My earliest memory of school is me sitting down in the center of the courtyard of my school in Tobago when a class mate asked me to come with him and friends, I declined the invitation and continued to sit cross legged on the pitch peering across the expanse of the grounds, by myself. Soon enough I was a few years older, we lived in Trinidad again and I was and would be for the next fourteen years the tallest person in my class.
From the onset I was an oddity (by the standards of fickle 6 year olds)and easily excluded from anything possible because I was “too tall”, it didn’t help that I was shy and soft spoken so the position of class clown/entertainer would not suit. Surely I eventually got a pretty regular group of friends and achieved mediocre status in the social strata. I wasn’t ridiculed or made fun of daily and ostracized like some were and I wasn’t in the most popular groups either. I had people to eat lunch with, play games with and tell all of our primary school lies/imaginations with. We were all friends on and off, at different times, from kindergarten to the year that I transferred schools. Friends were essential but they only reinforced what non friends said in a more pleasant way. I think I should add here that schools in the Caribbean are very different socially from those in the US in too many ways for me to list.
Back to being “too tall”, my group of best friends included two of the shortest girls in the year. So even more than if it were with any one else I was often “too tall”. I wasn’t ever bullied until the year before I transferred from that school but when, from the age of four years old, a certain aspect of your physique is mentioned every single day you become extremely self consciousness without knowing what that even is but soon enough having to walk across the courtyard alone on mornings is enough to make to make your heart race. Then there’s that you are too tall for the desks, or you’re blocking someone so you have to sit at the back or side of the class. I was always at the back end of the line and the next three or four people ahead of me were almost always boys- all of whom I towered over as well. Although in my family I was the only girl for well over 1,000 miles, interacting with these boys, besides during lunchtime games when they needed to make up numbers for teams, was very much different from interacting with my boatload of male cousins, these interactions often ended in embarrassment.
The school’s principal was a nun who I looked down to by the time I was seven or eight and the institution was as preppy as a private, grade school could be. It was easily one of the best schools around academically and it was a breeding ground for snobbish preteens who would get a bit of a social shock once they entered secondary school -unless of course you went across the street to St. Joseph’s Convent afterwards. I was terrible at Math but pretty good at everything else, including judging myself.
I felt constantly excluded even if no one had told me that I couldn’t play I would come to the conclusion that I was too tall or too heavy and would instead watch my friends play whatever it was. Resultantly, I had loads of time judge my body, endless really.
Over the years the positions ahead of me in various lines changed but my didn’t, still the tallest, still at the back. Another thing about being tall was that I was almost always in a weight different from that of my friends at first I was kind of fat, (barely) but by the last three years of primary school I had lost all of that unwanted fat and was actually quite slim, sometimes skinny but I was still heavier than my friends and that was just one more thing to keep me excluded at times from their reindeer games. Soon enough I was “too skinny” and this time my parents agreed with my friends and sought to do something about it.
*Disclaimer: not in accordance with popular belief in my family, I was never ‘sick’ or did that purposely, that’s just what happens when you swim three days a week, and do ballet three days a week each two hours long and with hard coaches/teachers while going through puberty with an increased metabolism.
Too bad for me I was still “too tall” and now “too skinny”. YET! By this time I was chronically judging and monitoring my every move so by just a glance in my direction you could tell that I was unbelievably self conscious.
At my new school I no longer had a group of best friends but instead just two other girls who were both tall, slim and mixed unlike my last circle where almost each of us was a different race. Reflecting now, it is very interesting that the three of us ended up together. The other two girls were just about epitomes of confidence in direct contrast to me. While I enjoyed this relationship it would soon dissolve as I learned what my parent’s ideas of an appropriate social life for a preteen and teenager resembled.
As my mom always said: “You’re going to school for an education, not to make friends!” I also wasn’t allowed to go over to people’s house to spend the night, or to spend any amount of time actually if my parents or a guardian wasn’t there. On top of that I also couldn’t go to the movie theatre with a group of friends unless a parent accompanied, meanwhile my friends parents were allowing them this bit of freedom by not accompanying them. If you add those two up it equals me not getting to do many things with the people I spent Monday to Friday with at school. Ten years after meeting the group of girls that I went to secondary school with and I can see that if I ever have a child they would go out with these friends on weekends and afternoons because ten years later there is a great chance that those would be the same people they socialize with and call their friends.
Secondary school presented sailing friends who I only saw at sailing on weekends and a best friend who was a girl in school who also sailed. My best friend circles grew smaller every time apparently so it was only her.
For the following seven years I found myself with a lot of alone time- almost often because that’s what I wanted but also because it’s hard to analyze what you think of yourself, be yourself and analyze what a group of twenty girls thinks about you all at the same time. It was much easier to sit in the library and read or chill somewhere out in the school yard. Many days I limed upstairs with my classmate but there were the days I also sat alone just like in my first memory.
The funny thing is that I’m exactly like that today at university- I still go sit in the grass by myself, or under a tree by myself. When I went to university in Barbados, I made a point to watch sunset every afternoon, again almost always by myself. I have friends but I also have myself and I’ve found myself to be a great companion over the years, possibly too great which resulted in me not developing other relationships that I should have.
Sometimes I wonder how all of the things that I’ve figured out will affect my life, will I make the same mistakes that I’ve seen people make regardless? I possibly won’t. I’ve learned a LOT about myself and the world through silent observation and over time I broke down the walls of my self consciousness so that only fragments remain here and there like the Berlin Wall. However, there is an everlasting effect because that wall once stood. Besides taking purposefully ugly pictures of myself <- I won’t ever do that, I really don’t give a flying hoot about other’s thoughts and opinions of me for the most part. The suckiest part of all of this is that, I don’t end up very tall, the one thing that high jacks my chance of being remotely normal doesn’t even come through. I’m not even 6ft. The irony.
So besides when I hung out with myself I was constantly self monitoring, after a few years I learned to adapt to different social situations and along with it I allowed myself to be myself to an extent in most situations. At some point, I stopped self monitoring to that extent and for those reasons, until, I just realised on Friday that I’m once again doing this.
Couple these factors with insomnia for a year and some at 13 and depression from 11, being socialized mainly amongst adults and a really wild, free, creative minds and you end up with, well, me. Interesting or weird or both.
I’m not sure that I’d sacrifice what I’ve learned about the world for improved human relationships, at the same time I might as well because as much as I know about the world I’m still going to make a plethora of mistakes and I’d never figure it all out.