It's the early 1980's.
A Catholic grade school library, in a Midwestern city that has been hit hard by the loss of good factory jobs the past couple of years. It'll get worse, but I'm in grade school and don't know what that means just yet. I'm in the library because my teachers and the guidance counselor and everyone else are trying to figure me out. How I can have reading comprehension scores in the stratosphere, and yet never seem to have my homework done? They ask me if anything is bothering me. They say I shouldn't keep my feelings bottled up. They beg, they bribe, they threaten. Nothing seems to ever work.
Among my grade school peers, I'm not the class clown, but I've seemed to fall into that subgroup. The group of kids like me. Working class parents. Latchkey kids. The clowns and the "slower" kids, the ones who require the most attention. We're the ones who end up staying after school, or getting in trouble often. Our homes are not stable, at least compared to the kids with financially and emotionally secure parents. We each have our own set of issues, but we don't know that yet.
The teachers, parents, etc. are looking for a "solution". There's something wrong with me, and they want to "fix" it. They tell me I have a "mental block" that is preventing me from realizing my potential.
They throw their hands in the air, accepting defeat. Of course, outwardly they keep trying, but at a certain point they decide that some kids you just can't reach. Eventually, I'm assigned a child psych counselor at a hospital downtown.
The hospital-- there is a security guard. There is a desk where everyone, visitors and staff, have to check in. My appointment is on the fourth floor. Exiting the elevator, there is a waiting room immediately ahead. To the left, and then another left, is a hallway that has an electronically locked door- a big hospital swinging door, with a big window and a big metal plate. There's another one to the right. There's also an emergency exit, a fire escape. That door, as well as the windows, have bars and multiple locks.
On the walls, a Chagall art poster from Toronto or Madrid or somewhere far away. I quickly decide that whoever this Chagall character is, his paintings suck. There is a latch hook rug on the wall; yellow with red letters that unevenly say "TEAM IV". It feels like a prison, and I hate being here.
I find out that there are kids, like me, that have to stay in this hospital all the time. When I ask, I'm told that if seeing this doctor doesn't work, I may become one of them. I try talking to the doctor the first couple of times. I don't feel better after the appointments, but I try. Mom tells me about how much extra effort and time and money these appointments take. I do my best. I don't like it, though. I hate it.
And I hate the psychologist. I remember his name, and clearly remember his face and how his office looked and felt. He had a Chagall painting, too. Maybe he's the one responsible for all these suckass paintings. He asks questions, I sort of answer. There's a general air of "we're trying to help you", but it's not a positive feeling for me.
One day, I find out- I don't remember how- that my Dad's health insurance is paying for the appointments. (At this point, my parents are in the midst of a divorce.) My Mom, and her new asshole of a boyfriend, bring me to the appointments, sure. But Mom's not spending any of her money. I also find out that the insurance coverage is running out soon. That's the day I start refusing to say another word to Mr. Psychologist. Not. One. Fucking. Word. No hello, no goodbye, no fuck off and die. Silence.
Clamming up was my survival choice. It worked. The appointments stopped.
In Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield, I received an LOC (letter of counseling) for not getting to a barber- my hair was too long. I had to walk past a commercial barber to get to my shop, and there was a guy in another shop that had brought a clippers that did haircuts. I had no excuse. To this day, I don't know why I had such an issue getting to someone with clippers.
Call it a "mental block". That was about the time when things started going bad for me. I was shutting down, focusing on surviving instead of thriving.
This semester, I've had a great deal of trouble getting my assignments started, much less getting them finished and handed in on time. It's becoming serious, quickly, and I can't seem to get snapped out of this funk I'm in. It feels, in many ways, the same as I felt in grade school-- I wasn't happy, I didn't feel good about most things, and being a smart kid wasn't a high priority on my list of concerns. Disconnected. Alone. That's how I feel now, like that scared kid looking in from outside.
I see people in the library, in the Union, in the coffee shops studying, and I know that I we are all in the same boat. We all have studying and assignments to do. But surrounded as I am by academia, lately I don't feel like I am a part of it-- I feel like that scared kid looking in from outside. Everyone has study partners, everyone is humming along on their assignments, everyone is making progress but me.
I want to be one of them.
I'm supposed to be the strong one. I'm supposed to have an advantage, because of all of the discipline I have acquired during the adversity that's been my life and my military service.
I haven't been grocery shopping in two weeks. I've been doing just enough laundry to have something to wear one day to the next. My apartment looks like a tornado went through, backed up, and went through again. I feel like shit, I think I have a cold, I haven't gotten any real exercise since I don't fucking know when, and I'm so far behind in my classes I wonder if I'll ever get caught up.
Not much is working these days. Some things, but not much.