Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Not ashamed of crying anymore

The last several weeks have incredibly, um, challenging for me. In honor of NaNoWriMo and the fact that I am just a walking raw nerve right now, I am going to write about some stuff. Pretty much no one reads this blog anymore anyway, so I feel pretty comfortable putting all my emotions and deep, dark secrets out there! The recent and highly publicized suicide deaths of the five gay teenagers and all the ensuing talk about bullying has brought up a bunch hard memories and brought about a lot of soul searching. First off, no, I am not gay. That's not what this is about. It's about a lot of other things. There are probably too many to list, but I'll get to them as I need to talk about them.

It seems like I have always, always, always hated to cry. I have decided that no longer going to be ashamed of crying. I am a crier. I cry easily, and it's always bugged me. Darn it - I'm not going to let it anymore. Crying is cleansing. Crying allows you to let things out. I learned to try and repress the urge to cry at a very young age. School was hard. Sometimes it was painful, humiliating, and even scary. The first few years I was in school are very hard for me to talk about, but I am going to.

My first year of school was kindergarten. I learned that the teacher would just like for me to shut up and not say a word - ever. I was sort of the freak of the school, so I didn't really have any friends. I was mostly ignored though not really picked on. The teacher ignored me, the students ignored me, and I mostly sat quietly twiddling my fingers until the day was over. It wasn't enjoyable, but it could have been worse. The next year I went to a very small, private school, and the following year back to public school, and it did indeed get worse.

Now, to be fair, neither of my first grade teachers really liked any of us. One teacher had a habit of calling us dogs. Nice, eh? But I, being an odd kid, really took the brunt of it all. I was the teacher's whipping girl. My second grade teacher wasn't really any better, and actually in many ways, she was worse. These teachers really set me up for bullying, and not only did they set it up, they looked the other way when it was happening. When I went to school, I was pretty far ahead of the school work we were doing. I could do the fifth grade reading work, so instead of giving me harder work, the teacher decided to use me to her advantage. The school was a one room school with grades 1-8 (a couple of grades were empty, so there were only 6 actual grades) with a small number of students. The teacher decided that it would make her job easier if I, a first grade girl, taught the third graders (two boys) their reading work. Wow did that make me popular. They really hated me, and she knew it, and she didn't care a bit. Both years, I was punished for ever succeeding. I remember sitting in school with absolutely nothing to do, but being expected to just sit there quietly. So, I taught myself to write in cursive from the letter boxes around the top of the room. When I showed my teacher, she moved my desk away from the other first graders, put it in the corner, and made me stay in from recess. Once I finished a math paper before anyone else in the room, and when I took it up to the teacher, she made me stay in from recess because I hadn't spent enough time on the paper even though everything on it was correct. When I took my math workbook home in the first week of school and finished half the book in one evening, rather than looking at it and realizing (since it was all correct) that I needed harder work, my teacher decided that I needed to stay inside during recess and erase it all. I remember time after time after time of being humiliated in front of the whole class by my teachers. It's really no wonder that the teacher's whipping girl became the class' whipping girl.

During this time, my hair was cut, and then apparently my aunt "thinned" it, and well - I just looked like a boy. Suddenly, I went from the freak who at least looked normal, to the freaky girl who looks like a boy. That all happened during that really awkward phase where you're losing all your baby teeth, and they're being replaced by these huge gopher teeth that don't fit in your head yet. Yea, that was fun.

Over the years, I've only focused on the things that happened to me from teachers. I learned at a very young age from them, to not succeed. I almost NEVER did homework. Even through high school I didn't do homework in the evenings. If I had homework to be turned in, I would quickly do it over breakfast or sitting in my seat waiting for class to start. I knew I should do it, but I would get these knots in my stomach when I sat down to do homework, and I didn't realize why.

I never really took the time to think about the treatment I received from the students. Recently when bullying was in the news so heavily, I started having to look at the things that happened to me as a young child. In those first years I have memories of being pushed in the mud, tripped, pushed off the swings, called names, being taunted, having my hand stomped on, being told I smelled (which I didn't), being pushed out of the tree, being excluded, having my things taken and then being teased with them, being called a boy, being run into and knocked over, and being tied up with a rope. I never classified myself as someone who was bullied, but I think those things qualify me as someone who was bullied. I was scared to go to school. I was miserable and sad. I was happy at home. My parents are wonderful, but I did not tell them what was going on. I think they believed that bad grades equaled problems at school and good grades equaled things being okay. Well, I had good grades. School work wasn't hard for me. School was.

