I grew up knowing that every adult was perfect at what they were doing. Whether that was raising kids or teaching mecanics, being a headmaster in a school or making cheese. If it was what they were doing, they were the ideal at it.
I knew that like kids raised in religion know deep inside that God exits.
But in the same time, every one of those adults weren’t making enough sense, which added up to not making sense at all.
If they were perfect at raising their kids, then why were those kids so mean and cruel ?
But I couldn’t doubt that they were perfect. That was Universal Rule n°1. You don’t discuss Adult’s Might, or it befalls you, thereby proving itself. You’d even rather not discuss older kid’s might, for the same reason. If an adult decides to arbitrate the argument, the chance that it will end up putting you in the wrong, even if for absurd, or inexistant reasons, is so overwhelming it’s really not worth the try.
So the only way to make that cruelty fit that world was to accept for a fact that kids are meant to be cruel. Thus, adults do too.
That was Universal Rule n°2.
Nobody likes to be hurt, or feel excluded, and I am no exception.
So instead of having to confront myself to endless absurdity, selfishness or other means that people have to express who they are, I learnt to keep to myself.
I became so good at it, and was so defiant of others that I barely talked to people. At any point in time, you could never find in my acquaintances more than 2 people I would call “friends”.
Yes, sometimes I would try and mingle in a group. I would usually do it by periods, and go from one group to another, never accepted, barely tolerated and looked upon as a weird animal, maybe an odd event. I would always – Always – get away before the proper rejection happened.
I was so used to people stirring clear from me that I was extremely surprised when some non-adult came to talk to me. And always would I greet that person with suspicion.
Most times rightly so, for it was that captain team that always tried to dodge choosing me in sports, or that obnoxious kid that needed a new plaything to humiliate.
Moreover, I have always found kids my age utterly boring and stupid.
Every time anyone that wasn’t family came to talk to me, an alarm went on in my head. I wasn’t aware of it, of course. I only felt my mind go blank and open all gates of my thinking, ready to get into any information in storage, all my mental strength gathering : “Friend or foe?”.
Adults usually were inoffensive. Usually. As I got older, they would ask more personal questions they had no business knowing about, but they were candid, and I knew how to divert them.
Kids, on the other hand… Kids I would never let my guard down with. They could invent such vicious ways to be cruel when least expected.
It was always a complete surprise when one of them talked to me in a truly friendly manner.
Here is how school was.
When I was 3, I was put in school for the first time. Same school my 2 years older brother was.
He never played with me. In all honestly, I am not sure I knew what a brother was for, and that he was more than a familiar stranger.
Quite early in that year, one day, the whole class was sitting to their individual desks, listening to the teacher, when she was asked to answer a phone call. I remember the way she walked out of the room, moving her whole heavyweight from one foot to the other, like she had barely any articulations. (She was overweight).
By the time she went back, the whole class had made such a mess there wasn’t one desk left aligned. The racket was such that I had to put my hands on my ears and close my eyes and concentrate very hard so my head wouldn’t explode. I hadn’t got the slightest idea why they were doing such a mess, but by then I already knew that people of all ages were constantly acting in a totally absurd manner and I knew better than to try and understand strangers. In the beginning had been a little curious to know what they were doing – Had I missed an instruction? – but quickly I decided to just stand there at my desk and ignore them as hard as I could.
The noise was such that I didn’t hear her coming back and only realized what was happening when the noise came down and I saw her entering the room.
She asked questions to know who was responsible for that behavior, and everybody pointed at me. I was bewildered. How could they have had the idea of holding me responsible when it was so obvious how unpleasant the situation had been for me? Surely she would not fail to see it, and it would be forgotten. Nay. She sent me roughly in a corner of the room, where I waited, dumbfounded, the end of the hour.
Lesson learnt : if something bad was happening close enough to me, I’ll be held responsible.
Until the end of that year, that teacher never missed an occasion to blame me for whatever was going wrong.
