Fifteen years ago, to the very day
Today it is exactly 15 years since I went to school for the very first time. I can always place this date very exactly because I started school on my grandmother’s 80th birthday. She would have been 95 today, but she is dead just over four years now. So this date, the 13th of January, isn’t really important to me because I went to school, or because of my grandmother’s birthday, for I didn’t actually have much contact or a connection with her. It is important to me because it marks the anniversary of me finding out I was different.
It’s been fifteen years that I’ve known I’m weird. When you’re six years old it is a terrible revelation knowing that you will never be normal. You will never fit in. You know, when you’re little you are not aware that other people’s lives are different from yours. It was only when I went to school for the first time that I found out that other people’s parents weren’t “old”. When I got to school for the first time I found out it was not normal to have parents who were already middle-aged and grey when you are only six years and two months. I wasn’t aware how weird it was to grow up without any influence from pop-culture, to hardly watch any TV at all and to not listen to modern music. But most of all, I didn’t know how big of an issue all of this would be to the other kids.
I’m not going to dwell on this. I’ve said before how I was ridiculed and bullied from the first day that I walked into school, that I would hit rock bottom and struggle with suicide six years later and that it would be four more years before the bullying stopped. It would be so easy to dwell on the horrible things in my past, but I don’t want to do that. So instead of that, I’m going to focus on the things that I learned in the 15 years since my education really “started”. So I’m going to write a letter to the little six-year-old girl with the weirdly-cut fringe (my dad did it) who is walking into that school right now, 15 years in the past, and will in a moment prove to be too stupid to remove her backpack before sitting down on a chair.
I know you can already read okayish. That’s good. You’re gonna need it.
Today marks a turning point in your life. You’re going to school, but that is not the great turning point. The great turning point is not going to be coping without your mother all day long. The great thing that is going to happen to you today is that you are going to start learning. Today you are going to learn how cruel the world can be. This is, of course, a lesson that will last a lifetime, but I guess the biggest shock will come today. You are going to learn many things at school, but then you are going to start feeling that you will never ever use any of these things. Well, actually, you will use some of these things. Yeah, you are probably never again going to use long division on anything because you will have a quite a nice calculator when you go to high school, but you will learn things about people that you are going to use.
You will learn that being physically the smallest in the class is not the great disadvantage that everyone sees it as. Yes, all the bullies will be able to see over your head, but this places you in the ideal position for a well-placed blow between the shoulder blades. That hurts a lot, you know. Hitting back doesn’t really help anyone, but it will make you feel better. Actually, your mother will know best and tell you to just ignore them. It does work, but it will not end the bullying. People will not take your problem seriously. People will not realize the damage that it is doing to you. However, you know what? There is a reason why all these horrible things will happen to you, even though you will not be able to see it just yet. Anti-bullying and “no more silence” will be one of the things that you fight for when you are grown up. You will be the kid who wants to give a voice to those who have to cope with what you went through. Probably you are not going to be successful, but you are going to give it a damn good try, because you know just how much words hurt. Excuse the word, but it is time you get used to it. Then you might not be so shocked the first time you hear that word at school and then you will not look so surprised so that everyone will be able to make fun of you. I’m just trying to protect you here, you know.
Not all of the lessons are going to be bad. I can give you that sliver of hope. You are also going to learn awesome things about people. You are going to learn that sometimes you shouldn’t listen to all of the doomsayers. Sometimes “friends forever” really does mean forever. Or at least, as far as I can tell you, the next fourteen years and still going strong. Sometimes it doesn’t matter that you were seven and she was eight and people tell you that you’ll grow apart in a few years’ time. Your one true friend will be worth infinitely more than three false ones, because, you know what, she will save your life one day. Saving someone’s life isn’t always about rushing into burning buildings. Sometimes it is as simple as being there and reaching out a hand to pull you up again when you are at rock bottom and about to make today your last one.
You will learn not to write people off too quickly. In a couple of years you will meet a girl. She will annoy you so much and you will do the same to her. You will hate her for no good reason. You know that girl? She will be become your other best friend when you’re both thirteen and end up being sorted into the same class on the first day of high school. Both of you will have changed for the better by then. Give her a chance, will you? Your life will never be the same again (in a good way).
You will learn that life takes you on the strangest ways and that you will think you can map a path, but actually you can’t. Things work out the way they should though. Always. I can guarantee you that. You’re six now and you can’t get enough of archaeology and astronomy. You have picture-book encyclopedias and dinosaur toys and everyone thinks that you are a little scientist for sure, especially as your father is a geologist. You will believe this yourself. And then, in high school, you will find out that you suck at physics. Don’t worry. It is not the end of the road. You will have discovered the joys of writing by then, as a coping-mechanism, but you will still not know what career-direction you should take. You will circle through accountancy and law, but without much enthusiasm. You will never even consider the Arts because you can’t draw and you hate English.
You’re going to laugh at me now, but when you’re at university, you will start your own drawing and writing blog. No, really, it’s true. It won’t matter anymore that you can’t even draw a stick figure. You won’t care and neither will some other people. Oh, and you will get a degree in languages, specializing in English. Actually you love English; it was just that one teacher.
And you’ll want to be an author, if you only you can stop procrastinating. Yes, you, the kid whose work is always done a week ahead of time will become a professional procrastinator. You will also suddenly love sleeping and always be the one who is never done with sleeping, instead of the one impatiently waiting for everyone else to wake up. It’s a part of growing up.
Growing up isn’t much fun. Well, neither is being grownup, but at least some of the angst goes away eventually and you can start being your own person. When you’re twenty, you will learn to finally accept that label “nerd”. You’ll hate it in school, but then finally learn that other people cannot define you. You will embrace this term and make it your own. I’m not able to tell you yet, but I believe that this may finally be the path to self-acceptance. Maybe you will even learn to accept your own body, but that part of your future is still clouded to me.
You will learn that books can change your world and your life for a short while and make it more bearable, and when you have learned that, you will learn that some books have the power to change you forever. Read lots of them. Your future depends on it. You’ll learn in a book that “Life is pain,” but also that pain is other people. However, beauty is also other people and, because of this, life is very, very beautiful. Being alive is painful and wonderful and anguish and amazement and strangeness and wonder. Being alive is wonderful. Don’t give up on it too soon. You’re gonna be okay.
Yours in not creating time-paradoxes and splitting the Trousers of Time (you’ll understand when you start to read Terry Pratchett),
Tomorrow is cartoon day, so be sure to check back for that!