The Skeleton in My Closet – Part 2

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Photo made with Photofunia.

WARNING: This post may be triggering for those who have experienced sexual assault.

This is continued from my previous post.

When I was 14, after my dad left and things had gotten really awful at home, things were also turning ugly at school.

I was being threatened and bullied, in some cases by girls who had previously been my friends. They would send me notes telling me to watch my back (at the time, I took things literally and didn’t actually know what that term meant; I had to ask somebody), telling me they hated me, telling me they were going to kick my ass.

They would follow me down the hallways, yelling insults. One girl told me I was so weird and so ugly that no one would ever love me. Those words rang in my head for years afterwards.

Two of the bullies who had previously been my friends have since gotten in touch with me via Facebook and apologized. I asked one of them, “Can you tell me what I did that made everyone turn on me? I was going through a hard time so I know I probably did something, but I’ve never been able to figure out what.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” she replied. “I just wasn’t a very nice person back then.” I appreciate her taking full responsibility, but I still think it’s funny how it happened at the same time as all the awful stuff at home. Was it just that I was weak then, and they sensed it?

Meanwhile, I was sharing a locker with another girl who repeatedly stole my things and on one occasion, found the notebook I wrote poetry in and read it aloud to a group of kids who had gathered in the hallway, mostly boys. I approached as this was taking place, and I got mocked and ridiculed and taunted with my own emotionally penned words.

I had previously been an honour roll student, but because of things that were going on at home I wasn’t getting my homework done and I wasn’t able to concentrate in class, so when new concepts were introduced, especially in math class, they went right over my head. My math teacher said she was available for extra help at lunch time, but as I had previously gotten good grades and even been in the math club, she didn’t understand what my problem was. “Just keep practicing,” she said. “Practice makes perfect.” But I couldn’t practice, because I didn’t even know where to begin, and she wouldn’t give me the one-on-one instruction I needed to grasp it.

Outside of school, one Saturday while walking through a park, an older boy I recognized from school but had never spoken to before walked toward me, looking at me with a smile on his face. I was very needy for any kind of positive interaction at that point, so I stopped and waited for him as he approached, happy that someone friendly-looking was coming to talk to me. The problem is, I am not very observant, and it was only when he got right up to me that I saw that he had his penis out. He assumed I’d seen it all along and therefore wanted it. But I had not seen it, and I did not want it. Being much stronger than me, he grabbed me and pinned me to his body and forced me to touch it. He ejaculated up my arm and I cried and vomited onto the ground. He laughed and went on his way, and I became terrified of bumping into him at school after that. I never told anyone, because who would believe I had stood there as someone approached with his penis out, but that I did not actually want what had subsequently transpired? I wouldn’t even believe it if someone told me that story. Also, with how volatile my mom was at the time, I was terrified of her reaction. And I was so overwhelmed by everything that was going on that I just didn’t have the energy to put myself through any kind of reporting process. So I said nothing. I have wondered over the years if he’s ever victimized anyone else since then and I feel guilty for not reporting him. I keep my eye out for his name in the news, and so far it has not appeared.

That was my very first encounter with a penis. I know as far as sexual assault goes it could have been far, far worse. But sadly I am still nauseated by the sight of ejaculate to this day.

And then came the final straw. Compared to everything else, this is going to sound utterly trivial, but for whatever reason, this was the thing that pushed me over the edge.

In P.E. class, which had always been a nightmare for me, we were told to form groups and come up with a rhythmic gymnastics routine to be performed the following week. We were not given any real instruction on what rhythmic gymnastics was, we were only shown one example of a routine, demonstrated by a group of the popular girls. My parents had never been interested in sports of any kind, so at home we had never watched the Olympics or anything like that, and although I had briefly been enrolled in extracurricular gymnastics as a child there was nothing about rhythmic gymnastics in that class. Back then, there was no YouTube to consult, so I was utterly clueless, with little idea of what was expected and zero confidence that my flawed body would be able to perform anything of the sort without causing great embarrassment. The only two girls who were willing to be in a group with me were equally clueless. Then, to my horror, the teacher said that our routines would be videotaped, and the video would be shown to the entire school.

