in kindergarten & year 1 i would always thrust my hand up prematurely and spurt out a wrong answer. it got to the point where the teacher made a specific point of sitting down & talking to me about ‘letting other people have a go’. in response to this failure i started hanging with the wrong crowd – it consisted of one boy, the oldest boy in the class. we would stalk the boundaries of the playground in order to do things like throw handfuls of sand at trucks; or, use concrete as an abrasive to sharpen paddle-pop sticks into knives; or we might go & shout things at the kids on the senior side of the school, urging them to chase us. it ended when we were caught throwing wet paper all over the roof of the boy’s toilet, & when my family moved away from melbourne. thus ended my life as a victorian & began my association with regional nsw. we got a dog, a symbolic marker of the change. she’s been dead for the longest time & i still ache to play with her.
i was always an immature child. i was enrolled in school at the young end of the spectrum because i was intelligent enough. but i was uncertain of how to interact with other kids, over-thinking the simplest of friendship gestures. observe me nowadays if you want.. it’s a problem i’ve never really outgrown. it’s almost certainly the reason my parents vetoed a move to have me advanced a grade in year 3. i didn’t understand why. i thought it was a chance to show everyone how good at things i was. around the same time i sat on the newly concreted front porch of our house in forest hill, watching my sister & the next-door kids laugh as they ran up the street. i refused to go & join in for some reason, & i clearly remember sitting there, knowing i was over-thinking it all & missing out on life because of this. i sat there & thought to myself how it was happening because i’m a clever child – the other kids weren’t concerned about this minor issue that had overtaken me. i pondered my obsessive nature & i imagined myself doing really well in later life because of it (some kind of famous scientist was my favoured fantasy), some kind of positive outcome.. i needed something, anything. but really i was searching for & overlaying a positive slant. & i still am. the recurring result of overthinking – otherness, alterity, or whatever language you want to couch the concept in – is not fun. it’s fucking awful.
at school once a week afternoon sport consisted of football. rugby league. there was only one class at in each year level, & accordingly all the boys in my class formed the forest hill rugby team. this was the weekly sport on offer during winter. if you were a girl you engaged in various indoor craft like activities. girls don’t do sport in winter. it gets muddy. i was left in the middle because i wouldn’t play league. it’s a decision i stuck with. i would wander the grounds of the school like some vampire, peering around corners, constantly afraid a teacher would lambast me for ‘non-joining’. one afternoon i was made to go & join the boys. i remember it actually being not that bad. i just joined in passing the ball around a bit. more poignant is the memory of one of my classmates saying to the teacher afterwards ‘derek came and helped out at footy today’. obviously i was a cause for group concern. maybe i was meant to overhear. you see: the incident from near 30 years ago, occupying me on a sunny late august day in 2015. i can still hear those words & the way boy & teacher both glanced at me after they were uttered, small hopeful smiles on their faces. like someone smashing a brick on your hand just after you’ve had a lovely birthday party. i don’t know. the positive or negative connotations of the word complicated. is it just a matter of interpretation.
narratives were valued at times though; i think perhaps this was near the end of my primary school time. we would have story-writing sessions. you could go it alone, or you could compose something with a friend. my sense of story was valued here, because i did at times have to choose which friend i would write with from a group of eager partners. one morning two of us wrote a satirical sexual romp featuring two unpopular kids in the class. it was vicious & this is the real type of thing i have done. there’s no point denying it. it’s what i had – i would write the things legibly that the other kids could only shout at each other over lunch. we had a boy wake in bed with a girl, leap out of bed, realise he was naked, get back in the bed… & so forth. we had class excursions where our teacher would be busted with pornographic magazines. you get the picture. i’m not proud of what i’ll do to get people to like me. because there has to be some kind of performance to encourage a smile. if it’s just me, well, i’m just me, uneasy & worrisome. i’m hard to like. i’m just sitting here, confused, looking out a window. you don’t want to be around that.
because the truth always comes out even if it takes a while. in the 90s it took only a matter of a couple of months, but prior to that i do at least have the key moment filed away, the first time a girl had ever wanted to hold my hand. there on edward street in the gloaming & now that’s the only bit i need to keep. later she told me we should be just friends, that we never really made each other feel comfortable together. it was all totally true & with perspective i get it. but of course, a little later, she had to tell me more forcefully that it was really ‘over’ and that no we would not be friends. i don’t need those memories. just the first willing touch.
one day (again back in primary school) the whole class waited across the zebra-crossing to beat up a particularly un-liked kid. everyone waited so i waited. it didn’t seem like there was any decision to make. i didn’t like the kid. he offended pretty much every one. i don’t think i would have done any beating. it just seemed like a thing to do to wait there for him – it positioned you as not him. there were no teachers. there was just the lollypop lady. he wouldn’t cross the highway. he waited, for what seemed like hours, looking at us & quietly talking to the lollypop lady. there were no mobile phones. he looked scared. eventually we dispersed & i have no memory of if there was any fallout. i think i have to keep that image of him. there’s no reason to hurt anyone ever. we’re all just trying our best.
it was somewhere near this time that someone threw a rock at me across the dirt track as i rode my bmx home. i realised later it had made an indent in my stackhat, possibly an inch deep, maybe enough to have killed me had i not been wearing it. what could i have possibly done to deserve this. but then again… i mean, i can’t shake the ominous sense that that rock might have been destined to be corrective, that it could have served a true purpose by dulling something aberrational in my cortex.