We’re still stuck in the Dark Year. Hang in there.
Apparently there are concerns about my behavior at school. I’m odd and spastic with people, exhibiting rapid mood swings. I blurt out things without thinking. I’m edgy and I can’t sit still. I’m fidgety and I’m always playing with random objects. I’m constantly tilting in my chair, messing with stuff in my desk, and making sounds with my mouth. My strangeness really displeases the other kids, and their distaste for me intensifies. While adults aren’t generally aware of it, I also have terrifying recurring nightmares.
It is observed by many that I am not a happy kid.
At school I’m sent to some sort of counselor. He’s nice and he means well, but his counsel consists mostly of asking me why I do the odd things that I do, which doesn’t work because I don’t know. He asks me why I don’t do my work, which doesn’t lead us anywhere useful. I don’t have the nerve or the eloquence to tell him the truth: I hate this place, I resent the other kids, the work is stupid and I don’t think any of this matters. I’m just running out the clock until I graduate and can go do something with computers, and everything between now and then is simply a trial to be endured. So I stick with the old standby of shrugging. He’ a nice guy and very patient with me, and I wish I could help him. But the problems we have here are large and neither of us has the agency to fix them.
Outside of school, Mom takes me to Irene Stacey Community Mental Health Center, where I have a twice-monthly visit with a psychologist.
Perhaps they did notice this detail, but they never discussed it with me. A shame, really. It would have been really useful for me to know. The thing about being on drugs is that your own behavior can seem normal to you. Your only clue that you’re acting like a freak is the reactions you get from others. I’m only aware of my odd behavior because people routinely mentioned it.
My psychologist is a woman. She has me talk for the whole session. It’s nice to have an adult listen to me, although I get a creepy vibe from her. I don’t understand why. She listens to me, but she’s nothing like Mom, or my uncle, or Grandma, or any of the other adults I trust. I do not think of her as a friend. Also, I don’t understand what we’re here for. I talk to her, she talks to Mom, but nothing changes. What’s the point of all of this, exactly?
One day the psychologist plays a sort of board game with me. I pick a card, answer the question, and then move. The questions are always along the lines of, “How do you feel about…” I’m just 10 years old, but I’m smart enough to see she’s not playing this game with me because she can’t find the Monopoly board. She’s doing this because she wants me to answer these questions. So why doesn’t she just ask them? We’ve got 45 minutes to kill, here. Finally I draw a card:
“What do you think of a boy who plays with his pennies when he is alone?”
Hmm. This is a really goofy question. “I guess he’s rich, if he has a lot of pennies,” I say with a shrug.
“Is that what it says?” she asks calmly.
I stare at the card. Not pennies. Penis.
I have decided I don’t like this woman and I want nothing to do with her. I haven’t hit puberty yet. I have no idea what this question could possibly mean, why anyone would do this, why anyone else would ask about it, or why they feel the need to drag me into it. I shrug. My face is burning red. Am I angry? Embarrassed? I don’t even know. I have nothing more to say to her. I hate her. In a world of terrifying, apathetic, callous, brutish adults, it turns out that the most unsettling one is my therapist. Worse, I can’t explain to Mom why I don’t want to come back, because I can’t imagine explaining this “game” to my mother. I never want to speak of this again.
Periodically they bring Mom and I into a different room for some general filling-out-forms ceremony. They ask about family history, medical history, home life, and so on.
“Any history of alcoholism in the family?” the interviewer asks casually.
Mom glances sideways at me, then answers, “Yes.”
The guy nods, “Who?”
Mom is visibly irritated with him. She pauses for a moment, trying to make some decision. Finally she answers, “His father.”
“What? Mom?” I say, confused. “Not Dad.” I don’t even know what an alcoholic is, but it sounds serious. Surely I would have heard about it before now?
The nightmares have been an ongoing problem. I’ve had the same nightmare for years. Actually, I’ve been having it for as long as I can remember. They were almost weekly at one point, but as I’ve gotten older they’ve gotten further apart. Sometimes I go for more than half a year without having one.
The dream begins with Mom, Pat and I getting ready to go somewhere. I climb into our white Volkswagen to wait for them while they are busy in the house. I get into the driver’s seat. I know this is reckless and dangerous and not allowed, but I do it anyway because that’s how things work in dreams. I begin moving the shifter, turning the wheel. Again, I know this is dangerous, but I can’t stop myself.
Suddenly the car begins moving. We live on a steep hill, and the car quickly speeds up as it rolls along. The car reaches the bottom of the hill, goes up the next hill, and the dream ends with me waking in tears and panic.
It’s short in the recounting, but when I wake I feel like I’ve been through an ordeal. It varies in the details. Sometimes there’s extra bits added to the beginning. Sometimes the car crashes into a wall at the end, sometimes it just sails off into sudden darkness. The details and circumstances change, but the core remains: I get into the car, mess with it, and it rolls away with me and carries me off to some horrible ruin.
I’ve been having the dream for a lot of years now. There must be a reason. Why this? Why the car? Why am I so terrified? What’s causing this?
I think about the dream now and again, pondering it as I get older. Suddenly I make a connection: I used to have a thing about people and cars. I can barely remember it now, but there was a time when I associated each adult with the car they drove. In fact, I still automatically think of Dad when I see pictures of the Volkswagen. This whole dream is probably me being upset about him leaving, even though I was too young to remember it now. This is some sort of affliction that goes back into the years I can no longer recall.
Once I sort this out, I never have the dream again.
These various mysteries, stresses, and unknowns combined in my mind and were expressed through a big scary dream.
So, keeping score: The psychologist outfit humiliated me by asking me to make judgments about what other boys might do with their privates. Then they outed my father as an alcoholic, when my Mom would have preferred I not know that. Then I unraveled one of the big psychological mysteries in my life on my own.
Nice work, professionals.
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