I usually tell people that I don’t remember much before I was 8, and leave it at that. The fact is, my personal memories are pretty spotty no matter what age. I like to think of my collection of personal memories as a hunk of swiss cheese, fairly stinky, with a flavor that’s tolerable at times, but really doesn’t taste good, and is full of holes.
I’m sure that over the years I’ve internalized some of the stories I was told about my childhood, to make up for the lack of memories, so the collection may not be all mine, but I’ve been reminiscing a bit today so I figured I’d share some anyway.
I went through a phase where I refused to wear a swimsuit. People called it a bathing suit. You don’t bathe with a suit on. You bathe naked. I wasn’t going to wear a suit to take a bath, and just because you suddenly decided to start calling it a swimsuit doesn’t mean it’s purpose has changed. Seeing as how I spent half of my childhood in swimming pools, I imagine this was a huge source of exasperation for my family.
I had a nightmare when I was 4 or 5. One or both of my siblings was trying to steal my purple bubble gum from the top right drawer of my new yellow dresser. I remember waking up to tell Mom that. I remember being laughed at, even though I was upset and hurt. I remember checking and finding my purple bubble gum was, in fact, missing. I remember no one caring. That’s my first and clearest memory from childhood.
I have a picture somewhere of my preschool class. I was wearing a purse. I found the purse a while back and put it in my toybox here for visiting kids to play with. When Mom last saw the picture she chuckled and said something like “yeah, the teacher was exasperated because you always wanted to answer every single question and wouldn’t let anyone else have a turn”. I don’t really remember preschool, but I remember being told to let other people answer… but the teacher kept asking “does anyone know…” so I kept raising my hand. And if she asked us to call out answers I did. I didn’t know what they expected, I wasn’t going to pretend I didn’t know, when I did. I wasn’t going to lie, and I didn’t want people thinking I was stupid just because the teacher didn’t like me knowing everything. It’s not like she had to call on me just because I raised my hand.
My favorite toy was the sit’n’spin. I would spin as long as I could, I’d get dizzy, fall off, give myself a moment to recover, then go right back to it. I believe I had to be forbidden from riding them, because I kept trying long after I was too big to manage. I also loved yoyo’s and spin toys and swings and pretty much anything else with perpetual motion.
I spent a lot of time in Dr offices, because I fell all the time. If I wasn’t injured again I was seeing yet another specialist to try to figure out why I kept getting injured. Mom used to take her knitting and I took my sketch pad. An artist I was not, but I liked to try to draw things as true-to-life as possible. I was great with fish tanks and still life, I was okay with animals. I failed miserably at drawing people. I couldn’t draw a face to save my life. It drove me nuts.
I liked numbers, and I made a game with myself to memorize them. I had memorized most of the phone numbers I’d ever heard, and on the way into building I’d often take note of a license plate or two and see if I could remember them on the way back out. Somehow Mom figured out I was doing this at some point, so she joined in and would quiz me on them. Of course, she didn’t write them down, and couldn’t remember them herself, so she never would have known if I was wrong.
I used to wear jean skirts all the time. One day on the way home from the bus a girl from the neighborhood thought it would be fun to pull my skirt up. I stopped wearing skirts after that, for the most part. Any piece of clothing that offers so little protection that a split second decision by a bully can leave you walking down the street with your underwear flapping in the breeze is just not practical or decent. Considering how often I was falling, I think that incident just drove home the realization that skirts were not for me.
When I was in the 5rd grade I was put in a classroom on the third floor. My 5th grade teacher had been my 3rd grade teacher previously, and she was a great teacher then. But the third floor meant stairs after stairs after stairs. 3 flights up, three flights down, up in the morning, down for recess, up for class, down for lunch, up for class again… all of those stairs kicked off the initial exacerbation of my peripheral neuropathy, but we didn’t have a diagnosis then. I just knew that I was falling, a lot. And every time I got one injury healed I’d get another. Those stairs were hard for me, and it broke my heart when the teacher I loved sneered at me and said “come on, granny” when I took too long getting up the stairs one day. She later got mad at me for having to use crutches once again. I think she thought I was injuring myself just to punish her.
Rounding drove me nuts. Not because I have a problem with rounding, but because people tended to do it in the most bizarre circumstances. Ask someone what time it is, and they might say 4:15 or “quarter past 4”. It may be 4:12 or 4:20, but somehow it made sense to them to round it to 4:15. It never made sense to me. You don’t save time by saying 4:15 instead of 4:12. Over the years I’ve learned to make these strange conventional roundings by habit, and to get a feel for when people want them, but it always seems bizarre to me. I most especially remember driving my ex-sister-in-law nuts with this issue. When someone asked the time, and she rounded, I always felt the need to let them know the actual time. I couldn’t understand why she had to round. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t understand that rounding was correct.
I have always preferred to be on the outside looking in. Especially where people are involved. When we had large family gatherings I used to hide under my grandpa’s old desk. I’d pull the chair in after me so no one knew I was there. That way I could just sit back and listen to the muffled sounds of the hustle and bustle of a large family gathering, without being accosted by it. I felt safe there. Usually a cousin would eventually find me and assume I was playing hide-and-go-seek, and then my fun was over.
At my other grandma’s house I used to love to sit up on the stairway and listen to everyone downstairs. We played a lot of board games there, and she had these little plastic containers that she kept the marbles and dice in. We used to shake them because the sound was cool. I think my favorite sound in the whole world was hearing someone downstairs shaking one of those, and the sound echoing up through the stairway. I also loved the sound she made when she was ‘shuffling’ her dominoes on the kitchen table.
I did not understand why people cried at movies. The people on tv, on screen, in fictional books, in plays, were just acting. I got this concept, but no one else seemed to. They wanted me to cry after watching sad stories, but they were stories. They were not real. Why should I get upset over something that someone made up? So they kept trying. They kept showing me sad movies, this one will make you cry. But it was just a made up story, too, there was no reason to cry. (For the record, I now cry at the drop of a hat, but that’s another story.)
When I was in 6th grade I had a nerve biopsy. The nerve conduction studies were enough to make it clear that I had a peripheral neuropathy, but my symptoms did not match my test results, and they were baffled. They wanted to study me, so they convinced us to let them take a hunk of nerve out of my ankle. It wasn’t hard to convince me, I got the doctor to agree to setting up a mirror so I could watch, that was all I needed. It was cool to watch, especially when my nerve wasn’t even in the right place and he had to dig around for a long time to find it. He showed it to me afterwards, it looked like a fat piece of spaghetti, shredded and bloody, stapled to a popsickle stick and stuck in a jar. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t let me keep it.
My guidance counselor at school apparently decided that that was a good time to talk to me about the whole disability issue. I’d moved schools several times because of it. I’d had special notes for gym for years. But apparently they just then realized maybe I needed counseling, so she called me in to talk to me. I think she asked how I felt. I responded “weird” because that had become my stock answer. She questioned me further and I explained that everyone is weird in some way, some more than others. She asked about my best friend, I assured her that Jenny was weird, too. She eventually asked if I thought she was weird, I believe my answer was “YES!”. She never called me in to talk to me again.