A guy in elementary school has to find his own survival techniques. Otherwise, he will always be forced to drink from the girls’ water fountain, constantly be trapped in bathroom stalls, and always be picked last for dodgeball. Honestly I never did figure out a way to manipulate my way out of last place draft pick.
But otherwise, I learned that I could often answer questions that others couldn’t, or at least wouldn’t, and I had determination that some were lacking. You build your confidence with the resources you have. In third grade the girls and guys didn’t play together anymore, and the guys were playing football and engaging in other competitions of strength, speed and agility. Here I discovered that I could run about as fast as anyone else, and faster than many, and I never understood why it was that when Doug, my first friend, would get the ball and head to the goal line, everybody but me would just let him go. I kept chasing. Once in while I actually caught him, and the rest of my team then complained that they had to go all the way down the field, when they knew he would score anyway. I never understood football – still don’t.
The others saw that I was willing to pursue the difficult though, and that I had good relationships with the teachers and principal. So when they wanted something from the adults, I was often chosen to do the lobbying. I didn’t mind. It was better to be used than ignored.
On the other hand sometimes being ignored is better than the alternative. As I explained in an earlier installment, my extended family was from Arkansas, even though I was growing up in Monroe. Once in a while my Keathley grandmother – “Granny” – would come to visit. She wasn’t comfortable driving the four hours to Monroe from Conway, so she took the Greyhound bus. (Maybe this is why I liked the Roy Clark song “Thank God and Greyhound.”) On one of these occasions, my mom and brother and I went to the bus station to pick her up. I remember the three of us waiting on a sidewalk as people filed off the bus, and one man, as he stepped down the steps of the bus and onto the asphalt, made direct eye contact with me – 3rd grade David. He immediately smiled a huge smile, dropped his purse onto the pavement, hiked up his skirt enough to bend over well, and gave me one of the biggest hugs I had received to date. My first encounter with a cross-dresser. Before LGBTQ was all the rage. I’m not a big fan of hugs from strangers today.
Third grade was my last full year at Lakeshore. In fourth grade we moved and I attended Swartz Elementary. Here I started all over again. The word then was “shy.” “David is shy – go talk to him and try to bring him out of his shell,” the adults would tell other kids. Doug was at this school as well, but he was hanging out with the future sports stars and I was not, so it didn’t matter much. But it was here that I got the first joyful taste of an ability for which I would always be thankful. Bryce was a boy in my class who, according to the teachers, was “nonverbal.” I was told that he simply did not speak, but made good grades. They sat me next to him in classes because others would pick on him. He was a great guy. We had conversations. Teachers then asked me why he would talk to me and no one else. I had no idea. But he did, and we were friends. I was the outgoing one. That boosted my confidence. He was the only thing about Swartz Elementary that I was sad to leave, when I went to River Oaks School for fifth grade.