At the end of that year, my family moved north.
The next year I surprised my lovely teacher during common drawing classes by writing simple words on my paper. Why on earth was he surprised, I couldn’t say. Anybody could do that. And (I) could read a lot more, too.
Class was okay, I didn’t feel threatened, kids would leave me alone most of the time and I attempted to mimic some of the oddest behaviors I observed, to try and understand what they were.
I took a liking in an short introvert girl, Pauline, and made it my mission to ensure that she wasn’t bothered by anybody, and that she had all she needed. She wasn’t my friend, I barely ever talked to her or spent time with her. But I kept an eye on her.
The year after that, my cousin came to live with us. She was the same age as I, and we shared the same class and bedroom for a year.
That year was by far the worst of my pre-teen years. A lot of it because of the choices my parents made, and my mother applied as to how to raise this re-formulated family.
Without expending on the details, I had just turned 5, and I learnt that year that private space and private property applied to anyone but me, including when it came to my body space. The pendant of that very important lesson was the coming into the household of the rule that if anything bad happened and I was close enough to it, I was responsible and would be rightfully punished. Even if I wasn’t aware it was bad, or it was happening at all.
As my cousin invaded my physical and mental space, with my parent’s blessing, I started feeling that I was her. For the first time, the limits of my own mind started blurring, and I felt that I ought to become that other person in a way that I “had always been that other person and had only been on the wrong path being my own self”. I was a subside of the invader, nothing else, nothing more.
And my until then perfect spelling started to be tainted of her mistakes. It still is.
And my highly analytic mind starting to have lapses over slightly tricky math problems I would have solved easily with concentration beforehand. Still does.
The year after that, my cousin left our home.
I found myself alone again in school. A great relief. I could walk and talk alone in a corner during breaks, ignoring the teacher’s glances and invites to join groups of children. Sometimes they were so pushy I had to comply. Those were hellish moments, as much for I as for the kids forced to play with me.
Then I got invited to a girl’s birthday party. Magalie. Many things rushed into my brain at the same time. First, that she must have made a mistake. We weren’t friends. She didn’t really like me, not that she specifically disliked me either. How could she even think of doing such thing as inviting me?
Then, I panicked. What WAS a birthday party anyway? Who would be there? What would be happening? I was at school with those kids, but I had no business “partying” with them, I could barely talk to them! What kind of games would they be playing? There was no way I knew the rules! What was I supposed to wear? Oh my god, I even had no idea I was supposed to give her a present! – as my mom handed me one with instructions.
Panic. Brain completely overwhelmed. Not computing.
I got into her house, baffled by everything, from her smile for me to the party decoration, the furniture, the cake, the music – wait, what? Oh sweet Jesus the music! As we finished the cake, Magalie put on the music, announcing something. I couldn’t hear what she said, although I was quite close : too many different noises. Magalie was kind enough to repeat for me : Musical chairs. And what is that? With a glance from the corner of her eyes, she told me “you dance while there’s music, and when the music stops, you jump on a chair, any way you can. There is one less chair than there is kids, and the one that can’t sit looses, and we take one more chair out of the circle and start again.” Sweet, sweet Jesus. A winner-vs-looser game, of which rules I’m not familiar with, and that includes “dancing”. I knew the word, and what it meant, of course, but I had no idea how it was practiced. I was doomed. They would all point their fingers at me, laugh at my face and probably beat me up a little, for the fun of it. Panic went through my mental ceiling and I ran off.
I couldn’t go back home, it would be validating the failure I was, and my mother would be ashamed and reciprocate that shame on me. I sat on the wall by the alley.
After a short while, Magalie came to me, asked what it was about, and upon my answer told me reassuringly that no kid our age knew how to dance. It was only a matter of moving your body along with the music. They all were doing just that, and nobody was mocking anybody, and nobody would be mocking me. Utterly unconvinced, but so ashamed that she had to go off the party in search for me, I went back with her.
