Recently, I acquired a lot of paperwork from my earlier years in school, elementary mostly, and came across some things that really surprised me. Here’s some slightly edited quotes from one particular packet, called the “Psycho Educational Assessment Report”.
Maggie was referred to the Student Study Team at [redacted] by her first grade teacher because of concern about her behavior. She tended to need constant one to one attention from the teacher and she was referred to the Resource Room for assistance as well. Maggie is noted to be very bright, creative and enthusiastic. Her verbal and reading skills are well advanced for her age and she can create long stories while playing with toys and recite full poems. She is loving and appreciative, but can also be stubborn. When in kindergarten, her teacher there gave her lots of individual help and love, but when she entered [redacted], she had severe emotional, social and behavioral problems and said “I want to die”. She would run away from the teacher and sit under her desk. Her parents got a divorce when she was three or four and she does not see her father.
This was all well and fine, except, ya know, the whole “I want to die” statement by first grade, but let’s just ignore that and test the kid, right? It’s the american way, dammit. As I read through some of the stuff I found, I was actually delighted by some of what, especially my high school teachers, had said about me. It lifted my spirits to know some of them personally enjoyed engaging with me in one on one conversations about serious or misc topics, and didn’t ever find me to be a problem. Goes to show what your parents tell you and what is actually the truth, I guess. However, let’s just stick to this packet, because there’s another section I want to quote here:
The Childrens Perception Test is a test in which the child tells stories about single pictures presented to them that have animals depicted on them in varying situations. When stories to this last test are subjectively interpreted, they yield information about underlying or subconscious concerns and motivations for surface behaviors. The house-tree-person drawing is also interpreted in light of the various aspects emphasized and yields information about underlying emotional issues.
Maggie tended to want to tell her own stories, but instead told stories from books/videos she had seen. She insisted on telling those and would give only very little on the cards presented to her. On the ones she did give, she tended to have themes of escape, getting stuck forever in goo. Maggie does not tend to want to reveal much of herself and seems to be strong defenses for a girl her age. Her drawing of a house, tree and a person are all very simply. The person is the biggest, but has no arms or hands. The house has a door and one window and a steep roof. The tree has a trunk and curly crown for the leaves. Her responses to questions about the house, tree ad person are very interesting. She indicates the person is a kid who is not healthy, that something is upsetting her. She said she had a dog and it ran away and came back and the kid started to be healthy again. She indicated the kid was more upset about the dog than the parents since she “didn’t like how the parents were treating her, pushing her and giving her nothing.” Sometimes fed her but gave her no attention and eventually left her and went to Paris to live. She says the parents do not care about the girl. She indicated the parents were nuts but the girl as not. The girl and the tree were indicated to be very strong, so much so that if a strong wind came along, it would blow down the house, but not the girl or the tree. When asked who was the girls best friend, she said “the house”. A subjective interpretation of all of the above indicates Maggie is still preoccupied with where she falls in relationships within the family and is concerned with getting enough attention. There is some anger regarding parents and desire to get what she wants. Maggie seems to expect the worst at times and seems to feel a lack of control over her environment (lack of arms or hands) and wishes for more interaction with those in her environment. But at times she feels “stuck”, perhaps in a pattern of behavior that doesn’t allow others to get close to her.
Results from the above indicates Maggie is feeling generally good about herself in the school environment at the present time but feels something lacking at home and in social situations. Overall she has low self esteem particular to having friends and feels her parents expect too much of her. In regards to friends, she indicates she is not popular with kids her own age, kids don’t follow her ideas, she often feels upset in school, feels others are better liked than her, would rather play with children younger than her and feels picked on by other children. Maggie has a low opinion of herself.
Keep in mind, this is all written up and tested by the time I was in FIRST GRADE, okay? I really think that puts everything into perspective. By the time I was 6, I already felt hated by everyone, felt trapped, stuck and hated myself and didn’t know what to do. That isn’t right. And what do my parents do? Do they talk to me? No. They have a school test me, as if that’s the only accurate way to understand a child. But wait, there’s a final section here I’d like to share, if you’ll so indulge me:
Maggie is currently a six year old first grader who has had a difficult time adjusting to the expectations of a first grade classroom. Test results indicate she is quite bright but has difficulty following directions from others. She likes to do what she wants to do and can resist instructions. She is also very likeable and fun to talk to. Her verbal skills are excellent and far above where her academic skills are. She tens to be a perfectionist at times and doesn’t want to do something unless she knows it will be just right. The Conners Questionnaire indicates a strong likelihood of her having an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or being on the Autism Spectrum, and this should be investigated with her pediatrician.
