I frequently found myself alone but I never recall being bored. The simplest things formed the basis for imaginative games or fantastic adventures that took place in my mind. The physical pain would very quickly be blotted out by distractions of my making. So would any thoughts of further sadness or hurt. I could not or would not focus on it. It was quite literally like a light switch. Imprisoned in my room I felt safest.
Therein were no expectations or curious eyes. Interestingly, the condition of my room was sometimes a question mark but this was true of my total existence. My most recent transgression and its magnitude would generate various responses. When would I eat again? Would the bed, furniture and my toys be removed this time? I was cold. Where were my clothes?
My fourth grade teacher saw the scars on my arms and face. I saw her tears come. I don’t remember much about her from the first time around but she rescued me for a time. I became her helper. My desk was next to hers facing the class. She was kind and attentive and I responded, as this was a very new experience. I loved her and I thrived and received perfect grades for the first time. A visit to a Psychiatrist, placement in enrichment classes and suddenly the next year, I was back on track with my peers. I don’t recall that being of any importance to me at the time. I never attended fifth grade.
They loved each other but they were very young. I still wonder how the rapid arrival of my siblings and I impacted their condition. There was incredible rage, destruction, and violent exchanges. We observed and we understood; infidelity, money, job demands and family expectations … as best children could understand such things. It was an emotionally desperate existence. The only certainty was continued uncertainty. I never knew what tomorrow held and the most basic essentials could not be relied upon. I remember being afraid. I would often retreat to my room and select the light switch.
They loved us all as best they new how but they were frequently cruel. There was no time for nurturing and limited time for parenting. There was meaningful family time but very little. They talked to us and demanded of us. Educated people, they lectured us and required us to have discussions, but more importantly, to intellectually challenge traditional thinking. They assured us we could accomplish anything and gave us compelling historic examples. They were horrible examples. We all loved them.
Despite their example, much of their advice and guidance proved accurate and reliable. Yes, there was a price to pay for my experiences as a child. Concepts such as love, relationships, happiness, family and God evaded me for years. Decades passed before such concepts ascended my list of priorities. Thought, perspective and proportion became intensely meaningful. My life had been a collection of extreme highs and devastating lows yet, at the end of the day … I was ok. I realized and accepted that I did not need to carry anything around anymore or to compartmentalize. Not from my childhood or any other difficult period of my life. Eventually I knew: “It’s ok to be ok.”
Having skipped fifth grade, I was never taught long division. No, I did not end up professionally crippled as a fifth grade teacher might have threatened (had I known one). I figured it out for the most part. Divide the dividend by the divisor and determine the quotient and the remainder (if any). I never became highly skilled at the long process.
My youth was but a single factor in a very complex life of numerous total parts. Although initially unprepared and unschooled, I now work more carefully through my long division problem of life. There is no chalkboard or three ringed practice binder. There are no erasers.
I do not always come up with the correct solutions as I continue to learn the process. I have however, learned to frequently check my work and to consider the results. I am also very mindful of what remains.
I have again taken my seat … next to the Teacher.
Leon A. Walker is a published writer of lyrics, poetry, short stories, columns and original quotes. He is a native of Cleveland, Ohio though he currently resides in Northwest Florida