Monday, December 03, 2012


Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball


I had the same recurring dream for years and years. In it, I was trapped, bodily, in high school. Regardless of what exit I found, a door I was sure promised my escape morphed into another hallway, another classroom. Being imprisoned somewhere by someone or something, entirely against my will has been a common motif.

On one level, this dream was about social anxiety, the way it spreads seductive lies and paralyzes communication. One could also take it literally. On another, it was about trauma and abuse. Overlapping fears can make it different to separate different levels of meaning. They all bled into each other. Part of trauma therapy, in my later life, was to look at each paradigm differently, to explore the intersections.

At the end of my junior and beginning of my senior year, I skipped school on a regular basis. I’d wait until fourth period was over, just before lunch, then head for my car and fly the coop. I attended a school with eight lunchtime periods, a procedure meant to relieve crowding in the cafeteria. This also meant that the odds of keeping 3,000 students closely monitored at all times was nearly impossible.

Other students who were learning a trade left at this same time every day. They finished their classes for the day, then resumed learning how to be a plumber or how to make furniture. I was, inexplicably, given a parking pass in the co-op parking lot. I was never caught playing truant, but in all fairness, my bouts of depression were well-documented by administrators and staff. I left school frequently anyway. Good days became outnumbered by bad days.

The closer scrutiny I received was due to my mother, who had been a well-respected teacher within the same school system for years. I rarely got away with anything, because a hundred eyes watched my every movement. My illness had metastasized to such a degree that I could have been voted most likely to commit suicide. I was one of the serious cases, the one often in the office with a guidance counselor, receiving frequent pep talks.

Most people inclined to skip school might have flaunted their freedom and browsed around the mall. Others may have headed to the houses of older siblings or older friends. A homebody by nature, I simply wanted to be in my own bedroom. Upon arrival, I would rearrange the covers and the pillows, then pour myself a large glass of water.

I took two strong sleeping pills, then waited for the effects. It never took long. Within five or ten minutes, I had escaped the land of the living. I often woke up, disoriented, around 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening. I expected it to be early morning and wasn’t sure what to do with myself. People take drugs for lots of reasons. Some want to enhance their lives, but I sought to obliterate mine.

I was escaping a reality that provided only pain and frustration. But as in the dream, every corridor led to another corridor. I awoke in darkness, lived in darkness, and then surrendered to darkness every night. At 7:15 in the morning, five days a week, I filed into school. Along the way, I managed to take in the theatricality of adolescence, in all its melodrama.

These days, where everyone has a cell phone, people forget how reliant we once were upon payphones. The school had four. Two on one side of the school, at the front entrance. Two on the other side of the school, by the junior parking lot. Every morning, for an hour or thereabouts, a man who called himself Mike the Pervert called each payphone, hoping that girls would pick up out of curiosity or politeness.

He enjoyed talking dirty. One of my sisters had a rebellious streak and, on a dare, picked up a ringing phone. The goal was to try and see if one could hear his demented ramblings for a full minute before slamming down the receiver into its cradle in disgust and shock.

So is this Mike the Pervert?
 she asked.

The one and only.

I find it curious that all the kids knew about him, but that none of the adults did. In our current of increasing paranoia about hyper-sexualized teenagers, would administrators have responded promptly and decisively? Mike was a different case. He received a perverse pleasure to shock innocents, but that was the extent of it. In a way, I suppose he was similar to a flasher or an exhibitionist.

The fact that he even had a name and a long-standing presence made him almost a school tradition. But as for my sister, she had gotten a momentary thrill, and felt no reason to speak to him again. Generations of young women before her probably had reached the same conclusions for themselves.

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