Updated: May 15, 2019
She was incredibly smart, precocious, wise, misunderstood, and a great cook with an overwhelming desire to learn. If you take away the telekinesis, Matilda Wormwood from the 1996 movie, Matilda, was me. There's a song featured in a couple of scenes in the movie, but makes its biggest impact at the end. On My Way by Rusted Root is the song. It's got such a groove to it, what I imagine they'd play at Woodstock when free-loving hippies were tripping on shrooms and dancing on rainbows only they could see. That movie and song gave me such hope and when it plays now, again, I'm back there...
Junior high, I don’t know many who go through junior high unscathed. Statistics shows that 1 in 3 junior high kids experience bullying as a victim or a perpetrator. As a poor, overweight boy who talked with a lisp, waddled, and wore t-shirts with popular logos turned into Christian messages, I couldn’t have been an easier target. Kids were rabid, ready to tear apart each other to appear cool or to earn favor with those that were.
I’d get it during English class.
“Paul what size bra do you wear?” Garrett would ask snickering to Brian who I always felt hated taking part in the bullying, but did so to fit in.
I’d get it during gym class.
This was the absolute worst hour of my day. I dreaded it like a cat dreads a bath, and not because I didn’t like to exercise, quite the contrary actually. I hated nearly everything about gym class. The gym teachers doubled as football coaches so they already had working relationships with many of these hormonally raging young men and, as such, enabled their bullyish ways. It was a waste of my time to ever tell on them. Imagine Luke Skywalker running to tell Emperor Palpatine that Darth Vader was being mean to him.
So having my pants pulled down, my glasses stolen, and being pushed around were normal everyday occurrences. Being picked last for any sport was a given. I couldn’t blame them for that. I wasn’t allowed to play sports wearing my glasses for fear they would get broken so I’d run around aimlessly, often mistaking big leaves or empty Dorito’s bags for flags in flag football.
For a week every semester, boys' gym and girls' gym came together to learn to square dance because state law requires it (I assume). Could we even call ourselves Texans if we didn't know how to shoot a rifle and swing our partners Dosey Doe?
The boys lined up while the girls picked them one by one. Garrett was usually first, then Brian. The girls would giggle amongst themselves and the guys would puff their chests and look back at the other guys with that winning look in their eye. This went on for what seemed like an eternity until there were no girls left. The coaches would then pair the remaining boys and that ALWAYS included me. Two awkward looking boys square dancing to old southern tunes, and there you have it...junior high gym class made me gay. See mom? I told you it wasn't Dawson's Creek.
School was tough. I needed a sanctuary to run to. Many kids have home as their sanctuary. I did not.
By this time, my mom had met and married her 4th husband. He was a great guy (until he wasn't, that story will come in due time). He never hit her. He was perhaps the first man in her life that didn't. This should've been the time to heal from all the abuse from the exes, but alas, it wasn't.
My sister, having lived with the same PTSD I had, in addition to being sexually abused by my mom's previous husband began struggling emotionally and mentally. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder which was accompanied by paranoid delusions and psychotic episodes of mania. You know? Fun stuff.
What I know now about family pathology is that you can never run away from your suffering. "If you don't transform your suffering, you will transmit it." - Richard Rohr, Franciscan Friar and author.
My mom had spent her life running away from her pain, never facing it, until it refused to stay silent. It showed up in every one of her relationships, including those of her children. While I buried mine deep within, my sister had trouble doing so. Hers came out in violent bursts. She'd hold my mother down on the floor and do the same thing she'd watch men do before her. My mother either couldn't or wouldn't stop her. In many ways I don't think my mom thought herself worthy of fighting back. I know, deep down, she blamed herself for everything my sister was struggling with. I've always considered my sister to be my mother's Beloved, that part of her she tried killing to keep her safe, but it only haunted her for the rest of her life.
The fighting was common place, my normal. The theft of vehicles, the threats of gang drive-bys, her being admitted and released from mental institutions, and the driving through undesirable neighborhoods looking for traces of her was new and incredibly hard to process. I missed her tremendously, but when she was around, anything could set her off. She never hit me, at least, not with the vitriol she displayed with my mom.
Home, wherever that happened to be, never felt safe or stable. We moved so much growing up, I’d attended 12 different schools by the time I was 15. My therapist says I hold my breath too often. That’s easy to do when you rarely had a second to breath.
And then, Matilda, came out on VHS. We watched it in the same Hell House commonly referred to as Highlands Junior School. At the end of the movie, Matilda is adopted by Ms. Honey, her favorite teacher. My favorite teacher in junior high was Ms. Sessums. She was my English teacher. She was one of two teachers in my life that had gifted me books after they discovered my passion for writing. This was a book of quotes which I still have, tattered and all. “Take care and go far in life,” she wrote in it.
When that song comes on, I am back in that space. I am holding that book of quotes and hoping that adoption papers are soon to follow.