My first-ever memory is a feeling of discomfort. Someone was feeding me with a spoon, and I did not have the time to swallow the first spoonful before the next one was shoved up my mouth. But most of my earliest memories are those of preschool. I mostly remember the playground and the canteen, both my personal definition of hell. Adults around me were always yelling or angry. Somehow, I never seem to get it right with them…
The lunch helper for the nursery was an old lady with little patience and I was a VERY slow eater. To make me eat faster she thought that mixing the entire lunch on my plate, mash, meat, and yoghurt altogether, while yelling at me, would help me eat faster. It did not. I was not the only one she did this to as I clearly remember a boy, on the table opposite mine, who had his plate mixed up. He vomited on his plate, and I swear I saw her make him eat it back. So, if I vomited, I always made sure I did it on the floor and preferably on her shoes. She hated me for sure, but she stopped mixing my food after a while.
I was well in my third year of primary when she retired. The teachers made us gather in the canteen where she was given flowers, and everyone applauded. I was glad to see her go, but really, she did not deserve the flowers.
The hell of the playground
The playground was particularly difficult for me. Somehow, I was always in the way of someone running or yelling, it was hectic, it was hell, and it terrified me.
Kindergarten and primary playgrounds were separated by a low wall. In fact, I use to hang by that wall at every recess. It gave me great joy to observe those big kids from primary, play and interact with each other, while I was being protected by the wall.
One of these days, a girl from primary came to speak to me, I told her I was going to be in the big school the next year and she asked me if I wanted to be her friend, to which, I innocently responded yes.
I was sent to primary well before my 6th birthday and little did, I know what hell was about to unfold.
In my first year in primary, I felt alien, I was weird and unusual, all the other kids in my class were taller than me, they were already 6 and I had another 2 months to go before I could catch up with them. They were all a lot more advanced than I was, they could differentiate their right from their left, and they could follow instructions easily which I found particularly hard at that time. I felt the teacher was somehow angry at me all the time. The kids in my class were very aggressive towards me probably because of the way the teacher treated me. I passed the days, daydreaming, lost inside my mind, waiting to go home.
My new friend, “the girl of the little wall” came to claim my promised friendship quite rapidly, but her terms were rather unexpected. According to her, by accepting to be her friend, I had contracted myself to a complete surrender of my time at recess. It consisted in her slapping me in the face and forcing me to run until my legs gave in. She probably was 8 or 9, I was not even 6 yet, and she would run around the playground while pulling me and slapping me if I wasn’t fast enough. She would give me math problems and slap me if I answered them wrong, which I pretty much did all the time as it was way above my level.
Teachers were watching us but never came to my rescue. I felt that somehow, I must have been deserving of this treatment. I was broken, and abnormal, there was something wrong with me. “They” became my tormentors, my hell, my daily life.
Ultimately, she decided that Thursdays would be my “day off”. One day a week, I was free to do whatever I wanted during recess. However, the playground was quite a daunting place for me. All these kids running frantically in absolute madness, yelling, and screaming, running one way, and changing direction unexpectedly really frightened me.
My way of dealing with this was to walk around the playground on the exact same path every time. It really annoyed the other kids because they did not understand why I would not diverge from my path ever.
That dreaded playground was wild, unpredictable, and terrifying. The only way to conjure this was for me to find some sort of order in all that chaos. So, I walked, one step at a time, on the same path every single time. One step, and another, look at my feet, one step, and another, follow the rhythm, one step, and another, block the noise, feel the air on my cheek, the smell of Oak bark and concrete, block the lights, look at my feet and breathe.
Every day, it was the same ritual, it kept me safe, until one day it didn’t…
On one of my walks, two boys ran straight towards me, and I was my usual passive one continuing on my path, oblivious of my surrounding. But suddenly it went all dark, I was lying on the floor and when I opened my eyes there were the kids and the teachers looking down at me. These two boys tackled me to the ground and my head hit the concrete floor. I do not remember the impact but just the instant before and when I woke up. A couple of teachers got me up, and dust me off and no mention of this was made to my parents.
Amazingly, this pinnacle moment signified the end of months of torment. Older Twin sisters witnessed the whole event and at this moment in time decided to take me under their protection. They were kind to me, teaching me to spell words like Fromage, the first word I ever spelt.
Their kindness saved me from sinking further and further into my mind. It made me change my mind about “them”. Maybe we were not so different after all.
Starting primary school had been extremely challenging for me. My teacher told my mother that I refused point blank to learn how to read and that I was simply not interested. She did not know what to do with me. She felt that I was not ready for the first year and that I should be sent back to preschool for another year. My mother fought very hard for me to stay in primary and she got the last word.
Since these amazing girls showed me, what kindness was the paradigm changed. I started being interested in class. Before summer I had caught up with the rest of my class thanks to my new older friends coaching me.
Going on my second year at primary the teacher, Mrs S, told me out loud that she did not want a r… (a derogatory term I will not write here) child in her class. I lasted 2 days in her class, as she had already decided I was a no-go. She put her foot down so hard with the headteacher that I was sent straight back to year 1. By chance, the teacher I had in year 1 had left and we had a new teacher who was lovely and qualified.
Mrs E did not see me as a problem, and I had near-perfect grades all school year-round. She was a great teacher. I remember a tall woman with very long dark hair, a large smile, and very kind eyes. I do have great memories of my second first year at primary.
She had a system in place to recompense good behaviour and grades. She gave out little “good job” stamps called “Bon points” in French. We were able to exchange 10 stamps for collectable pictures. To tell the truth, I did not really care for those little pictures. I systematically forgot to exchange my stamps and as a result, I had lots in my desk drawer.
One day a little girl called L saw all my stamps and her eyes lit up. What loot! She, however, did not have any so I gave her mine. This was no big deal to me but, I do not know why, she was adamant she should give me something in exchange. So, she arrived the next day with a pot of potpourri and gave it to me. I was not too sure of what to do with this little pot, and of course, we got caught! It was quite the scandal! Her parents were furious…I, however, found the all-thing baffling.
I made a few friends in this class. There was Mat and Nat who also happen to be my neighbours, Michael a very sweet and gentle boy, and Alexandra. They accepted me just the way I was, and life went on.