The Aftermath of Quitting School

Zurich
Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

This is continued from my previous post.

I’ve often wondered how I managed to just stop going to school at age 14 with no consequences. Didn’t the school call? Didn’t anyone notice or care? So I recently asked my mom. She said yes, the school did call, but she told them our family was going through a difficult time and she was not going to force me to go to school at that time. She also mentioned to them that we would soon be moving, which was true, as my dad had stopped making the mortgage payments and we were about to lose our house. I guess when I never returned to school, it was assumed I’d moved. I’m not sure how it works, but don’t school records get transferred from one school to another in those cases? Was there no process in the 80s by which dormant records were flagged and followed up on?

After I stopped going to school, I also stopped eating. I didn’t eat so much as one bite of food for a month. I only drank water. I wasn’t doing it for attention, I was doing it because I just couldn’t bring myself to eat, but I still find it disturbing that my mom didn’t notice. But then, she was in the midst of her own breakdown at the time. And with me no longer cooking, she probably wasn’t eating either.

I don’t think I left the house for that entire month. When I eventually emerged, people complimented me on my weight loss. No one had any idea how I had accomplished it. I wish people would keep that in mind: Weight loss is not always a healthy thing to be congratulated.

A few months later we did end up moving across the river to a nearby town where my previously stay-at-home mom had more job opportunities and where she could continue to keep an eye on my dad, as that’s where he worked and socialized. That’s also where my mom’s old friend and her daughter lived, the latter launching me into a very active social and dating life unlike anything I had experienced before. She also introduced me to alcohol.

With alcohol, I was able to be outgoing in a way I never had been before. It decreased my sensory issues, temporarily decreased my IQ by what I estimate must have been about 30 points and made me stop overthinking everything, and made me feel able to cope. Surprisingly, I did not become dependent on it long term, but I used it in a social context and it made a big difference. (Not that it stopped me from getting bullied by a new group of kids, of course.) People who met me during that time would probably be surprised to find out how introverted and probably autistic I truly am. But I don’t keep in touch with any of them. That was not a healthy time in my life and although I’ve never been more socially active, no positive, lasting friendships were made then.

By the following year, my mom had gotten counseling, gotten a job, and had risen above her breakdown. She then enrolled me in a part-time alternative school. You were supposed to be at least 16 to qualify and I was only 15, but she somehow talked them into letting me in. The man who assessed me first asked me if I could read. I was offended. Reading is what I was all about! I could read before I started school. I had been an honour roll student. I’d been in the math club. I had an IQ that put me into the intellectually gifted category. Of course, I didn’t say any of that. I only said, “Yes, I can read.” But I felt so misunderstood.

Regardless, I compliantly showed up at the alternative school the required three times a week, but I accomplished nothing. I couldn’t concentrate, and I did not even finish grade 9, let alone advance to higher grades, until years later when I made the decision to complete my secondary education as a 20-something adult in community college.

No one in my entire life other than my husband has ever indicated to me that quitting school was not entirely my fault and for a long time I fully accepted that it was. I was weak, I was bad, I was a failure. It’s only now, at age 42 and being able to see 14 year olds for what they are, as well as having the new-found knowledge that I’m likely autistic, that I am looking at it differently. Yes, I stopped going to school, but no one did anything about it. No one offered me any help or any support. I just fell through the cracks. Maybe I should be thankful for that though, as if anyone had taken an interest, it may have led to punishment rather than help, which was the last thing I needed. I wasn’t just being difficult or rebellious. I literally could not make myself leave the house during that time. I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t feel like I was making a choice.

The thing is, at 14 I was still a child. No one ever acknowledges that. It’s as if because of my high IQ I was expected to be able to cope and to make logical, mature decisions, when that was not the case at all. I’m not actually saying I bear no responsibility. But the adults in my life, every last one of them, failed me too.

And this is something that never goes away. This skeleton in my closet pops out from time to time, and people make their judgments and assume all the things that people assume about junior high school dropouts. And I don’t know how to explain. “My family was going through a difficult time,” I sometimes say, but those words are so utterly inadequate.

I feel I must add an epilogue to my parents’ story. Sixteen long years after my dad left, he came back a changed man, well healed from his head injury. He doesn’t drink, and there is not a violent, abusive bone in his body anymore. We have a good relationship now and have great conversations. It is not in my nature to hold a grudge; when he was acting like a jerk, I saw him as a jerk, but now that he’s different, I can accept him as he is today. Meanwhile, the counseling my mom got helped her a lot and she is like a different person too, and sometimes says she can’t even believe some of the things she said and did back then; she’s as shocked by the memory of it now as I was by the reality of it then. She has been a great support to me as I’ve been coming to terms with the idea that I am likely autistic.

My parents are together and happy and have a peaceful, normal life.

All the evil (to use a phrase from my favourite fictional character, Lisbeth Salander) that happened back then was just one sad episode in our family history that does not define our family dynamic today. These posts have been hard to write because of this. These things happened, and they affected me, but I love my parents and I don’t like saying such awful things about them when they have come so far. I know it might seem hard to believe, but they really are good people now, who struggled through their own issues and overcame them. The last thing I want is to dishonour them in any way.

 

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