My last two posts have been a journey through the TMI Zone. And that’s a good thing, because there are still huge chunks of my childhood that I can’t even remember. I hear that’s pretty normal for abused children; it does make me wonder just what the fresh hell I actually lived through. Maybe the more I write about it, the more will come back to me. And maybe I’m not so sure that’s what I even want.
It has had an effect on me. I never had any nice clothes or cool shoes or pretty things when I was a kid. Hell, I never even had lunch money or an allowance. I went to school with a bunch of wealthy kids in a wealthy town. If I told you the name of the town, you’d recognize it as the hideaway of movie stars. I was a poor kid who wore thrift store clothes. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was also dirty.
And here I am, right back in the TMI Zone. How humiliating that was – to this day, it humiliates me to look back on those days. I tell myself it wasn’t my fault, but that doesn’t make the humiliation go away. There’s no getting around it. I remember the day it was brought home to me by the cruelty of the other kids at my school.
I was still a freak all through elementary school, and firmly established as the school geek by the time I hit junior high (my square glasses just sort of sealed the deal). The pushing and shoving boys of my elementary school were now bigger boys who would chase me down the corridors and tried to catch me alone, so they could back me into a corner and beat me up. I lived in fear, and became as wary as a wild animal. And yes, I was also dirty. Until I got to high school, I thought it was normal to take a bath once a week.
Of course, I was an outcast. I was fat, I wore thick glasses, I wore rummage sale clothes, my family was poor and I was dirty. My fate was sealed. I got used to eating lunch alone. Every day was a series of humiliations, large and small. I was called names. I was pushed and shoved. I was laughed at and mocked and bullied. Every day.
The teasing and bullying from the girls acquired a different dimension there too, because they were all busily growing bumps on their chests and proudly bringing notes to school from their mothers saying that they couldn’t play P.E. because they had their “monthlies.” It really was a weird, prudish time – right at the end of the 1960’s. In those days, P.E. was an extra humiliation. We had to wear these horrible ugly gym suits – I swear, they looked like prison jumpsuits, but with short legs and no sleeves. At my school they were blue and snapped up the front.
I had no bumps on my chest – or any monthlies either. In fact, I was a complete heathen, a total tomboy, a dirty girl who was completely ignorant of personal hygiene, thanks to my neglectful parents. Since my house after school wasn’t safe, if I wasn’t hiding in my room with a book, I ran around wild, climbed trees, slid down hills, rode my bike everywhere, stomped in creeks and hiked up mountains – I got VERY dirty. And I had no idea it was proper to bathe once a day or even brush my teeth. Heck, I thought it was normal to take a bath once a week – whether I needed it or not.
That bathing once a week was not normal was brought home to me in a humiliating incident I still remember vividly – more than 35 years later.
It was P.E. class, and we were out on the football field. I was sitting by myself on the cement bleachers (I had no friends), when a group of girls came over and arranged themselves on the bleachers around me. I was in awe, because this group of girls consisted of some of the most popular girls in the school – who would later go on to be the cheerleaders and prom queens at my small town high school – but for now, they came over and they actually sat by me. They sat by …me. They even talked to me – like I was maybe – or could possibly be – a normal girl, and maybe…just maybe, they might want to be friends with me….I was so happy. It was terribly lonely being the school geek, and if this was what having friends felt like, it was heavenly.
We sat and talked, and I was the center of all this unexpected – and amazingly, welcome – attention. It lasted for about 10 or 15 minutes, until one of the girls, with a giggle that I didn’t understand at the time, asked me how often I took a bath. I had been sucked right in by their seeming acceptance and “friendship,” so I answered innocently and truthfully, “once a week.” You see, I honestly thought that was normal and that everyone lived like I did: in a weird little tarpaper shack with goats in the back yard and baths once a week.
I was completely and utterly humiliated when all those girls suddenly screamed with laughter and ran away – leaving me sitting there, all alone, on those cement bleachers with tears streaming down my face. Amazing how vivid that memory still is – after 35 years.
And those side effects that I mentioned? I never had any nice things when I was a kid. And since I never had any money, I also shoplifted – until I got caught. I still live with the shame of that as well.
But today? I like to buy things. Nice clothes. Jewelry. Other things. Things that, after watching “Hoarders” on TV all of a sudden seemed to be closing in on me. My closet suddenly seems to bulge with all my clothes and my shoes. My linen closet was stuffed full. Stuffed full …of what? I realized that I didn’t even know what I had in there, and it started freaking me out.
So this weekend, I got rid of a large bag of clothes, two large bags of shoes, and three large bags of miscellaneous other stuff – including an ugly Snuggie that I realized that I never wanted to see again. I organized that bulging closet – and now? I have room in there to put my linens and towels in nice tidy stacks with room left over.
I’m going to admire that empty shelf space, and I’m going to leave it empty – as a reminder that I don’t need stuff to fill my heart. I need friends and love – and those things can’t be bought on Ebay.