I have spent the better part of my life wondering why I always felt like I was observing life instead of actually participating in it. Watching others make life-long female best friends and thinking how? I feel like most of this was due to my undiagnosed ADHD.
My first “best friend” was a girl in my first-grade class named Candia. I don’t even remember how we ended up starting this friendship, but we just were. I remember being fascinated that she was left-handed, even though my grandmother and one of my uncles were as well. Maybe it was the crazy way she held her pencils and crayons. She is an only child, so even though we lived in the same neighborhood and one street over from each other, she always had the latest and greatest clothes, books, toys. I am the oldest of three and was always being told no – no to most everything simply because there just wasn’t only-child money to go around. I vividly remember her mom taking us to the mall and going to one store that we never went to – MM Cohn’s. This was the Arkansas version of a Macy’s or maybe even a Barney’s…in other words it was expensive. I was amazed at all the cute things they had. She bought me a necklace – a brown M&M with a lowercase ‘t’. I still have the m&m somewhere, the chain broken long ago. She also bought me a small purse that I kept for the longest. The point of mentioning these items is not to brag but because I remember thinking wow I feel like part of the family.
Second grade was the year of the Candies. Mom and I fought about that because they were a frivolous pair of shoes and totally inappropriate for girls my age. Didn’t matter, I wanted them! I wanted them for two reasons – they were cute and if you look at my second-grade class picture, there are two of my friends sporting them, so you know that was the other reason. Somehow my mother ended up with a knockoff pair and I took every opportunity I could to wear them around the house. I just wanted to belong. This may have also been the year I developed my irrational and unnatural fear of fire.
Third grade…I expanded my best friends circle with the addition of Ashley. He liked music as much as I did, although back then I wasn’t as into metal/hard rock as he was. He also loved the Beatles as did I, and I’m not really sure a lot of kids in our age group were even into them to be honest. My dad is the whole reason I liked them, and as soon as I got my own record player those albums made their way to my bedroom where I would play them over and over and over. I am surprised that I didn’t run him off day 1 when I professed my love for him and that I wanted him to be my boyfriend! He is officially my oldest friend and I’m thankful he hasn’t run off yet. Another fun part of this year was when Candia let me borrow her copy of “The Amityville Horror” – what we were doing reading that in the third grade was beyond me, but I became obsessed. I also could not sleep alone in my room, so I started finding ways to sleep with my brothers so I wouldn’t be alone. This was also around the time that my Raggedy Ann & Andy talking alarm clock malfunctioned in the middle of the night…I shudder even now thinking back to how that scared the beejesus out of me! I did not like my third-grade teacher – Ashley always talks about how she smelled like fish – mainly for me it was she was mean. I was used to being liked by my previous teachers, but she just flat out didn’t like me for some reason. She constantly called me “LaTonya” which was the name of one of my classmates and called her by my name. Looking back, I can see how even that small thing caused me to immediately ‘check out’ and looking at that report card you can see that reflected in my grades. I guess I felt that if she didn’t care enough to call me by the correct name I didn’t care enough to try. Another factor for this year was my experiencing death firsthand. My grandfather (mom’s dad) died the week after my 9th birthday. What made this harder for me was the fact that I was a little shit to him and my grandmother. Smartass, disrespectful, rude…just a bratty little kid. I remember the day it happened: my dad showed up at my classroom door while we were supposed to have our heads bowed in prayer (yes, that used to be a thing). I heard his voice and thought what is he doing here? I knew it had to be bad because Dad NEVER came to the school. I immediately thought I was in trouble – still do that to this day whenever I have to meet with my boss, or someone says, ‘we need to talk’. As we walked out to the car, I was peppering him with questions. Once I realized I wasn’t in trouble, reality started sinking in that Papaw was dying and there was nothing I could do about it. Guilt wracked my brain and even to this day, 43 years later, I still regret my actions. Yes, I could have been a nicer kid but wow what would cause a 9-year-old to carry such a burden well into adulthood? That’s just one of the many facets of the weird way my brain is wired.
1980 – a new decade. I ended 3rd grade in May of 1980, but also moved to another neighborhood and school district. I tried to keep in touch with Candia and went to her birthday party that October, but we eventually stopped calling each other. Ashley and I, however, continued to keep in touch. The new school was awful – it was smaller and had less to offer. The kids were pretentious and rude. My class was, and still is, the most dysfunctional of the classes in our age group. I was closer friends with people from the classes of 1986-1988 than I was my own. We have only had one official Class of 1989 reunion, the 10th, and had I not spearheaded it I’m pretty sure it would not have happened. They ended up doing a joint with a couple of other classes for the 20th and I happily declined – they rejected my ideas and were pretty rude about it so why put myself through that and be miserable? No matter how hard I tried, I could not convince my dad to let me transfer to EHS and back to my original friend group. My ADHD brain continues to play ‘what if’ and imagine how it might have been different had I done that. I like to think life would have been better but in reality, probably not. After all, I was still me with this brain and all the baggage it brought. Ashley once told me that I am a masochist – likely true but I think Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria plays into that a lot. RSD makes you think rejection is inevitable and the end of the world. At this age I had not yet learned the fine art of avoiding any and all situations that might trigger rejection, so I tended to barrel headlong into something time and time again so that it looked like I enjoyed the pain.
I feel like the move my 4th grade year was a turning point. I had already established friendships and acquaintances and those were all disrupted. We moved to a rural subdivision with at least a 10-minute drive to anything, so most of our time was spent playing outside or in my case, reading. And I read a lot – anything and everything I could get my hands on. I was considered a weirdo, and we all know kids are mean so that followed me all the way through to graduation and pretty much beyond. I’m old enough now that I realize being different is ok, but it hurts an awful lot when you are younger. And much more when you are thrust into a new social situation where others have already established relationships, much like I had at my other school, and they didn’t take too kindly to newcomers. I can’t say this enough – kids are mean, and most of the time that begins with no home training. I was always empathetic enough that I befriended the outcasts, and I feel like my kids did the same. I’ve actually witnessed my oldest being kind to someone who was an outcast and he had no idea I could hear the exchange, so it wasn’t because I was there. It did my heart good to hear that and it has stayed with me.