Social and emotional testing indicates Maggie has somewhat of a low self esteem and feels some conflict at home and in social situations. She now sees school as a positive place but that has taken some work by many staff members as well as Maggie herself in the last few months. She needs lots of encouragement and positive reinforcement to stick with things that are challenging. Counseling is recommended to help Maggie work with her expectations of herself, learn how to handle mistakes better, how to handle her frustrations, how to get attention from teachers in appropriate ways and find ways to increase her self esteem. These things are most likely impacting her in the school setting and in social settings. Her rebellion and immature behavior makes other students her age not want to be her friend. She very much wants friends and seems to deal best with adults in her world. Maggie likes to present herself as very sure of herself and yet is really very protective, feeling vulnerable and not wanting to show it. Instead, she begins to go off on a tangent about another story to distract people and uses her verbal and dramatic skills to get attention and applause where she seems to need.
I am presenting this to you because I think it drives home a strong, vindicating point. That you need to TALK to your children. My parents didn’t care. They didn’t push for these tests. These happened because the school felt it was necessary, and not because they cared about me, but because I was seemingly “disruptive”, despite so many contradicting statements within the findings themselves. They will say I deal with adults better than children my own age, say my verbal and some academic skills are way ahead and then two sentences later say I’m “rebellious and immature”. These places don’t know what to do with children because they don’t talk to children. They just slap some labels on them and go about their day, hoping everyone is pleased as punch with their “findings” and “tests”.
Second, despite it giving me two possible diagnosis to be checked into, my parents refused to ever look into EITHER of them. So, ya know, there’s that. The thing that strikes me as funny about this is how much praise they can laud on a child they also see as a problem. “Yes, they’re very bright and articulate, they do very well and we like them very much, yet they are an enormous problem”. You can’t contradict yourself like that, especially when it comes to a child, especially a child that isn’t even fucking yours and you only see, what, 5 times a week? That you don’t live with? That you know virtually nothing about? Growing up, I was told the opposite of these papers. See, my parents, they told me teachers and kids found me to be a problem. They never praised me. Teachers praised me, my skills, my reading skills, my academic skills (outside of the math area) and yet all the while I believed that I was a problem, that I wasn’t good enough because my parents told me I was. They left out all the positive shit because they thought that by telling me I wasn’t being right, I would try harder to be better. They never even anticipated the idea that that might NOT WORK.
I was much less a child and much more a social experiment, it seems. In the last few years, my mother has still tried to control me even from states away. My stepfather recently unfriended me on facebook and hadn’t spoken to me since he and my mother divorced back in 2008, and yet my father, my real father, who has barely been involved in my life, sent me an email in July. My father, who was for many years a heavy alcoholic, a drug user, was in an out of prison, who told me he’d come see me when I was a little girl and then left me sitting on the curb on weekends because he never showed up or bothered to call…
…my father sent me an email, and in it he stated, “I am sorry your childhood wasn’t better. I love you very much.” See, my father has worked hard at fixing himself. My father has stopped drinking, hasn’t used drugs in god knows how long, hasn’t been to prison in ages. My father has bettered himself. My father APOLOGIZED. The only time any other adult has apologized to me is when it works in their favor, a bargaining chip, something to be held up and used later so they can get me to do what they want. My father has nothing. That’s what makes it sincere. He just wants to be in my life. He said he was sorry. It isn’t that hard to be a parent. You just have to be a good human being at first. Tests can only tell you so much, but talking to your child, taking a real concern and interest in them? That can take you so much further than any fucking test ever could. These tests are bullshit.
I’m still bright. I’m still articulate. I’m still far ahead and don’t get along with people my age. I’m just broken because of it. I have low self esteem? No. Everyone else has a low esteem about me. They want to label me, but I know what and who I am.
I am Maggie Fucking Taylor. I am a shining, explosive, brilliant, uncatergorizable mess.
And no goddamned test can tell me otherwise.
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When I was growing up, my parents put me in therapy a multitude of times. The first was after my mother left my father, and she thought I might need to see somebody about it, as if 5 year old me had any fucking idea how to process the concept of a separation or divorce or how to talk about any feelings I might’ve (but didn’t at the time cause I was fucking 5 years old) had on the subject. Then, throughout middle school and some early high school, my stepfather convinced my mother I needed to go to therapy. In fact, I’m relatively sure it’s safe to say that the most common heard phrase I’ve had said to me by my parents, and other people, is:
“You should see somebody/talk to a therapist”
Because what’s the best thing to tell someone who’s already well aware of their issues? That they have issues. Bitch, I know I’m ruined, thank you very much for the critical update. The time I was in therapy throughout my adolescence (the middle school/high school time) was terrible and spanned about 4 different therapists, all of whom did nothing to help me or care about whatever I had to say in the slightest, and, all of whom were reporting everything I might’ve told them right back to my parents, so I was smart enough not to say much of a damn thing to begin with. What forcing a child to go to therapy does to them is obliterate their trust.