I know that is where I learned to hate crying. I learned to not cry because crying only made the bullying worse. If I cried on top of things, I was teased even more because then I was teased for crying. I learned to stuff that down or in more cases than not - eat it away.

Luckily for me, the bullying did stop although I know I have lasting scars from it. I spent years and years trying to be someone I wasn't to make people happy to protect myself. I learned to be very talkative and kind of goofy. I also became very fluent in sarcasm! The rest of my grade school years weren't as horrible. I made friends and even had some fun. I still didn't have a lot of luck with teachers though. Some of the teachers we had at our school were nice people, but they were terrible teachers. It wasn't until I got to high school that I had teachers that I respected or that really gave a darn about me. When it happened, honestly, I didn't know how to handle it.

Recently, I've been going through all my old videos, so I can get them digitized. It's strange how this stuff is all happening at once, but I guess it's really time for me to just talk through all of it.

I went to a private boarding academy my freshman year in high school. My last school had 26 kids (and that was a big year!), and then I went to a school with around 200. That was quite a switch. It was a switch in so many different ways. I lived, worked, ate, and went to school with these people. They were kind of like a big family to me. For the first time ever, I had teachers who knew what they were doing, were good at it, and cared about us. I only stayed one year, and I've often tried to figure out exactly why I left. I really did like it there. So, why did I gripe to my parents and beg to leave? I did not know how to trust people. I couldn't handle having these teachers and faculty in my life who were so different that what I was used to. I know it sounds strange, but I wanted (or thought I wanted) to be in a place where I was invisible.

I went to that place as a sophomore. I went to a public high school that had about 800 kids, and I probably knew the names of 8. I was definitely invisible. My teachers barely knew my name, The one who did know my name, had been my older brothers' counselor, and she HATED me by association! Seriously. When she got to my name on the rooster, she had a very significant pause. Then she called my name, I said, "Present." She looked at me and said (in this really mean voice), "You're not related to the OTHER Dupuis' in this town, are you?" Have you ever had a time when your brain is literally screaming at you, "Lie, lie, lie, lie, lie..."? Well, mine was doing that, but instead of lying I said, "Yes, ma'am." WRONG ANSWER! The woman literally did not speak to me for six weeks. She finally talked to me when she realized I was the quietest person in her class! I had a Geometry teacher who knew my name, but didn't get a rat's bottom about me. I had his class the first semester, and I sat in the front row and had a solid A the whole time. Then at the semester because I was probably the loneliest person in school, I switched classes to be with a few of the people I knew. They were all stoners who hated smart kids with good grades. My grade dropped from a 95% to a 55% in 4 1/2 weeks. Now, it takes a lot of work to do that poorly! What is the only things my teacher said to me? "You did better in my other class." Yep. That's it. It was that incident that made me decide that I wanted to go back to Ozark. I knew that I would never, EVER have gotten away with that at Ozark. There would have been discussions in the teacher's office, parents called if need be, etc. I should have begged my parents to put me back then, but I didn't. I stuck out the long, boring, lonely year.

I went back to Ozark as a junior. It was absolutely the best place I could be. I still managed to almost ruin it for myself though. I smoked (at school - something I could have gotten kicked out for), I drank, and I experimented a bit with drugs. I was very miserable with myself. That's what having zero self esteem will do for a person. I started dating a very troubled young man. For years, I was very angry with him, but I guess age has mellowed me! He was very troubled, and unfortunately, I allowed him to take it out on me. I only knew how to be in a relationship where I was treated like crap. I knew in my head that I should stand up for myself, but I didn't. I didn't think of myself as abused because he never hauled off and hit me with his fist. To me, being hit with a fist equaled abuse. One day I realized that being thrown into a wall or knocked to the ground creates bruises that are just as real as those caused by fists. I wanted so badly to figure out how to just co-exist happily with people, but I was miserable. So, one day, I decided that I would stop fighting and just end it the stupidest way possible. I tried to commit suicide. It was such a stupid thing to do, and I am incredibly glad it didn't work. I was living in the dormitory was a wonderful roommate. Our room was connected to another room where two of my good friends lived. The four of us had our own little self contained living quarters. I didn't think about how my actions could have scarred these kids. I took a bunch of pills - everything I had in my room - some legal - some not so much. I told everyone goodnight, and I went to bed. I woke up the next morning to my roommate shaking me nearly yelling my name over and over. When I rolled over, I could tell she was worried. She informed me that I had slept through my very loud alarm, and I could tell she'd had trouble waking me up. It quickly became apparent to my friends that I was not okay since I couldn't stay vertical for more than a couple minutes at a time and only if I had some forward momentum going. They got really concerned when I laid down on the floor of the "Mid bus" (the bus that took us to work at the cabinet factory) because that bus was na-hasty! Anyway, long story short, I ended up calling the dean and going back to the dorm where I spent the next few days sleeping and hurling. It wasn't fun, but I remember having this overwhelming sense of relief to be alive. It was a big turning point for me.

