Crestfallen is a good way of describing how I felt after a month or two at Syosset High School. Not that it was their fault. They were just doing what they always did. The problem was no-one had explained to me what it was I needed to do.
The first clue that I was in trouble (other than the World Problems class, which almost made me run away the first day), was when we took our first exam. I looked at my exam sheet, that displayed a list of questions and multiple choice answers, and I thought, but where do I get to write what I think? Apparently thinking was not required, just a good memory, or a good cheat sheet.
What would have been so helpful, would have been if someone had clued me in about how to prepare for the SATs. I had absolutely no clue what the SATs even were until I suddenly found myself assigned a date to present myself at Post University on Northern Boulevard, class number whatever it was.
On the day, I went totally unprepared, not knowing what to expect and as it happened, I had a splitting headache. I have headaches a lot, but that one was a killer . It was not a great help to my overall achievement.
I don’t actually remember what my SAT score was, only that it was “disappointing” and that my uncle was mad about it. I should have stood up and protested about the whole thing, but I was so downcast in spirit and so accustomed to having no-one listen to me. I thought it was my fault that I did so badly and I was ashamed. I seemed to feel smaller and stupider every day. Until I came to America the one thing I was proud of was my academic achievement.
To discover, suddenly, that I was barely even mediocre, was crushing.
Such was life at High School. My uncle couldn’t understand that when I had homework, I needed the peace and quiet of a private room, and if I closed my door, it was cause for him to sulk. He seemed to regard a closed door as a personal insult, as if I was shutting him out.
There was another situation, which is going to sound ridiculous, but it’s all part of the story. My aunt and uncle had a lot of fights. Even when it was just bickering about stupid stuff, Ray would get sullen and sometimes he wouldn’t speak for a couple of days. It reminded me of when the girls at school in Vietnam wouldn’t talk to me. I used to get that same hollow feeling and I absolutely couldn’t stand it.
Often a fight would start because of a total misunderstanding. Ray would say something and if Kay didn’t hear he would get mad about that! If I was in the living room, I would pass the message on to Kay or action Ray’s request myself. I did say it would sound stupid. I spent my life playing intermediary.
So I tried to do my homework in the dining room. If I went to my room I couldn’t concentrate anyway, because I knew Ray wouldn’t like it, and I would be listening for the latest fight to break out. Once I got to college, I used to do homework in the library, otherwise I would never have got anything done.
Much of the time Ray would be mad at me because I wasn’t accepting his overtures, and Kay would wonder what we were fighting about. I became constantly tense, not knowing what I would have to deal with next.
Like my correspondence. You know, – letters! What we had before email. I had been pretty ticked off in the convent schools, about having my correspondence censored by the nosy nuns. I thought I had left those days behind, but no. The only way I could keep a letter private was if I was able to intercept the mailman, which did not happen.
Usually I was not home when the mailman came. Ray always was, as he worked evenings. But even if I was home, on a weekend, the dear little doggies always announced the mailman’s arrival, so my chances of intercepting a letter and sliding it in my pocket were basically nil.
Ray demanded to read all my letters. It’s hard to believe, now, that I allowed it, but to refuse meant the silent treatment which, as I already said, I couldn’t handle.
I don’t know what I thought would happen, if I had ignored Ray’s silent treatment. I suppose I imagined that Kay would get mad at me too and then it would be just like being back in that awful school again, alone, with no friends.
It was all mind games. I even knew it at the time, but I did not know how to handle it.
This all sounds like a big sob story and I don’t want it to be. These things happened long ago and I have finally let go of the confusion and misery they caused.
The reason for writing is largely that it is so cathartic. I have finally gone back through all of those times, bit by bit and analyzed the effect they had on me. It is helping me to understand myself. Perhaps I am not the awful person I have often thought I was.
But the reason for making my story public is in the hope that it may help someone else, as I have always found strength in reading other people’s experiences. When you read how other people had to struggle, it makes you feel less alone. It makes you feel less like the odd man out.
And just to prove that it’s not a gloomy story…
… – No longer crestfallen!