In 8th grade, four kids refused to become homeroom president. It was a no-status, labor-intensive job. I was nominated, as a joke, and, as a joke, I won. The teacher refused to let me opt out as she had allowed the four kids before me to do so. I was beyond humiliated. I remember feeling anger
, anxiety and even shame
as I knew this was a joke on me. I have heard often that kids with nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) miss signals, and I'm sure I missed many, but I knew what that morning was about. I managed to ask if I could be excused as the kids before me had been. I will never forget the taunting smile on my teacher's face as she said, "no."
I will never forget the feeling of being doomed and knowing that everybody hated me. That last part might not have been true, but ever since my family had moved the year before any feeling of worthiness, and security had been lost to fear, anxiety and guilt. Several times a week, kids would throw me into the bushes at the bus stop near our homes. Kids would make up jokes about me on the bus. The driver found the jokes funny. I couldn't tell my parents. I knew how much they loved and ached for me. My parents never said that I was responsible for their happiness. Had I told them that I felt this responsibility, they would have said all the right things to make me feel better and I probably would have, but as an adoptee with NLD in the 1960's I kept them out of the loop.
A few weeks after becoming homeroom president, I had to make a speech in social studies. It was the only class I shone in. I practiced with my parents until I had it down perfectly. My father helped me make index cards that were legible and precise. I was very proud of my perfect index cards.
Having my last name begin with an "S" in a class filled with "A"s to "D"s was horrible, because I almost always went last. Unless it was the very rare reverse alpha and I went first. Neither option was good, but if I went first I had less time to panic, Some of my "enemies" would glare at me while we waited to be called on. I suppose they knew how anxious that made me. But, really, they were right not to like me, I thought. I had forgotten how to smile. Though I knew how to conduct a conversation I would zone out when people tried to be friendly. I was a total social failure and knew who to blame--me.
Finally the teacher called on me. I went to the front of the class and looked at all the kids. The same kids who were in my homeroom. My mouth felt dry. I wanted to fall under the concrete floor. I tried talking. No words came out. I stood there for five very long minutes trying to get words to come out of my mouth. The teacher finally told me to go back to my desk. When I open my mouth to speak publicly, I'm still convinced, for a hot second that no words will come out.
Years later I was at an adoptee-rights meeting. It was an all-day seminar and the topic was "What to do after you find your birth parent." Though I hadn't yet found my birth mother and had no inkling that I would find her less than six months later, something propelled me to this meeting.
There was a decidedly anti-adoption element in the 1980's. Speaker after speaker spoke from the perspective of the adoption agency, the birth parent, and the adoptive parents. All but the birth parent were loudly booed by some people. To my lasting shame I didn't speak out.
After lunch, there was a panel discussion. A woman said she had found her birth mother but her adoptive mother was in bad health and she didn't know how to go about telling her. I thought that a great question, though my father was more into my search than I was, and by this time I knew I could tell my very healthy parents anything. A man on the panel began talking about how he had accidentally found his birth uncle in a bar in Key West. Another person began reminiscing about meeting her birth mother. Still another person on the panel joined in. They were all anti-adoption and talked about that. What did this have to do with the topic? We had paid a hefty sum of money to end up hearing about how adoption was akin to child slave labor. (I used to provide a link on my personal blog to a website that espouses this view.) Some people in the packed audience left. Others looked miserable.
I was fuming and stood up. I made a ten-minute impassioned speech about how everybody had the right to their own feelings but we in the audience had paid to hear about certain topics and they weren't being addressed. When I was through the audience gave me a standing ovation, and the tone of the meeting changed. I gave speeches all the time at work but this was different. It was impromptu and meant something. I thought back to that frightened 8th grader and realized how far I had come. I had found my voice and this time nobody could take it away.
© 2012 Pia Savage
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