After that things didn't change immediately, but I knew I had to do something. There was one thing in my life that made me truly happy, and that was music. We had a music director at that school that I completely admired (I was totally intimidated by him, too!). I was singing in the choir, which I loved. I was also taking voice lessons. I honestly had been sort of coasting by, but after my stupid incident, I really started paying attention and working harder. It wasn't long after that, my teacher switched me from soprano to alto, and I began to get a little confidence. I have composed music since I was 13, but again, after my stupid incident, I started composing seriously. Music truly became my passion and my outlet.

That summer, the troubled young man and I broke up. I quit all my nasty habits. I tried to get healthy (in my mind aka thin), but that only resulted in an eating disorder, but I was trying. I went back to school. It was an incredibly stressful year. I was trying so hard to be good, and I kept getting in trouble! I had friends I loved, and teachers I admired though, so I kept trying. I still didn't study much, but luckily I managed to graduate with a 3.3, so not too bad. In spite of all the stress, I had a really great year. I joined organizations and played sports and had fun. Still, I wouldn't have made it though without music.

Music was my sanctuary. I sang in the small and large choir and I played in the band. I also spent HOURS in the music hall playing the piano. Music was not only my sanctuary, it was my outlet. My music teacher inspired me, and I soaked in every word he said. I constantly annoyed him though without trying, so I just started adding to it by smarting off to him and purposefully annoying him - which was SO helpful! It was very stupid since he was the one person I looked up to the most, but well, I was young and stupid. What can I say? I remember VIVIDLY the day I crossed the line with him. Honestly, I don't know if he was close to kicking me out of choir or not, but in my mind, it was a very real possibility. We were singing this song that I hated (and truthfully still hate!), and I was always smarting off about it. Walking into choir one day, I said something really awful. You know when you say something and it's so bad that even your friends look at you like you're a blooming idiot? Yep, it was like that. I don't remember what he said to me, but it was very short and along the lines of, "That is ENOUGH." The look that went along with it has been burned into my memory! I sat in my seat for the duration of class just shaking and praying, "Lord, I know that was really, really, really, really stupid. I'm sorry. I'll never do it again - I promise!" I managed not to cry though until I got back to my room. I was determined not to cry in class, but you know, if I had, at least it would have been obvious that I KNEW I was an idiot! :-) He didn't kick me out of class thankfully (didn't speak much to me after that either!), and I didn't smart off again!

That year was hard. I starved myself for months, and when I finally got hungry enough that I just couldn't keep starving myself, I discovered the disgusting world of self-induced vomiting. I did that until I started vomiting up blood. Somehow I made it through the year. I was the tough kid who wasn't going to cry at graduation. I almost made it through the whole weekend. When our small choir sang, "Make Me An Instrument" I lost it. I couldn't sing. I was mouthing the words with tears rolling down my face. I've watched the video, and you can see my couple of quick, trying to be nonchalant wipes at my eyes during the song. Twenty years later, that song still makes me cry. It's not that it's just a beautiful song, because it is, it is because of what the whole experience meant to me. It's because of what the people meant to me. The people I knew there still hold an incredibly important place in my heart. My friends were there for me at a time when I really needed them whether they knew it or not. My teachers helped me learn to trust people, they helped me feel safe, and they helped me learn to like school. My music teacher literally changed my life. Music is still an incredibly important thing in my life, it's still my sanctuary and my outlet. I was inspired by him, and that inspiration still exists today.

Hmmm, I'm not sure if I actually said what I set out to say, but I guess that's okay. I don't know how to end this post either except to say that I am grateful for the people who have made such an impact in my life - well, a positive impact anyway. I'm not sure I've grown enough to be grateful for the bad experiences, but at least I don't still hold a grudge. That's good I suppose!