“Oh, we don’t know how to handle this, so we just fucking won’t, and we’ll pay someone else to deal with our childs issues.”
I recognize these people are technically ‘specialists’, that they go to school for years to get their degrees and all that, but so many kids put in therapy don’t need to talk to a total fucking stranger. They need to talk to their fucking parents. If they think they can’t even talk to their parents, all that does is say you can’t talk to anyone, and so they’ll never open up, or at least not easily, thus making friendships and relationships harder to form. People put so much emphasis on family, how family will be there for you no matter what, but rarely back it up when it comes time to. So, instead of talking to these ‘specialists’, I vented to the girls that I liked, and took their genuine heartfelt concern as romantic interest because I was a stupid teenage lesbian who didn’t know any better.
All that did, in turn, was make me bitter when they stated their obvious and understandable disinterest in me, and though I never became hateful towards women because of rejection, it didn’t help me feel any better when I was already at my lowest. And then, when a girl DID show genuine romantic interest in me, I was cautious to believe it and was always skeptical, even if she was 100% sincere. And to think, all of this could’ve been avoided if my parents had just. fucking. talked to me.
So, perhaps, just perhaps, the people who don’t know me, aren’t me and aren’t therapists need to stop telling me and others that they need to seek therapy. Trust me when I tell you that a lot of us know we’re damaged, that the last thing we need is it being said is so few words repeatedly to our faces, and that we are perfectly capable of working things out, if we choose to do so. I’m not saying therapy can’t be helpful and does nothing. There’s people it works for, and it can be of great help to people, but not everyone is the same, and that’s where it starts. Painting everyone with a mental illness as the same is the start of the problem. Not all depressed people are the same. Symptoms give the idea that we all experience the same thing, but we all experience it differently.
Stop telling us to talk to people and talk TO us.
Today’s “Close To Monsters” is brought to you by the fact that animals are better than family.
Every year I go to my father’s for his birthday.
I don’t take him out for a meal, or to see a film or anything like that. We talk for a while, I give him his gift, and then we do what we’ve done every year for the last 7 years…we open up his time capsule. Inside, there are 5 items, each as important as the last. We take them out one by one, examining and discussing them. The first is a beautiful, golden ring. He puts it in the time capsule, because he wants to make sure it never gets lost, and he wants to give it to me when I get married. He says it’s a perfect fit, and I know it’s true, because I’ve tried it on. On the inner curve of the ring, there’s an inscription that reads, “Your smile is my oxygen.”
Next would have to be the camera. It’s a small, black camera that he took all of my childhood photos on, and that he took every photo in general on for as long as I can remember. He and my mother bought it at a thrift store before they got married, and he’d used it ever since. He even took every photo from their honeymoon on it. He tells me that I should do the same, ‘keep it in the family’, so to speak.
After that would be the corsage. It’s a beautiful shade of pink, and it fits perfectly on my wrist. It was my mothers as well, and she was the one who put it into the time capsule. He got it for her on their prom night, and she still cherishes it he says.
After the corsage comes the key. It’s the key to the first place my parents owned. It was their dream house. He says my mom wishes they still lived there, but I know better, that she’s happy where she is now. She’s happy where they are. But, that aside, it’s still an important piece of their history, and therefore, it’s made its way into the time capsule.
Finally, the last item in the box is a baby photo of me. It was taken by that same camera, in the hospital, mere moments after I was born. In the photo, my mother is holding me, beaming so happily, and my father says it’s her favorite photo of all time. After we’re through, we repack the time capsule, put it back onto the top shelf of his closet and go to dinner. We do this every single year.
We do this every single year, and we will continue to do so. We do it for mom. She’s been gone a while now, but they made that time capsule together on her deathbed in the hospital, where they spent her last days together. She told him that this way, they’d never be apart. This way, none of us would be apart. My father won’t admit it, but he misses her more than he lets on, though he tries to stay strong. But, if you look at just the right angle into his eyes, you can see her, still caught in his gaze, looking just as beautiful as the day they met.
We miss you, mom.
