the first part of this series, I explained how books had helped to keep me floating in a world of my own. They were my primary distraction. Once I entered secondary school, I had been set afloat into a world where my social life was initially more decrepit than it had ever been. I was the girl that sat in the corner reading while everyone else turned the classroom topsy turvy. My desire to avoid attention, and the shyness that I had developed, were becoming something of a handicap. I wasn’t aware of it then, but I was desperately eager to step out of the constraining goody two- shoes persona I had created for myself. Before I continue, I have to mention that I think my primary skill is that of being a chameleon. I can disappear or stand-out based on my subconscious desires. As a result of this subconscious ability, I soon found myself among the major group of popular persons.
Now unlike the portrayal of American school societies, social standing in Guyanese schools are much easier to manoeuver through. Everyone tends to form two main groups, and these break down into sub-groups. I ended up being part of the popular subgroup. Separately, the girls and boys I interacted with in this group were all really nice people, but together they were quite the force to be reckoned with. Our relations grew to the stage where I simply couldn’t stand the duplicity of the clique, and I was unable to get any real friendships out of the whole affair.
So I switched allegiances, and befriended my current circle of friends. I’ve come to realise now, that the switch wasn’t only due to the conformity that I was trying to avoid, but it was also my way of searching for an out. The old group felt too superficial, they were cloaking their internal issues with trivial power plays and a group mentality. Being a kid with a secret I simply could no longer stand that degree of obtuse behaviour, not to mention I have always noticed that I find myself drawn to people who have issues hidden behind their eyes and words, and that group just wasn’t cutting it for me. You see the thing about being drawn to other people’s issues, is that once you’re involved and embedded in them, you never have to think about your own. That was what the first group couldn’t give me. My new circle of friends weren’t purposely or constantly problem ridden, so that was obviously not my only reason for befriending them. They were really nice people to be around. They had this wonderful down to earth spirit that I loved, and they actually listened when I spoke. However, the constant problems were a plus. I don’t think I ever created a problem simply for the sake of having a distraction, so no I never developed any sadistic tendencies regarding people’s emotional stress. However, their problems helped me to trivialise the way I felt, the things that I struggled with, and the way I behaved. How could I possibly spend time thinking about myself when there were people out there who were in worse pain than I was? I had the ability to laugh myself out of any depressing mood swings, so what right did I have to wallow in bouts of self-pity? These people made me laugh, and kept me floating in a state of constant child-like euphoria. The more time I spent with them, the less time I spent having to act mature and adult-like. It was such a relief to finally be like people my age, atleast in mindset. We talked about boys, complained about our parents, comforted each other when we felt that the pressures, from our uncomprehending families and the unjust teacher society, were just too much. They made me forget, or atleast repress the memories of all the bad things that I had submitted myself to.This poem probably explains it best. (Timeless Darkness) Being with them made me feel guilty for ever having bad thoughts about my family- which I have to admit is really great. They made me appreciate the good parts of my life.
Now while these distractions worked wonders for mental state, they gradually made me lose my objectivity. I lost my ability to state the things that were on my mind, by this I mean I could no longer simply state what I saw as wrong, I now had to consider people’s feelings when I voiced my observations. I lost my ability to remain untouched by the influence of our generation. I had become another adolescent with sometimes unnecessary grievances against my parents and teachers, and to add insult to injury, I could no longer find the desire to care about being a moral compass. I was losing touch with my ability to be a clearcut example of goodness- though I have to admit when this finally happened I simply couldn’t understand why I had ever bothered to appear good. Who was I really trying to fool? Sometimes I think getting that suspension and losing my glasses were the worst things that could ever happen to me- because it made me less able to maintain the facade I had fought so hard to create, that of the good, innocent soul. Getting in trouble with my friends, and the rest of my class and earning that suspension just simply removed the pretense that I could ever be good. It made it harder for me to be a voice of reason. I mean, who was I kidding, my friends didn’t need another mother or father, and I was simply too young to spend my time dictating or influencing their lives. I had struggled too long to hold onto the goody two- shoes image, and although my friends didn’t mean to, they helped me find the freedom I was looking for. The freedom from the trappings I had wrapped around myself. It meant that I was no longer worthy of giving advice, I no longer needed to see things from the more mature perspective. It certainly wasn’t healthy and it is most definitely screwing up my human interactions now, but it certainly did feel good to just let myself go. To just free-fall.
Kadeen Nichelle Oksana Waldron
July 2-5, 2012