Monday, March 15, 2010

two things you don't want to be when you are growing up, smart and "different" and I was both of them.

Okay, so you've heard about the birthday party, and, given that set of circumstances, why I'm none too keen on ever having a party of my own...   Anyhoo, it was not easy being me at that age, or any other one for that matter, because of my "gift" and my native intelligence.  Yepper, two things you don't want to be when you are growing up, smart and "different" and I was both of them.

Fourth Grade, weird times and adjustments were there for me throughout the school year.  First one came when I was moved from one class to another because of my "smarts".  Talk about your unpopularity on two fronts.  The kids in the class I left because I was now "a smart kid", and, the kids in the class to which I was moved because I was a "new kid" and was lousing up their close-knit, been together forever clique by being placed, albeit unwillingly, in their class.  Yep, fourth grade was a lot of fun.  Not.  My folks weren't behind my being moved from one class to the other.  That idea came from the teacher's after my assessment scores came out.  Swell, just swell!  Being in the upper percentiles intellectually should have been a blessing, but, it really felt like a curse.

The course work was a bit more difficult.  Not that I couldn't do it, just that I didn't want to do it.  No one asked me what I wanted to do, so, I rebelled in about the only way I could.  I didn't do homework, I did lousy on classwork because I wouldn't pay attention to directions, or do things properly.  Needless to say, there were more than a few parent-teacher conferences over my now abysmal grades and attitude.  Mom took the situation in hand after about the 5th conference in as many weeks by having a private chat with me that went like this:  "I don't know what your problem is, and, right now I really don't care.  You will straighten up and behave yourself in school like you are supposed to.  You will not goof off in class.  You will bring your homework assignments home and do them.  I will sign them and you will take them back to school the next day.  You will do this until I tell you differently.  Your Dad and I are totally through with your attitude and your behavior.  This new class will help you use your mind to its highest level.  Don't you want that?"  Pardon me for laughing my butt off here, but, no one, seriously no one, in their right mind should ever ask a kid that question when that kid has real feelings on the subject.  The outcome of that question is never the response that is expected to be parroted back to the asker.   So, stubborn, willful child that I was, I answered the only way I knew in my heart how to answer - honestly.  "NO!!!  I don't want that.  I want to be with my friends!  I 'm tired of hearing all the things the kids in the new class say about me in their heads and out loud all day long.  I want to go back to my friends and do the things that make me happy."

Well, that was a guaranteed wrong answer in thought, word and deed.  At first Mom just stood there, mouth open, looking horrified at me that I dared to have thoughts on this matter of my own.  After she stopped turning, purple, red, orange, and then fading slowly back to beige, she cranked her neck around a few times and asked me "What in the name of all that's unholy, do you mean all the things the kids are saying in their heads about you?  I thought you were all through telling people you could hear things that they were thinking...  aren't you?!?"  "Well,when the whole crappy class (bad phrase for a 10 year old) is thinking you shouldn't be there and that you are a 'dork' and a 'jerk' and a 'weirdo' it's kinda hard not to hear what they are thinking!  And, they are saying it out loud to me too at recess and in class when the teacher isn't looking.  So, you tell me, how do I turn it off?"   Whether that was a legitimate question or not in Mom's universe, it was in mine.  That, however, didn't count for much when the punishment for being a "sass mouth" was handed down.  Nope, didn't help one iota.  I saw a lot of the inside of my bedroom, which in 1960-1961 was filled with my bed, the bunk beds my sister and brother slept in and our 3 dressers, an alarm clock radio, a small school desk and a small bookcase full of reading books.  No toys, no record player, no dolls, nothing fun whatsoever.  That's where I went every day after school "to think about my 'sass mouth' and the trouble it got me into at home and in school.  Didn't really care.  It was quiet.  No one was talking to me verbally or telepathically.  It was sheer heaven.  And, my siblings had to stay out of the room because I was being punished.  "Shucks!" she exclaims as she snaps her fingers in delight!  If this was punishment, I wanted more of it.

Of course, my parents, being true to their determination to assure their children received every educational advantage available to them, insisted that I be kept in the new class to which I had been assigned.  This was after they shared with the teacher that I didn't want to be in the class and that I didn't want to do the work and that I just wanted to be with my friends.  Swell, just swell!  Now the teacher had my folks behind her.  Just what I really needed to make me the unhappiest kid in the fourth grade.  Until...  music class in the Spring of 1961.  Then, I became a total pariah.

It started like this. The music teacher wheeled her piano from room to room with the help of student assistants. The day in question the teacher's 2 assistants happened to be twin brothers who were black.  Once they wheeled the piano into the room, the "Hey, who dipped you guys in black paint?" and many other less kind comments were thrown their way.  I could hear their minds as clear as day, "I'm gonna ignore them dumb white kids and not punch their faces in!"  "Momma would whoop my butt if I hit you, jerk!"  These boys were also responsible for helping the teacher set up her musical charts for the class, which they were having an horrendous time doing while shaking with rage...  so, being the kind-hearted kid I was (and still am) I got up, went to the chalkboard and helped them with their task before settling back in my seat.  Their minds were going a mile a minute between themselves about how nice to them I was and how much they appreciated it.  When I told them I'd always be nice to them, by using telepathy, the smiles on their faces were HUGE!  So was the smile on mine.  It felt nice to use my "powers" for good and make someone feel better.  So, at recess, which followed music class, my classmates decided to quite literally back me into a corner and try to beat the crap out of me for being nice to "Negroes" and other imagined crimes.  Only thing is, the twins came to my rescue and beat the crap out of the bullying boys and girls for me and with me.  It was a glorious day - even when I was sent to the Principal's Office for fighting along with the twins and the bullies.  Bloodied lips, bruised cheeks, 2 skinned knees and some bruised knuckles were my badges of honor that day.  The whole time we were all in the Principal's Office, the twins and I talked back and forth mentally.  It was nice to know that I wasn't the only person able to do that and that they didn't think I was crazy or weird for being able to do something that they had been sharing with one another since birth.  Losing recess for the remainder of the semester was no big loss to me.  Nor was having the bullies told in no uncertain terms that their behavior was hideous and reprehensible and would not be tolerated.  My new friends and I had to sit out recess in the Office sitting on hard wooden chairs staring at one another.  Loved every minute of it and that's what made me a pariah.  I refused to disrespect 2 boys whose only crime was being a bit different in skin color and I wouldn't back down when cornered.  It was glorious to have the voices of the bullies in my new class silence.  It was glorious that 2 other kids could do what I did - hear and talk with their minds.  And, if no one in my new class liked me for it, well, that was okay too. 

Yep, two things you don't want to be when you are growing up, smart and "different".  I was both of them, and, I was learning that I'd be "different" for the rest of my life whether I liked it or not.  Social outcast, yes, I was headed there as far as the kids in school were concerned.  Smart, well, my folks saw too it that I learned to use my intellect whether I wanted to or not, and I came to appreciate it.  Who wouldn't love passing tests one barely studied for?  Pariah for sure, but, hey, I was already a shy kid, so I just learned to live with it and went on.


  1. Thanks for continuing the story. I truly understand this part. I was always very bright & found lots of benefits as well as negatives about that. I also always questioned everything to learn more, most teachers enjoyed that about me but on occasion I would butt heads with a few.

    I appreciate getting to know you better & applaud you for making it through these difficult time of your life.



  2. All I am going to say: You finally got that out, you faced it...and I am proud of you.


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