Sandy Price was laying in the bed, hands folded on her chest, breathing slowly, eyes glued to the stucco ceiling overhead. She could remember it clearly. She could remember everything clearly. She rolled over and looked at Derek, asleep, and grimaced. She got out of bed and walked softly to the kitchen, where she took a glass out from the cupboard, walked to the sink, looked at it for a moment and then instead reached under the sink for the gin. She poured herself a glass and walked to the large window at the end of the living room of their studio apartment, glancing out at the city. Sandy had always liked the city at night. She’d always liked night, in general, but especially the city. How it lit up, looked so vibrant and welcoming and warm. She now knew it wasn’t, but as a little girl, it comforted her to think that there was this place that was so safe and cozy.
She sipped her gin and heard a groan behind her. She turned to see Derek standing in the door frame between the living room and the bedroom. She sighed as he rubbed his eyes and approached her.
“Are you ok? Why’re you up?” he asked, and she shrugged.
“Why not,” she replied, “What’s the point of sleeping. Doesn’t make me feel any better. All my dreams are terrible. Might as well be awake at a time when I actually enjoy looking at the shithole we live in,” she said, motioning her hand with the drink in it towards the cityscape.
“Is this about Rufus?” Derek asked, hushed, like he was afraid of what would come next. As if saying this name would spawn forth from the depths of hell a million demons hellbent on the destruction of the earth, and often when regarding Sandy’s anger, that wasn’t a far off analogy. Sandy slowly turned back to the window and swirled the gin in her glass.
“Rufus has nothing to do with any of this,” she said coldly, “Besides, how could he be involved in anything when he’s a thousand miles away…when did I get so cold? When did we get so cold, and not just you and but the proverbial ‘we’. Nobody asks how another persons day was anymore, and nobody seems to provide simple acts of human kindness like holding doors open for old people. This isn’t a rant about the death of humanity, god knows that’s been overdone to death by bleeding heart liberals writing for websites with cutesy names like ‘Boodles’ or something. I’m a liberal too, but I’m not the kind who thinks simple technological advances like smart phones are going to cause the death of conversation.”
Derek sat down on the arm of a chair and rubbed his shoulder, sighing.
“What is this about then? Just how distant you feel about everything?” he asked, and she rolled her eyes and snorted.
“Yeah, distant, let’s go with that. Everyone wants personal space in a city that thrives on community. There’s nothing wrong with privacy, everyone is entitled to it, it’s their right to want to have their own time and their own space, but engagement, even on a level as simple as saying ‘nice day, isn’t it?’ is so crucial to simply keeping the lines of communication between our own fucking species going. We cannot allow ourselves to become this cut off from another. Those girls I teach…”
Sandy sat down on the window sill and looked at her nails, exhaling loudly.
“…they don’t judge one another,” she continued, “They help one another figure out their moves if they’re having trouble, and they rally around one another as a team to support eachother and the team as a whole. People say evil is taught. That’s debatable. But what I can tell you is actually taught is cynicism. Bitterness. Coldness. It happens when you’ve been hurt one too many times, when you want to withdraw because you feel you can no longer trust anyone; including yourself, because you keep making the poor decision to open up to just one more person, always knowing the end result is the same.”
“Sandy,” Derek said, “…did I hurt you? I know we’ve had our problems, but we’ve always worked it out one way or another. I know Rufus hurt you. I’m sorry. But how can you stand there and honestly claim that the end result is the same when you live with someone who cares about you tremendously and only has your best interests at heart?”
“…you’ll leave too,” Sandy said softly, letting her hair cover her face so she could hide, “You will. Someone can only put up with negativity for so long before ‘love’ turns to ‘tolerate’. I try so hard to be who you think I am, who you would love for me to be, but it’s not me. I’m an angry, upset young lady. Is that really who you love? Or do you just love the idea you have of me?”
Derek stood up and walked over to the window sill, sitting in it with her, looking out the window at the city lights.
“Remember a few years ago when we went with my folks to that ski resort? We spent a lot of the time inside, just sitting by that giant fire pit, sipping cocoa and reading and just…enjoying something for once without worrying about the financial ramifications? You looked really pretty with that fire light flickering on your eyes, curled up in that chair, just sucked into your literature.”
“What’s with the nostalgia kick?” Sandy asked, swirling her index fingertip inside her empty glass, “You think this is how we fix our problems?”
“I’m just trying to get you to remember something nice, that’s all. If we could go on vacations like that as often as our parents could at our age, I would love it. You want to dance, you want to teach girls to dance, but then you go to work and you seem so miserable and you only seem happy when you’re alone. When you have no responsibilities.”
“So you’re saying my argument is hypocritical?” Sandy asked, sniffling.
