Sunday, February 5, 2017

Loneliness, Part 1

I've always been alone.

I'm an only child, the only one who made it to term. My mother never let me forget that fact when I was growing up. She had several miscarriages before and after me, but I was the one that survived. She liked me when I was small enough to be a doll that she paraded around in frilly dresses. But as soon as I began to assert a personality, to form opinions, and to defy parental authority as all toddlers will, she threatened to give me away.

"You cannot be my child. My child would never act this way," she'd announce if I ever acted stubborn or had a crying fit. "I must have gotten the wrong baby at the hospital. I'm going to take you back and exchange you for a better kid."

It's not the worst thing you can say to a child (the threats and insults got much worse as I got older) but when your earliest memory is learning that you're not wanted, it's devastating.

I had no cousins either. I was surrounded by adults, the youngest person in my family by 30 years. The additional afflictions of being an introverted selective mute meant that friendships were difficult to develop. But in early elementary school, I did have friends who seemed to genuinely enjoy playing with me and didn't exclude me from their secrets and games and in-jokes.

Then we moved, and things turned terrible.

The first day of third grade, I was the only new kid in a class of people who'd gone to school together since kindergarten. I'd come from multicultural Miami to a tiny redneck town where everyone at my school was white and conformist. And that's when I learned what loneliness really was.

Because I was in a gifted program, I was placed in classes with the same group of kids through 8th grade. But by that time, my pariah status had been cemented to the point where I begged to become invisible just so the bullying would stop.

I learned the primary reason for my being outcast was that I was "too quiet". Having no idea why this was a problem, I did nothing to try to fix it. But it wouldn't have mattered. I was weird. I didn't wear the right clothes. 
My hair was too long. I was clumsy. I read too many books. I read the wrong books. I didn't have crushes on the right celebrities. I ate my mashed potatoes with a spoon instead of a fork. (For some reason this was a social faux pas.) My vocabulary was too large. I was the teacher's pet. You name it, someone found a reason to mock me for it. 

But the bullying went beyond making fun. I was spit on, I had garbage thrown at me, I had my belongings stolen, broken, and thrown out of a bus window more than once. Boys made animal noises when I walked by and told me it was my mating call. Pennies were flicked at my head, designed to sting enough to bring tears to my eyes. I was sexually harassed, and then told by teachers that it was my fault for "flirting" with the boys. But that was the just physical stuff. The psychological stuff cut much deeper.

Loneliness is growing up with an alcoholic abusive parent who violates your trust and your privacy and drives you to contemplate murder or suicide, then having to go to school with girls who've set out to destroy you; girls who get up and move to a different table whenever you sit down with them, girls who make eye contact with you and then turn to whisper and laugh to their friends, making sure that you know they are whispering about and laughing directly at you, girls who purposely exclude you from all social gatherings, girls who tell you that your face and body and clothes and hair are fundamentally wrong, girls who sneer and laugh at you in disgust as if you are a zoo animal or circus freak on display for their amusement. I learned to hate them.

By the time I got to high school, I was violent and filled with rage from a decade of social isolation. In the pre-Columbine 90's, some classmates made it a running joke that I'd be the one to come to school with a flamethrower and take out everyone. I secretly thought that didn't sound like a bad idea. They thought it was a joke because I was "the quiet one." I wrote English essays that were filled with violence and morbidity and allusions to the abuse I was suffering at home. Not a single teacher expressed concern for me. One day the assistant principal walked by and saw me eating alone at a lunch table. He shouted with scorn: "What are you doing eating alone?! You need to go make some friends!" 

Adults can be so clueless.

So I learned at an early age how to be alone. What I didn't learn was how to have healthy relationships. Somehow, I did know what love was, and I longed for it, and in doing so I made terrible decisions and wound up with some very bad men. But that's a story for Part 2. 

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