In retrospect, that sounds really far-fetched. Under what circumstances would such a video be shown, and why? But that is what she said, and that was my tipping point.

The next morning, I didn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t face it. I couldn’t do it. And I just never went back.

 

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Photo from Photofunia.
Photo from Photofunia.

When I was talking to my mom on the phone the other day, I brought up the fact that when I was a child, my teachers often assessed me as lacking social skills and being emotionally immature. I asked her what behaviors, exactly, led to these assessments. I mean, I had to live under the weight of those labels. I deserved further information.

She answered that there were two main problems. The first one was that when other children were playing, I just stood on the sidelines and didn’t join in. I did nothing but quietly observe.

Okay, that makes sense. I remember not knowing how to play with other kids and not understanding — or even being interested in participating in — their games. (Maybe my tendency to stay on the sidelines is why many people I went to school with don’t remember me now.) But I also did have friends, some of whom I am still friends with to this day. I may not have played games or climbed the monkey bars with them, but we would sit together and have great conversations.

The second problem was that I often expressed the wish to not be at school and sometimes cried because I wanted to go home.

Both of these things were attributed to me being an only child, and my parents were told I would grow out of them as I continued to go to school and be exposed to more people and more activities.

But the funny thing is, as an adult, I still would rather observe than join in. And I still prefer being at home when I can get away with it. When I have one of my sensory meltdowns, I suppose I’m basically crying because I want to go home, or at least somewhere more calm and peaceful, which I’m sure is what I was feeling when I cried to go home as a child.

So I didn’t grow out of it after all. This is just who I am. I can accept that, but I can’t accept the labels that were used to describe these traits, or the negative connotations that went along with them. I hope these days the education system is kinder to children who are different than it was to me.

I Remember, I’m Forgotten

Photo by Gisella Klein via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by Gisella Klein via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I remember everyone I’ve ever met, especially those I met before I became an adult. I don’t know if this is an Asperger’s thing, an only child thing, an IQ thing, or a combination of all of the above. Meeting people always seemed like a big deal to me, and other people always seemed very important. I never took any person, any contact, or any interaction for granted.

I find that people don’t remember me though. I recently posted on a message board for alumni of one of the schools I attended, and no one there remembered me, even though I made sure to post my maiden name and the nickname people called me at the time. I had to post the class photos and indicate which one I was, and most of them were still baffled. Some said, “I don’t remember much from back then.” But they all seemed to remember each other.

How could they not remember me? I remember every one of them.

I once bumped into an old school friend (we were close enough to have visited at each other’s houses a number of times over the course of two years and for there to be photos of her in my family’s old photo albums) at a restaurant and recognized her immediately, despite the fact that she had aged dramatically and looked quite different. She looked at me blankly. She had no clue.

I wonder why I am so forgettable. This might sound like self-pity, but I’m not necessarily hurt by it. In a way, it’s a relief. If they don’t remember me, they’re not thinking negative things about me. I can live with that. It’s just that I like to make sense of things, so I wonder why. What mechanism is at work that makes me remember others and others forget me?

Self-Defense, Verbal and Otherwise

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Photo by Marg, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

For much of my life I had problems defending myself. Partly because I didn’t quite know how to and partly because when under pressure I would become paralyzed and/or mute. People just did whatever they wanted to me.

One incident happened when I was in grade one (just to clarify, I’m Canadian; we call it grade one, not first grade). I was outside the school during lunch hour and some teachers came hurrying towards me and firmly told me that I needed to come to the principal’s office.