“Well, who isn’t hypocritical?” Derek asked, grinning, “But no, what I’m saying is that a lot of people can’t do both. You can. You do. A lot of people are so…dead inside or something that they just shut off their humanity and do what they must to survive, even if it means only caring about themselves or their family and nobody else. But you can do both, and, hell that’s admirable. You’re mad because you don’t know why everyone else can’t do what you do. That’s what I’m saying. You want to grab them and shake them and scream ‘Why is this so goddamn difficult for you?!’ but that’s the thing, it just is goddamn difficult for them. I agree with you, it’s sad, but…it’s for them to deal with. You keep doing the good that you’re doing, and you’ll feel better I think.”
Sandy pushed her hair out of her face and smiled slightly at Derek, her eyes remarkably pale blue, her skin so pale in the moonlight. She looked out the window again and shook her head.
“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I want to just climb out this window and throw myself to the sidewalk. Just let it all end,” Sandy said, “But then I realize that suicide, at least for me, only seems like a viable option because I am surviving. The others who generally seem to kill themselves really do feel like it’s their only option, or it is their only option, as they’re perpetually unemployed or sick or homeless or something. But I have a place, here, and I have you and I have a job and I…I’m surviving. That’s why it’s an option, and not a necessity.”
“I’m glad you see it that way, because-“
“I miss my mom,” Sandy said, choking up, tears starting to roll down her cheeks, “I called her to talk about my first recital with the girls you saw and…and she wasn’t even in the least bit interested. She called it a ‘hobby’ the entire time. I want to please her so bad and yet I hate her so much. You have your family. Do you know what it’s like to not have family? To be that alone? I have your parents, and you, and the girls at the dance hall but…to not have family. A place you came from, a home…it’s exhausting trying to figure out where you’re supposed to be or even if you’re supposed to be. To not have a place of origin, a backstory, a prologue…is your story even worth reading?”
“You’re worth reading,” Derek said, “You’re the one who pays the majority of the rent on this place, that car is yours, you’re the one with meaningful employment. You’re worth reading. Each chapter it gets better and better, and we can make sure there’s a happy ending.”
“I don’t want to be distant.”
“I don’t want you to be.”
Some dogs barked in the distance, and a few cars drove by underneath them.
“Hey,” Sandy said.
“Yeah?” Derek replied.
“Promise me that if I do ever kill myself, you’ll write my sequel.”
She calls her mother every Thursday at around 8 pm.
She’ll pour herself a glass of wine, and sit there in her kitchen, on the phone with the woman who caused her so much pain, so much self hate growing up, and try and make things right. She’ll try and be the bigger person. She talks sometimes for over an hour, relaying to her mother all the things she did to her that hurt her, that fucked up her up, and how she’s trying her hardest to move past all that now. How it was her therapists idea to not call, but she couldn’t resist, she had to do this. How this is beneficial to her well being, to her moving on with her life.
She probably shouldn’t drink while she does it, she knows this, but it sometimes helps her get the words out, especially since the words are quite harsh, and yet in the end she is asking for forgiveness. She wants to forgive her mother, and forgive herself for not talking to her about how she treated her for so many years. For not confronting her sooner for how horrid she made her childhood. Always criticizing her weight, always criticizing her looks in general, her taste in fashion and music and anything at all. How she’s made her daughter grow up to question anything and everything. Her interests, her hobbies, herself, even her relationships with other people. This goes on for months.
Doesn’t even matter that she’s just leaving messages on an answering machine.
Until that day comes when finally, someone picks up the phone on the other end and asks her, very politely to please stop leaving these messages. That it’s scaring their children. That they know she is doing this to ease her grief but this isn’t her mothers number anymore, and they’re sorry for both her loss and what her mother had done to her to make her feel the need to do this. She understands. She knows her mother is gone. She knows she’s been leaving these messages on a machine tied to a number no longer associated with her past. She promises not to do it anymore.
She eventually calls back a few months later.
The line is disconnected.
Grief, forgiveness, these are hard things to deal with together. When you hate someone for hurting you as much as they did in the way that they did, and yet you want to forgive them because you don’t want to carry that hate around inside of you. So many people these days say you don’t owe these abusers anything, and while that is true, and it might work for some people, it doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes letting go isn’t just cutting a cord. Sometimes letting go means letting go of how bad they made you feel too, and knowing that they themselves often only hurt you because someone hurt them. Cause and effect. She doesn’t want to hold onto anger anymore. She wants to move on, but it’s tough. And it’s tougher when the abuser has died.
She left a bunch of messy, rambling messages, but she does sleep a little better these nights.