I Was Told That I Was Dumb
How the label haunted my adult life
I am sitting on the last bench, literally, on the alleyway side. Fidgeting with my half-eaten pencil, I impersonate being normal. The tide of anxiety is raising its head like an untamed cobra in the jungle. The signboard above the door reads, Class-V|B. The class teacher is gliding among the three alleys, drawn due to the rows that segment the class. I intentionally sit on the last bench, to avoid coming under the class teacher’s radar. I insanely pray to the universe to cast a spell that restricts her entry to my bench, for checking homework. My Grammy always told me, ‘the chants had power to blind the foe’.
Was she my foe?
Or I thought my teachers were my foes.
The only explanation for this teachers-are-my-foe theory is my inability to cope with rote learning and labeling.
My litany to the almighty usually starts from the first period, mostly in Mathematics. My brain goes on auto mode, I chant the Qalimahs to keep the teacher at bay. I have a tough row to hoe because the classroom and I never flicker a friendly spark. Sometimes I amcaught, and like a criminal of third-degree humiliated or slapped on the cheeks for being a zero-wit dumbo. Maybe the teacher's intentions aren’t as harsh as the scars on my cheeks. But even today, the ghost scars raise their head and scare the broad daylight out of me. The chiming echo of laughter and mimicked words still ring the bell in my eardrums, perhaps so sharply that it might pierce, ‘She is saying that the plural of child is CHILDS’. While my teacher, one bad day, came to me and asked the plural of Child. The answer was a no-brainer. ‘CHILDS’.
The teacher erupts in a diabolic laughter influencing the class. Some of my classmates aren’t too well aware of the answer. But they follow the suit. Perhaps for 10-years-old it is a schizophrenic insult, that shadows her adult life. Traces remain even today because after that incident I also took the label of debacle-master along with being dumb. I understand that the thresholds for trauma are different for everyone. For me, it made me an anxious squirming girl, who never knew that anxiety is not something to live with. I was so anxious, that the first time I stepped up on the stage for reciting the poem, There’s no time to stand and stare, I literally blared in the mic. I didn’t look up, nor stopped blaring(Read reciting the poem). My English teacher might’ve repented her decision to put me up on the stage.
The shame and lashing that followed remained with me like a leaking faucet, at the back of my mind. It damped my following efforts to erect my spine. Also followed in my marriage camouflaging as anxiety. Again I was labeled as a disorganized dumbo. However hard I acted smart, I acted out ditzy. I was questioned. Mocked. Mimicked. The way my teacher mimicked me in class V for not knowing the plural form of Child. I conveniently wore the label. I also assumed that wearing a label is INEVITABLE. Now there’s a thing about the labels, they have magical strength. They have powers to shape and un-shape. I was under the powerful spell of these labels, slapped on me even in my adult life.
In retrospect, when I tried to square in, blurry scenes echo saying ‘she is below average, she can’t even remember the plural of child’. The labels ‘average’, ‘dumb’, ‘audacious’, and ‘shameless’ in class-5, further maneuvered my path to growth. I was also deemed Shameless because I didn’t get the concepts of trigonometry or couldn’t write an essay. Also, my hairs were disheveled, my uniform creased and my nose ran, and because a 10-year-old kid recently lost her mother, and didn’t know the elite etiquette of the school. I tried to keep up, but goofed up most of the time and invited a well-aimed slap for an unfinished class book, or anxiously shouting in the mic, when given the opportunity for reciting, ‘There’s no time to stand and stare’.
However heavy, I wore them with dignity. Actually, my great-great-great Grammy too wore her labels with dignity. She was told that she is half to her man. And her great-great-great Grammy wore her labels. The process of evolution taught her to do so, or else she would’ve been abandoned for speaking her mind. Human species are vulnerable enough to fit in the cast, other's shape for them like amorphous, brainless creatures. So to fit in, we wear labels. Back then, in my class-V, I was new to humanhood, hence I thought it was fatal to miss something, and further it was mortally fatal to be socially unfit. If you are deemed as one, you dare not deny the label. Whether good or bad.
But insights are the rarest phenomenon on this planet. The labels wore me down and after decades of weight, I saw a therapist who could help me identify the difference between me and my assumed self. Why? Because my intellectual output was always at loggerheads with my self-image. I did well even though I was anxious. But the bigger question, HOW? Wormed into my brain. So, when I told my therapist that I was an average person striving to go beyond her intellect, he told me that it was quite wrong on my part to label myself.
As I said Insights are things like Halley’s comet.
LABELS. The word resounded in my mind as if saying, ‘Am I really dumb, average?’
Or is it just a label that I am unwilling to shed?