Three Letters to People who Failed a Weird Little Kid

To: Mrs. Waller*, Preschool Principal

Dear Mrs. Waller,

You opened your letter to my parents with “Antonia is a girl who is her own worst enemy”. I was four. I’m pretty sure that says all that needs to be said about you. Now, more about me. Dammit Mrs. Waller, this is about me!

You were right. That’s a completely ridiculous thing to say about a little kid and you’re awful for saying it, but is it really so awful if you were right? Ugh.

Listen, I have awesome things in my head. Amazing things that are going to make so many people happy. But I can never make any of these things happen, why? Well, in your letter you said I was insecure, citing the example of me pretending to be a cat or a mouse as a coping mechanism for when I got in trouble. But really, it’s because my brain just won’t me do anything. My brain is like, look! Awesome stuff! Then I reach for the stuff and it pulls it away, laughing, saying Ha-ha! Just kidding! You can’t have it!

This is what it feels like to never be able to focus on anything. Which brings me to my next letter.

To: Mrs. Ryan, First Grade teacher.

Dear Mrs. Ryan,

You left us halfway through the school year when you went and had your baby. Hmm, how old would that make your baby now? Look, I’m counting on my fingers because I’m 26 and simple math is still hard for me. You should see me when I go out to dinner with friends and the bill comes, Mrs. Ryan, it’s very embarrassing. Okay, countcountcount…holy fucking shit, your kid is 20. I might have smoked a bowl with your kid outside The Catalyst once. Did your baby move to Santa Cruz? Where the eff do you even live now, Mrs. Ryan?

Ah, look at me all distracted again. I’m writing you today because you told my mother you thought I might have ADD and needed to go on drugs. While this may have been true, you might want to work on your delivery during those parent-teacher conferences, because something about the way you said it must have really set my mom off. She reacted by taking me out of the little neighborhood elementary school and putting me in Carden Hall, a very strict private school across town that I swear to you specialized in traumatizing weird kids. I now firmly believe that any school with “Hall” in the name is no place for children. At least in public school the classes were so crowded you could hide.

Mrs. Ryan, why do I remember you so well after all these years? You didn’t really do much other than say that thing to my mom and let me and the other kids hug your preggo belly on your last day. You must be some sort of marker for me, the bearer of the bad news that I wasn’t just a little kid being a kid, there was something “wrong” with me. Thanks a lot for giving me something to write about, Mrs. R., I needed that.

To: Doctor Roger C. Finch, MD, Psychiatrist.

Dear Doctor Finch,

I don’t remember what I was going to say to you, most likely because I have “word retrieval delay”. Is that even a thing? I hope so, because those were the exact words you used in your report about me and I’m sure you charged an ugly penny for it (pennies are not pretty, so stop calling them that, everyone.) The evidence you cited for this was my liberal use of the word “whatever” during my evaluation.

I understand that to an old fart like yourself, the use of that word may seem to indicate the presence of another, better word just out of reach. But did you ever think that I might have just been a fourth grader in the year 1997, right there in the mush pot of the Valley Girl Revival? Doctor Finch, you’re a psychiatrist who works with children. This is your freaking job, and you’re telling me you never heard any other nine-year-old girl throwing that word around like she was the slackest little chicky since Moon Unit Zappa?

(Update: I questioned my memory and just re-listened to “Valley Girl”. Okay, Moon never actually uses the word in that song, but whatever, it works.)

Years after I went and saw you, I snooped in my Dad’s office and found a file with my name on it. It contained many saddening pieces of literature, including your and Mrs. Waller’s evaluations of me. Seriously, Bro, either you should have been a preschool principal or she should have been a child psychologist, because both of you really know how to make a girl cry.

You suggested I be placed in a “different” class where I could work at my own pace. You may have been right, Doctor Finch, but I’m forever thankful to my parents for not following that piece of advice. The teasing was already bad enough. Being weird? Bully bait. Getting special treatment for being weird? Bully Crack.

Anyway, thanks to all three of you for trying (if you even were.). We all try and we all fail. Just please make sure that when you try to “help” people, especially small children, you don’t turn them into messed-up adults.

Sincerely,

Toni Pecchia

*Names have been changed to ones that sound so similar I might as well have not even changed them.

Advertisements

Postcard Friends: On getting close to people from your home country while living/traveling abroad

Part of growing up has been, at least for me, learning how to tell the difference between a nice person you occasionally hang out with and an actual friend. After both my high school and college graduations, I found myself with much fewer friends than I thought I had. There were people I loved to run into and chat with at parties or grab a coffee with after class but would feel weird calling. Graduating is a process that, just like moving from one city to another, provides an easy filter to separate acquaintances from friends.