Apparently, I was being accused of breaking a window. I didn’t know why. I was not aware of having broken any window. But adults were saying I did, and I was completely trusting of adults, so I believed them. I believed that I had somehow broken that window without realizing it. As if maybe I had been running along and accidentally kicked up rocks from my shoes with such force that a window was broken. That sounds really implausible now, but it was the only explanation I could think of at the time.

Not that I expressed such thoughts. I couldn’t make any words come out of my mouth. I sat there silent, bewildered, and waiting to see what would happen.

By some miracle, my name was cleared without me having to do or say anything. I don’t quite remember what happened, but I think the real culprit confessed. I was free to go.

Flash forward 10 years. A bully girl attacked me and proceeded to beat me up really badly. By then I had learned to use my words. I kept saying, “If you have a problem with me, can’t we talk about it? Let’s work this out.” But she just yelled, “Shut up, loser!” The beating continued until an elderly couple came out of a nearby house and yelled that they were going to call the police. She left and the couple took me into their house and talked to me. “Why didn’t you do anything?” the man asked. “Why did you just let her do that to you?” I had no answer.

The problem was, despite having been able to find my words, I was not able to bring myself to physically fight back. I thought about it. I tried to envision it. But my body wouldn’t move. Other kids were cheering on the fight but there was no fight. There was no struggle. It was just one person pounding the other to a pulp. I suppose I looked like a coward but I wasn’t really afraid, just confused, sad, overwhelmed, and inexplicably paralyzed. I didn’t know why, so I couldn’t explain it.

Fortunately, once I was an adult people stopped inflicting violence on me. But I continued to find myself in situations where I was taken advantage of, misunderstood, or falsely accused, and I continued to be really bad at doing anything about it. I did try, but was horribly ineffective. Many times I was told, “You need to learn to stand up for yourself!”

Finally in my thirties I went through a year of counseling, and my counselor and I talked about strategies for standing up for myself if the need arose.

Then when I was 40 years old, one day at work, someone made a false accusation against me which was brought to my attention by my angry boss. I managed to stay calm and I explained to him why I was not guilty. He remained skeptical, as the person who made the accusation was highly regarded. He ended the conversation with, “I just want to get to the bottom of this!”

I knew it would not be difficult to prove my innocence. I compiled documents and e-mail exchanges that did get to the very bottom of the situation and revealed exactly what had happened. Basically, the whole mess was the result of someone requesting to book the facility for a certain date, me rightfully denying the booking because the facility was unavailable on that date, and them showing up anyway, leading to a whole shitstorm of consequences. It was 100% not my fault and the documents I provided proved it.

The following week was my 6-month performance review. I was told that while my work was of a consistently high quality and while I had always demonstrated a conscientious attitude, a courteous demeanor, and a high ethical standard, I was too defensive and had an unhealthy need for vindication. I told my boss that if he was referring to the incident of the previous week, perhaps I had misunderstood, but he’d said he wanted to get to the bottom of the situation. Since I had in my possession everything that could show him exactly what had transpired and why, I thought he would want to be made aware of it. My words only proved his point that I was defensive and he told me this was an area where I needed personal growth. I then made the mistake of blurting out that for much of my life I’d never defended myself, but I’d gotten counseling to learn how, and the fact that I could do so now meant I had achieved personal growth. He just stared at me. Then he made up a reason why I was fired.

It seems that I can’t quite get it right. I’m supposed to stand up for myself, but I’m not supposed to be defensive. I don’t know where the line is, and I still don’t know what I did wrong in the work situation (other than the part where I admitted that I’d had past issues that had required counseling, but things had already gone terribly awry by that point anyway). I know I am socially awkward, but I can’t imagine anyone not defending themselves or providing documents that proved a false accusation false. I’ve observed that most other people in the workplace are not pushovers and do not take any crap. But it seems like when other people do it, it’s accepted, and when I do it, I get it slightly wrong somehow, and it’s not accepted. I would be willing to change, but I’m never sure exactly where I’m going wrong.