In treatment I had to write my autobiography. I am afraid I gave the assignment little thought except to figure out how to write a lot while saying nothing. A couple of nights ago I was questioning how in the world I ended up where I am now. A person who spent time in treatment and is being treated for several mental illnesses. I decided to go back to my childhood. I just started writing and this is what developed:
I suppose you could say it all started with the tree. The tree that stood towering over all the other trees in our neighborhood and who happened to be in our backyard. I don’t know when I decided the tree would fall on the house but one day I did and from that things were never the same.
I was born in 1988 to middle class parents. I fit right into the average category in those early years. Caucasian, white, middle class, first child, parents well educated but not too well educated etc. etc. The only measure which I didn’t end up straight down the middle was weight. I was small. Normal small the doctors said. Genetics made her that way. Nothing to worry about.
And it wasn’t I ate like a horse, played and romped happily in the backyard and lived the active life of a normal child. And then the tree came along.
“Mama, what happens if the tree falls on the house”
“It’s not going to fall on the house”
“But what if it does?
“But if it does we’ll be squished. We’ll die.”
“The tree is not going to fall on the house Kate. Eat your peas”.
And so I ate the peas but in my mind the tree falling on the house was not only a very real possibility but one that I felt like I had to prevent. From then on the tree falling on the house was a conversation replayed over and over in our household.
I was seven at the time. A tom-boy who played with my cousin and brother. Dug holes and then filled them with water so we could dance in the mud. A girl who played with dolls and matchbox cars. Leggos and paper dolls. And Beenie Babies. Yes I was a true 90’s child.
A true average, 90s child.
I went to a rough school to put it nicely. In those days a polite way of saying that many underprivileged children attended a school was to deem it an at risk school and identify those children who were ‘at risk’ so they could achieve services.
Since I was profoundly average I was not at risk. 90% of my classmates were but I was one of the ‘lucky’ 10%. I did not need the extra attention or tolerance that the school demanded an at risk child needed.
I look back now and cringe at the labels already being applied. We were first graders and were being separated by status. The ‘at risk’ kids needed attention. The kids like me didn’t. Seven year olds find it hard to understand why some students receive more attention than others. It’s impossible for them to understand what ‘at risk’ means. All that is seen is that one student is liked more than the other. And that is what I came to believe.
Early on in that school year I became sick. It started with the stomach flue and then without a break progressed to chicken polks followed by a respiratory infection which in turn prompted testing where it was discovered that I had asthma and was allergic to milk. Suddenly, the average box had changed.
I was no longer a ‘healthy’ little girl. I was a girl who struggled to breathe and needed to avoid milk at all cost in order to maintain my health. I was sickly and thin. Very thin. And it was then the comments began.
Instead of having comments directed towards my pretty dress or hair or anything at all grownups responded to me as oh you are so tiny. So skinny. I suppose it must have been then when I decided that skinny set me apart. Skinny made me different. Made me special.
My school year continued on. Added to my tree fear was being sick. After having been ill for so long I constantly worried that I would become sick again. Even more worrisome to me was that my brother might become sick. I read books about disasters and was convinced Kansas was due for a hurricane any day now. The situations that were being created in my mind were rapidly spirally out of control. At home I was a fearful almost panicky child. This only increased as my school year progressed.