The Building of an Office and Elementary School Trauma

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This morning I woke up excited. And I mean, EXCITED!!!!! Why, you ask? Because work was to begin on the addition. The addition to my house that will be MY OFFICE.

Right now, my computer desk and office articles are stuffed in a corner of our living room. Our ONLY living room. Here, let me take a picture of the view from my “office.” I will also include said office so you can see my lack of privacy.

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Our house is tiny, which means everyone and everything congregates into this living room. Mornings are filled with my son and his video games, my daughter and her moaning on the couch about having to wake up and my husband banging around in the kitchen). The evenings are full of piano practicing (piano is in the other corner you can’t see), ukulele practicing, lego playing, tv watching, and the general chaos of family life with two young children.

What my office does not contain is peace and quiet and a door to shut (which is one of the only essential elements of a writing office according to Stephen King) to keep out the interruptions and the arguing and the chatter and the noise and the….well, you get it, right?

So, this addition means I will soon have a door to shut! I will no longer lose trains of thought and the ends of sentences when a child comes asking for something even though their father is mere feet away. I will be able to wake up on the weekends and work, which is the only thing I want to do but is generally impossible when bombarded by Saturday morning cartoons and video games.

I will have MY OWN SPACE in my own house where no one can bother me and I might actually accomplish this damn book I keep trying to write. (Actually, throughout all that I have managed to finish two novels, just not any that were good enough to publish according to my supposedly high standards. Just in case anyone got it in their heads that I’ve spent the past two years not working and watching TV. Then again, who cares what anyone thinks, right? I can watch TV if I want! But that would be a post for another day.)

And then my wonderful, beautiful morning in which I planned to drink coffee and watch the progress on my workspace happen was ruined when the contractors pulled up.

Actually, let me clarify. When the contractor’s helper pulled up.

(Oh, and since we’re going for clarity here, no, I wouldn’t actually sit there and watch them work. I am not a creep. I would actually hide from view as much as possible to prevent any awkwardness from having someone work for me while I am here. Work for me all you want while I am gone, but not while I am here to watch you. Which is something I’ll have to get over since I hope to have a house full of servants when I’m a rich and famous writer and no longer have to lift a finger except onto the keyboard. But again, I have veered off course, my dreams of being a princess are not for here. Here is to document my daily struggles as a fledgling writer, at least, I think it is. Did I mention that in the about section?)

Our contractor, whom I am going to call Tonto as a way to call him something other than the contractor but also while keeping his anonymity, is a great guy. Lets just get that straight. As I’m sure is his helper. However, there is a history there between me and his helper. One that can only come from spending your childhood and subsequent adulthood in the same damn small town.

Grade 5 through to the beginning of grade 8 were terrible, horrible, awful years for me. Why? Because sometime in grade five my best friend and our entire group of friends decided to hate me and cast me out. Which is bad enough in itself, but when you are in a small school and stuck with the same class with no where to go until you finish off elementary school, is pretty damn awful. All the groups in the school had been established which left me floundering with no one. I was a loner, not by choice, but by force, and not only that, but a loner who was constantly picked on and made fun of. By who? None other than the guy who showed up at my house this morning.

Of course he wasn’t the only one, there were others involved, but he was the worst of them, the most cutting, the one who just made it all seem so much worse.

Now, I get that this is ancient history. It is over. And life and school got better for me so it was never something I dwelled on, I see it only as a bad period of my life that I would have rather never happened. At least I thought so until today. When I saw him get out of his vehicle it brought up all the emotions of that loneliness, of that pain and I just thought, “Damn, of all people, why the one responsible for my elementary school hell?!

I remember just wanting to keep my head down, to escape notice, while at the same time wanting someone to like me so desperately bad. Wanting just someone to hang out and play with at recess instead of wandering around by myself, waiting for the bell to ring so it wouldn’t be so obvious that I was a total loser. There were days that were so bad my dad just let me stay home because he knew what I’d have to face, how desperately I didn’t want to go.

I still remember making the mistake of going on the class trip to Vancouver, where I sat up front with the teachers and chaperones because I couldn’t bear to sit with the rest of the kids who hated me. After that, I avoided all field trips and class excursions as being the outcast was just too painful.

What possesses kids to do this? To behave so terribly towards another that they could inflict such emotional pain? Looking back, I wonder if it was because those kids were in so much pain themselves but could not express it so they lashed out at others to make themselves feel better (at least, that’s how I explain it to my kids when they have to face similar issues and meanness). That, at least, makes sense. That is, even if not acceptable, it is understandable, as they are kids. That is a better alternative to them just being plain mean and hurtful.

But I think it’s a combination of both. Some of those kids just enjoyed being mean and thrived on the power that came with hurting others (also, I’m sure, that can be explained by a lack of power over their own lives), While some could not hold in all their negative emotions and had to let them out some way or another. In this case, I was the easiest target with my lost and found clothing, dorky hair, non-name brand everything and bad habits that I’d never been told to change.

I would say I’m not that girl anymore and am no longer affected by that experience. But there is a part of me that still is. I am still nervous and uncomfortable anywhere that there are large groups of people broken into smaller groups. At the hockey arena, soccer fields, dance concerts, parties, events, anywhere that I must walk into a space where there are different aggregates of people milling about, talking and enjoying themselves. In these situations, I feel incredible angst and fear and just want to run away. And I usually chalk that up to my introversion, but now I’m sure it also stems from a deep seeded fear that I will be rejected. That they will look at me and say, “Oh my god, look at her,” and then insert some other awful remark that will leave me standing on the outskirts, hyperaware that I am alone while everyone else is within their own posse.

But the difference is, I am happy now. For the most part, I am happy with who I am and where I am. I can buy my own clothes now. I finally figured out how to put on makeup. That horrible acne is gone. I know how to do my hair (okay, I still suck at hair but at least I discovered what a flat iron is. That has been instrumental in my appearance. That and my hair stylist rocks). And I have a handful of friends who accept me and all my bad habits, or else I just hide them better. And I will say, my husband and kids think I’m awesome and that is one self esteem boost that makes all the past shit obsolete.

That stuff happened years ago and it doesn’t matter anymore. It just leaves me feeling a little sorry for that sad girl who was me and all she had to face everyday. And it makes me appreciate what I have and who I am now. I have to say, I’d rather have been the girl who’d been treated badly and recovered from it than the one who did the shaming and the bullying. I’d rather be telling my story as the victim than having to come to terms with all those whom I have hurt and on whom I’d inflicted such pain. That, to me, would be so much harder to overcome, because there had to be a reason they were so mean to others. And I am scared to think what that reason was and how difficult that would be to live with.

I guess that’s what they were trying to get at in the Cinderella movie – have courage and be kind. As much as I have so many issues with that movie, I do agree that being kind is important. Because, looking back on my life, those moments of kindness only bring good memories and pride in who I was. Any moments of meanness just bring shame. Thankfully, my moments of pride outweigh those of shame. I doubt those who preyed on others can say the same.

So I will happily watch them build my new office and think no more on that dark period in my life. It is over, long over, and I am stronger for it. Now, I won’t be running out to thank him for whatever life lesson he taught me anytime soon, or hand out fresh baked cookies and piping hot coffee, but I won’t treat him as he did me either. I will treat him as I would anyone else. Because as far as I’m concerned, I am a different person now and I assume he is too. And if not, well, I’m inside and he’s out so he can’t hurt me anyways.

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