I slid my hand up the grade school railing now in my imaginings an ersatz monorail but one which pivoted, liberally, in slithering undulations until I found myself in a predicament. In one particularly dramatic weave of the wild monorail ride of my fantasies I cranked my elbow between the railing and the yellow porcelain tiled wall.
I did not cry for help. I did not nudge a classmate scurrying past. I did not pssp. I stood there perfectly still willing myself into invisibility and this worked brilliantly. No one stopped. No one, to my recollection, glanced over with incredulity. No one, miraculously, snickered at my predicament. No one called out my name. The scrum passed. The steps cleared. There I stood, Stuck. Silent. For how I felt I was Aron Ralston in the Moab desert pinned by a boulder. I had nothing serrated with which to sever my forearm, but perhaps the spork in my lunchbox could be whittled.
My third grade teacher arrived with the janitor wielding a pipe wrench and soon after, to my utter abashedness, the principal, who gently poked my elbow out from whence it came, and, regrettably my cover was blown and it was back to class.
Back then, in the late 70s, eccentricities of mind did not mesh well with public schooling. It took me many seasons of poring over report papers stashed away in the attic, deciphering cursive script , attempting to decode the euphemisms into something true. Working through the anger of why they couldn’t see me for someone….well I would have been elated to be safely, anonymously ensconced in the middle of the pack, mediocre but no longer agitated by the raw shame of freakdom. I stared at the grid work of “S”and “U” s as if I trained my vision long enough the answer would pop out at me like a magic eye drawing.
I was skirting the margins. I was the kid when it was time to circle up would be standing obliquely and slightly askew, an anomaly blemishing symmetry, until a teacher righted my stance with a firm but gentle twist of my shoulders.
The rhythm, and for that matter the melodies, of my days, I recall as being correspondingly asymmetrical in comparison to most student’s. Delightfully asymmetrical. Blessings to my lagging coordination so I could skip spelling drills to descend into the fallout shelter with my fellow ne’er do wells to brush up on my calisthenics and monkey bar maneuvers under the tutelage of the obese but engagingly chummy gym teacher.
What a relief to be pardoned from times tables to convene with the kindly middle aged man in the utility closet who attempted to correct my lisp through rote. The mantra like quality of the routine was my childhood version of guided meditation. It took me a long time to disentangle my true feelings about the special classes from the shame that I thought I should be feeling. Those classes were liberating. It was the regular classes that were a drag.
They were careful not to assign numbers or overt labels to our groups. They did not grade us, but how could we not know. Our group would be summoned with “Michael Goodling, Ding a Ling!” (name altered), referring to the token space cadet who astutely had slipped into a reverie. The girl, the token gypsy, who would be ridiculed for wearing dresses her mom crafted from old curtains (according to the rumors) and would steal homework and pencils. The chronic pants wetter, the token dry drunk, with the lascivious stories of his older brother. The pudgy, incoherent, friendless mumbler and me. Where did that leave me?
If what surrounds you defines you, what was I?
Deferent, shrinking, meaculpability. Kickball designated bunter. Try not to fuckupper.
Barely audible, barely discernible, short, slight. Some signs of intelligence must of slipped out because I finally managed (with a few faltering relapses)to creep in amongst the norms. My friends: They were of two categories. I either fell in with the biggest misfit in the class or glommed onto the new arrivals who had no one else. This worked until they would see that there was something off about me.
My eccentricities of mind. The way I would dote on any friend I managed to snare: I would walk a mile out of my way on the way back from school with them to show them my gratitude. The way I pulled my knee socks above my knee (all the rage amongst the Crossfitter girls now!) oblivious that no one else was and not even as an act of fashion rebellion but out of a simple lack of awareness. And a million other tiny offenses and faux pas that I could not account for. All I knew of was my meaculpability. That I was greatly sorry for whatever it was I was doing, though I’m not quite sure what it is exactly that I’m doing, but did I make it clear that it’s my fault and can we please be friends now?