Experiences like this are necessary, but it becomes a little harder to tell the difference when you’re traveling, working or studying in a place far from home. Remember the “Single-Serving Friends” monologue in Fight Club? I consider myself a fairly well-traveled person and have had many, many opportunities to make profound, seemingly life-changing connections with people who were complete strangers just minutes before.

Most recently, on a midnight bus ride from Oakland to Los Angeles, I sat next to a nice man in his forties with whom I had been making small talk in line, and just 20 minutes into the journey, we were like old buddies. But as we quieted down for sleepy time, he reached under my blanket and squeezed my arm with both of his. Hugged my arm. Yeah, it was weird. I withdrew myself from his barnacle grasp and thankfully, he didn’t push it any further. With this action, he moved his position from Future Best Friend to Midnight Bus Creep. Honestly, I was much more sad than grossed out. Talking to him was more fun than closing your eyes on a roller coaster, and I would really have liked to have him be a part of my life, and that just wasn’t going to happen after something like that. I don’t want it to sound like all of my Making Friends while Traveling experiences ended this way; in fact, a few have resulted in long-lasting friendships.

But what about making a friend from your own country or culture when you’re both immersed in another one? I’m talking about that person who is by your side for your whole travel/study/work abroad experience no matter how much you try to resist the natural impulse to cling to someone from back home who might hinder your cultural immersion. You don’t want to be that United Statesian skipping around a foreign city surrounded by your obnoxious expat entourage, speaking English at the top of your lungs and sending the locals running for their lives. But you just can’t shake this person; they’re too awesome. And being around them provides a unique experience; being immersed while having someone from back home by your side to help out with the homesickness and culture shock.

In this catch phrase-obsessed age we live in, it seems necessary to give this person a name. How about…The Postcard Friend? They’re your postcard from home while you’re abroad and your postcard from abroad when you get back home. Locals don’t get you when you’re abroad, and when you’re back home, in a group, sharing stories with your Postcard Friend, other people who weren’t there don’t get you either.

Lunch with Carly, a postcard friend from Canada.

Lunch with Carly, a postcard friend from Canada.

Having a friend like this produces a unique type of anxiety, though. While teaching abroad in Madrid, I met someone from my same state and who graduated from my University that I didn’t know already. Obviously, having these two things in common isn’t much, but we happened to share a great deal of other interests, too, mainly cooking and taste in music.

But while having fun and eventually traveling with Alex, I found myself wondering, what happens when we get back home? What if we try to hang out back in California and it’s just weird for some reason, like, without this overwhelming and perpetual culture shock we’re dealing with on a daily basis, it just won’t be the same and we won’t feel like being friends anymore? There was even more time to fret about this when I came home and Alex decided to do another year in Madrid.

Alex & I near Templo de Debod in Madrid

Alex & I near Templo de Debod in Madrid

I wrote something a little while ago outlining how I was feeling about Alex before he came back, and I think it sums up this feeling pretty well. Regarding meeting again, I said:

“…it can’t be here. I can only hope it’s in Segovia, and we’re both incredibly hungover, and we can sit on the wall (as in Segovia’s historic city walls), saying nothing, like we do.”

Here, I expressed another hurdle that comes with having a Postcard Friend: struggling to see them in the context of their/your own culture. Imagining hanging out with Alex back home didn’t only worry me because other people wouldn’t understand our Spain stories, it weirded me out because it simply didn’t make sense. In fact, I couldn’t imagine him being here at all. In my mind, he was as much a part of Madrid as cocido and that statue of the bear and the tree. He just didn’t belong here.

As you might have guessed, Alex is back now and everything is just fine. I did feel a little uncomfortable at first, but one of the things that helped me break through the walls of anxiety I had built around myself was talking to him about it. Yes, I actually told him, this feels weird. I knew I would eventually see you here, but it just didn’t seem real until now, so bear with me.

Things like this usually close with some piece of advice, and all I really have is what I just wrote: talk to the person. Let your Postcard Friend know if you’re worried about this kind of stuff. If you’re a person of few words, I don’t have a lot of advice because I’m a woman of many words and I’m not here to tell you how to be like me. All I’m trying to say is, don’t let go of these awesome people you share this awesome history with. Postcard friends are up there with childhood friends for me; you may grow apart as the years go by, but you’ll always have those stories that make everyone else groan and walk out of the room when you start telling them, again. It’s okay, they just don’t get it.