The hardest thing was to sit in a classroom and see everyone with their eyes on their paper, pencil swirling around from the tops of their hands as the other students wrote their answers—but me, even the so-called simple problems were far from simple.
Nothing was simple to me. I could never grasp the lessons. I had no understanding of what I was doing. I needed help but I never knew how to ask.
Besides, kids that needed help were seen as “Kids that needed help.” And me, I didn’t want to be that kid. I never wanted to be that kid. I never wanted to be pointed out because I was “Special,” or taken to a different classroom and segregated because I had a learning disability.
I thought I was stupid. In fact, I swore I was stupid because other people understood things. But to me, I thought I could never understand anything. I never liked reading, which, to this day is why I cannot stand to read out loud in front of other people.
I mean, I’m a writer and yet, I stutter when I read aloud and I seldom, if ever, do public readings.
Put simply . . .
I was that kid.
I was angry kid.
I was that frustrated kid, helpless and hopeless.
I was confused and could not understand why I had to be so different from everyone else.
In my eyes, I was weak. I was so terribly flawed that even the weakest in the class; even the most publicly tortured and picked on or even those with special needs; whether the needs were physical or mentally challenged, even those kids were more advanced and capable than me.
In my eyes, my weakness was apparent. I struggled with my appearance. I was not the typical kid, so to speak.
I was too small, too young looking. I was too skinny. I was weak, at best, and awkward, uncoordinated, unmotivated, and most of all, I was always ashamed of who I was and what I looked like. I hated the sound of my voice. I hated my teeth, which earned me the nickname of “Bucky,” in a few places.
I never asked to feel this way. I never wanted to feel unfit or be, “That kid,” that wore the target on his back. I felt like I was the kid with the proverbial, “Kick me,” sign on my back and everyone was looking to take a shot.
I never asked to see me this way but nevertheless, this was my version of me.
This is how I saw myself -so tragically flawed. I fed from the emotional senses of my brain. I listened to the inaccurate voices of my insecurity.
And of course, I listened.
What else did I know?
When you’re a kid, logic is not logic yet. The only logic a kid understands is that might makes right. Kids know the popular crowd controls the social standard, and somehow, the “In” crowd determines the different divisions of cool, beauty, and style.
I believed this with all my heart. And it weakened me. I would panic before school. I panicked in my social environment. I worried about being small. I worried if I would be picked on or made fun of.
I was afraid to be singled out. I was afraid I would be laughed at, or worse, I was afraid I’d be left alone and totally unnoticed.
I never knew how to defend myself. I just knew how to react, which was all I could do because I lacked the language to explain how I felt.
Even the simplest problems became difficult; and what I mean is the harder I tried the harder it was for me to concentrate.
Nothing made sense to me. Whether this was in class or at home, I could never seem to process information and break it down to a way which I could understand.
I was defined by labels. I was “Learning Disabled,” and “Emotionally Disturbed.” I was “Depressed.” I was behaviorally challenged and defiant.
Teachers told my parents that I had great potential, which meant that I was not living up to my potential, which I interpreted as blame, and saw this as my fault.
It was my fault that I could not understand my math homework. It was my fault that I could not read well, that I read poorly, that I stuttered when I read out loud, and it was my fault that I could read through an entire sentence and not retain any of the information.
It was my fault that I was smaller than everyone else. It was my fault that I was too skinny, that I was too weak, that I was socially awkward. It was all me and all my fault.
I have spoken with students that expressed similar feelings from different angles. Whether it was being too tall, too short, too thin, too heavy, or whether it was performance anxiety, whether it was social anxiety, panic attacks, fears, abuse in the way of physical abuse, verbal abuse, or sexual abuse, and whether the trauma was understood or unknown, the truth is being a kid is hard enough but add this to the mix and the world can be an overwhelming place.
I saw things through emotional eyes. I was constantly afraid and constantly on high-alert. Teachers were my enemy. Bullies were my enemy too but dammit to hell, if they would only accept me for a minute and allow me to tag along; I put up with the abuse because it beat being lonely and feeling faceless or truly unwanted.
As an exercise, I often think back to what I would say to the young me.
If I had the chance, how would I intercept the messages that played in my head and learned to think of them differently?
How would I tell me that I was not worthless, that I was not stupid, o put simply, what would I tell me that would save me from myself?
There is a strange draw that I see with popularity. There is a strange association with trouble and being cool. It’s almost honorable to get in trouble. You get “Street cred,” and although the classroom might not have been my educational domain; I chose to make it my domain in another way. Therefore; I rebelled as loudly as humanly possible. If I had to suffer then it would be my job to make everyone around me suffer just the same.
I never had me to talk to.
In fact, I never thought I had anyone to talk to; least of all, someone that could understand or someone that would not judge me, someone that would support me, that would teach me a better way, that could be patient and say, “Don’t worry kid. We will get this.”
I never wanted to be this kid but I was. I never asked to be this way or believe the lies in my head; however, without recourse and without proper support, without a plan, a strategy, and without any direction whatsoever; I gave in and more tragically, I gave up as well.
(This is for you)
You are not stupid. Not at all.
There is a saying, which I am very fond of. The saying regards crazy people. The saying goes, “Crazy people don’t think they’re crazy.”
Since I believe this is true, that must mean stupid people don’t know they’re stupid either. No. They think they’re smart.
I am not now nor have I ever been stupid. I just needed a different way to translate information to a way, which I could understand and relate to.
I needed to learn how to express myself. I needed help and I needed guidance. On the other hand, what I did not need are the labels which were given that simply shut me down and left to believe I was incapable.
So what would I tell me if I could talk to like, say, the 10, 11, or 12 year-old me?
I would say don’t listen to them, kid.
I would say I believe in you
Don’t let them hurt you anymore
Stand up for yourself
Stand up and walk away
Don’t be a target.
I would tell me don’t be afraid to try.
Don’t be afraid to learn
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t be afraid if kids laugh at you
I would explain that trust me, none of the kids that pick on you are settled or secure with themselves. They only laugh at you because they’re scared other people will laugh at them.
I would say to me, that thing you’ve been doing.
Know what I mean?
That stuff that hurts you; don’t do that to yourself anymore
Do not scar your own beauty.
Do not mar your perfection.
I would say you’ve only just begun to live your life.
You have no idea how beautiful you are going to be. You have no idea how much love you have in your heart
Trust me kid, you are beautiful
I would say I believe in you.
So don’t take it personally and don’t internalize all the nonsense you hear
Just keep me in your heart.
I swear, I am always on your side
By the way, if anyone ever told me this when I was a kid . . .
Believe me when I tell you, it just might have stopped me from trying to commit suicide.
Know what I mean?