Early childhood is where I discovered my “melancholy,” as I labeled it then. I attended Lakeshore Elementary in Monroe, Louisiana, and while I knew all my classmates and got along with them, I never felt like I fit in. I was the kid sitting on the side walk watching the other kids play kiss-chase. I was the kid who stayed in from recess to help another student read correctly, at the request of the teacher. I liked the stricter teachers.I guess it was because of this that I remember Valentine’s Days with contempt, as I recall all of us decorating bags to put one another’s cute little elementary school Valentine cards in, and then finding mine with three or four cards while the other children had a bag full. I suppose it was after 1976 that teachers started applying the equal protection clause to Valentine’s Day parties.
I hated orange juice. Still do. At the beginning of the day we would single file ourselves to the lunch room to receive our juice and animal crackers or whatever, and I would entertain the other students with Bible stories. I knew and believed my Bible stories, and my “friends” seemed interested. I had no reservations about the truth or literality of the stories, or God, or the Devil. And then the teacher would keep me back until I finished the nasty juice. I gagged almost every time.
Second grade is where I found my disdain for parties and clowns. When your classmates know you to be the kid who hangs back from playground games, their parents label you as the “friend” their child HAS to invite to the birthday party, even though NO ONE is actually in favor of it. And so my melancholy became a handy tool for parents to use in teaching the more socially comfortable kids the virtue of charity. It was quite unwelcome. One particular birthday party comes to mind. I still call the birthday girl of that day a friend, but blindfolding and spinning an already uncomfortable child in front of a plastic picture of a jackass is no way to lift him out of his awkwardness. But then it wasn’t MY birthday, now was it?! Once I had failed to stick the rump of the jackass, and felt the sustained sting of my friends laughing at me – I wasn’t laughing, so they weren’t laughing WITH me – then came the clown. To this day I hate clowns and the masks of joy they wear. Feel free to take that as broadly and deeply as you care to.
So it was early elementary where I learned I did not fit in, and I was not yet comfortable with it. But sometimes they wanted my help. And that was my IN, or so I thought.