A little while later, y 4 years older sister got herself a fan, for lack of other name to call the boy. I knew about it. I could sense something unhealthy about the boy, and the way he considered my sister. But she wasn’t by problem. She was barely more than an annoying stranger, loud and demanding at times, when she harassed me into playing with her and my brother when I would much rather play on my own or walk the woods. At some point during those 3 years, probably during that last one, his little brother decided to take some liking in me. Poor boy. I already couldn’t bear strangers getting physically too close to me, and whenever that happened and there was no adult around, that brave kid would get shoved away if I couldn’t escape without touching. On top of that tendency, that boy’s relationship to the Wicked got me all the more wary of him. He insisted on getting close to me, talking to me, trying to make friends and to express his feelings. In a word, he was an unbearably stressful burden.
That poor boy collected an impressive amount of slaps and kicks from me. Every time he was close enough to get one, he would. It felt like he never learnt. He kept coming back and coming back, relentless. Acting hidden from the teachers wouldn’t have crossed my mind, and I got told off countless times. It just slipped on me. I understood adults didn’t want me to act like this, and in all honesty it was all the same to me to do or not, as long as the boy steered clear from me. But nobody seemed to tell him to. I had my priorities straight and clear, and I went on kicking him away.
I kept kicking him occasionally the year after, but he had learnt his lesson and mostly forgotten about me. There was another kid, weirder and newer than me, to bully, so I was mostly left in peace.
That other kid’s name was Clément. I loved the sound of it. I really enjoyed his personality too, for he was calm, bright, innovative and didn’t leave me aside of his games because I was a girl. He was just as clueless as I was as to how one shares games with another outside of siblings boundaries, and for the first time, on the scarce occasions my mom took me with her visiting his mom, I had an ellusive feeling of kindred. I didn’t dwell on it, as I wasn’t fully aware of it, and anyway, since he was the school bullied, we wouldn’t spend time together there.
My teacher that year, noticing that I was systematically finished with my work way before the others and getting bored at my desk, allowed me to – if I was silent and descreet – spend the “boredom time” in the class’s library. Surprised and thankfull, I kept my end of the deal and soon was allowed also during break time. That library became my safe place. My sanctuary.
Around age 8, I fell in love for the second time. The first time had been around 3 or 4, for Words, which I was spending a fair amount of time reading and learning, caressing them and massaging them and assembling them in my mind and mouth. The second was Trombone, the brass instrument.
It was an idea of my parents that “music elevates the mind”, and all 3 of us kids were to learn to read music and play an instrument of our choosing.
My mother took me to the music school one day, and we went on a tour of the instrument classes.
She wanted me to play violin. I wasn’t thrilled, but they hadn’t the one I was interested in, so why not? On the way, we went to the Brass tower. Landing, and first floor’s instruments didn’t interest me. On the 2d and last floor, under a roof window’s light, two trombonists were standing, greeting us. The light fell right on the student’s instrument, leaving it standing alone, golden, in the middle of the room. It was the most bewitching bunch of metal ever invented. Then they started to play, and I was done for. My mom managed to drag me to the violin because I had given my word, but I couldn’t care less. I wanted my very own magic music in my hands that minute.
I had to wait for weeks for the school to get hold of an instrument short enough that I could hold it. And then it came in, putting an end to the excruciating wait, making me the happiest I had ever been.
For the next 9 years, my trombones were my one constant and reliable friends. Words had that role too, but other people could use them and torture them with bad pronunciation, bad phrasing or bad spelling, leaving enduring stains in my mind’s relationship to them. The trombone was all mine. It’s voice soothed me when I was tense or scared. It’s curves and color enlightening my day every evening as I took it out and assembled it for my daily practice. It would always have the same shape, assembled at the very same angle. It would always give me the same vibration, massaging my insides with its crooner voice. Sometimes I would leave it mounted for days at a time, in a corner of my room, so I could always turn and look at it and feel it’s reassuring presence.