School was a Minefield

An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…

 

“She was the last one in school, and the last one out. She made the whole class wait for her every day.” ~ Mom

I was late every day because my alien leaders, the ones that dropped me off at my mother’s house when I was born, didn’t give her an instruction manual—and she was not a fast learner. We continued to struggle over what I would wear, and what I would eat, which was usually nothing. I didn’t sleep well either so I was hard to wake in the morning, but much easier to wake than her.

School nights didn’t mean much in my house; my parents liked to party. My brother and I stayed in their bedroom to go to sleep while aunts, uncles and friends played loud music, drank, smoked, and played cards.

I tried to sleep curled up in a ball under the covers cupping my hands over my ears trying desperately to drown out the noise. The smell of cigarette smoke and beer made mye stomach sick and my eyes tear.

In the morning, navigating the sea of sleeping bodies sprawled out across the living room carpet surrounded by empty beer bottles, and half spilled over ashtrays brought on the vomit. Vomit brought on the screaming.

My screaming was because even then I hated to vomit; although I should have been used to it, and my mother’s screaming because now there was a mess to clean up. Now? There was a mess to begin with! Vomit was hard to get out of mustard-colored shag carpet.

Mornings sucked, school sucked, and we were late. At least I no longer needed to go see Mr. Hiler for a late pass; he was liar.

I was never in a rush; that much is true, but I certainly did not intentionally make the whole class late coming out of school every day—not intentionally.

The end of the school day was always the same.

“Pack your things, and line-up.”

Line-up I had down. I was number three; Toni was number one, Laura was number two, then me, and Shayne was number four. Line-up: check. It was the pack your things part, the part that needed to be done before line-up that was the problem.

My desk was a wreck. The small space inside the metal-framed desk reserved for books was jam packed with my things. Papers were shoved inside, crumbled and torn. Pencils fell to the floor when I pulled on something I thought I needed to pack up, and was followed by an avalanche of debris that scattered across the floor making my head spin.

The mess, the chaos, and the lack of things having their own place made me feel sick. My brain ceased to work; I ceased to respond. I just stood there staring at the mess that I had no idea how to begin to clean up.

“We are not leaving until Jeannie cleans up this mess and packs her things.”

I froze. There is that word again—things.

I made several attempts throughout the year to pack-up my things. All of them were wrong. I never arrived home with any of my textbooks, and couldn’t do my homework. I spend the nights crying because my homework wasn’t done, and the morning being screamed at because my homework wasn’t done.

Going to school without my homework meant writing, I must do my homework, twenty times on the blackboard. I longed for the end of the day; longed to be out of the clutches of the classroom.

“Jeannie, pack up your things,” the dreaded words seemed to echo throughout the room.

The whole class grumbled while I stood there staring blankly at my desk. They knew we were not leaving until I got my things together. The mother’s waiting outside would be angry and grumbling that everyone always had to wait for me.

“If someone doesn’t help Jeannie pack her things, we are going to stay here all day.” Ms. Montouri said.

I didn’t know what to pack.

Shayne, number four, rushed over to help. He helped me shove everything into my book bag, and slung it over his shoulder. Shayne wanted to go home.

From that day on Shayne helped me pack, or rather he packed my things for me. Actually he packed everything, and carried it because then it was heavy and I couldn’t lift it. I had to drag the book bag along, slowly.

When Shayne packed my book bag, I was able to do my homework. He packed the textbooks; I never did. The teacher told me to pack my things. The textbooks did not belong to me; they were not mine. They could never be my things; they were their things.

School work was easy, but navigating the school day without stepping on a landmine was not.

The Little Encyclopedia and the Stinky Cheese

An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…

Consuming Information and Hyperlexia

Before 1994, Asperger’s Syndrome did not exist as a diagnosis in the United States. Autism would not have even been considered if a child was verbal, least of all very verbal, or if a child was not intellectually challenged.

I was verbal, too verbal. I was smart, too smart for my own good.

Baseball stats were not the only bits of data that I consumed and stored. I consumed books. I memorized them, and don’t you dare read the storybook to me and think you will skip over anything. If I had already heard the book, you were in trouble.

My father used to read to me, but many times tried to skip over things thinking I wouldn’t know any better. After all, I couldn’t read—or, could I?

I would promptly point out where he missed along with what page the text appeared on. Long before I entered kindergarten I didn’t need him to read to my any longer. I taught myself to read.

I honestly could not figure out why we were “learning” to read in school. I already knew how to read; therefore, all the kids around me knew also. We were just wasting time.

“We thought we had a little genius on our hands,” my mother said, “but you were just a little bitch.”

What is hyperlexia?

Hyperlexia is an ability to read way above what is expected for the child’s age, and is accompanied by a below average ability to comprehend spoken language. The hyperlexic child usually learns to speak through rote memory and heavy repetition. This child appears (and is) very intelligent, but often fails to comprehend the context of her words, or fails to comprehend their meanings and social implications.

I was not a quiet withdrawn child; in fact, I never shut up—ever. I rattled off my newly learned facts to anyone who would listen, and to those who wouldn’t. The interesting part though is I would only talk to adults. Children had nothing to contribute to the conversation, they thought I was odd. Sometimes they ran from me, or they ran off to play.

Adults on the other hand thought I was brilliant. They laughed at my little speeches, and thought it was cute when I recited lines from TV shows and music lyrics to answer their questions. Well—most of the time.

There were times when my tendency to quote others to convey my feels landed me in a heap of trouble. As “grown-up” as I sounded at almost four years old, I still had my bottle. It was something I was absolutely unwilling to give up. The doctors were not concerned, and actually encouraged my parents to allow me to have it as long as I wanted since I ate next to nothing.

“Milk is food,” Grandma said.

So why would I need to eat anything else. My father didn’t share this view.

When he insisted that I eat the dinner my mother prepared, I, as always, refused. This time he persisted.

“You are going to eat it,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because I said so, now eat it!” I had somehow made him angry, but not as angry as he made me. Maybe he shouldn’t have played so much Billy Joel music around me; he should have seen this coming.

“You cannot tell me what to do. It’s my life!” I said. “Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone!”

I ran up the stairs, clutching my bottle in my hand.

My grandparents lived upstairs. Grandma says milk is food. I don’t need to eat my mother’s food, I have my own.

This time Grandma was on their side. She wanted me to eat. I sniffed the pasta, I sniffed the meatballs, and I sniffed the cheese and then I wretched.

“No! I don’t want your stinky cheese; I don’t need your stinky cheese; I have my bottle. Milk is food.”

That was the last time I saw that bottle, or any other ones. So for the next year I lived on peanut butter.

There were times when my speech and comprehension appeared advanced. It may have appeared to my parents that I was being obstinate and difficult—that I only wanted my way. But the truth is I had no idea the real implications and meanings behind the words I recited from the song, My Life. It just appeared that I applied it correctly at the time.

Since I was already able to read, I often used “scripts” to speak to people. I recited passages from books that seemed appropriate at the time. I sang song lyrics, or in this case, screamed song lyrics at others. I also repeated what I heard adults saying applying to my situations haphazardly. Because I was smart, everyone assumed that the words were my own, my thoughts, and that I knew exactly what I was saying. I am sure I did not.