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"She was one of our best...But angry, always so angry...was something going on at home?" So asked my junior high school social studies teacher, Mrs. Dougherty, when my mom visited for my brother's open house. Well, damn right there was. Go through your entire life being called "stupid" the moment you walk in the door and see if it has any effect on you. Spend a day, a week, a decade listening to your father verbally abuse your mother and see if your opinion of men and marriage changes. Run a self-diagnostic test or two and see how you're really doing. When the rest of the world—your teachers, your counselors, your friends' parents—tells you that you're "gifted" and highly intelligent and treats you in a manner befitting your supposed status as an intellectual goddess-in-training, you'll begin to wonder why your life at home is so awful.

Throughout your schooling, the only things your teachers ever notice enough to worry about are your tendencies towards procrastination and your seemingly-angry disposition. Otherwise, you're fine, a brilliant student. You begin to identify with other students who are intelligent enough to crack jokes and come up with witty remarks in every class and still make A's: you're an intellectual slacker. Your father, however, admonishes you not to "let them push you around into all of those hard classes. You'll be just fine in the normal classes...When I was in high school, they pushed me into all the hard classes, and I fell flat on my face..." This, of course, makes you even more eager to tackle as many honors and extra classes as possible. You know that you won't fall flat on your face, and you won't stupidly end up with no degree and no future, like your father, or as a frustrated artist like your mother. No, you will transcend, you will rise above their pedestrian lives...

So you keep going. You discover a way to ignore your home life and the more boring aspects of school: you call it "going unconscious". You learn to make plans and set goals while "conscious," then go through your days carrying out these plans like an automaton, without thinking too deeply about the contradictions you're living with. It's a form of doublethink. It does, of course, inhibit your ability to be honest with people, including yourself, when deep in such an obscure haze. But it's better this way. You know that if you can survive your last year of high school without developing any more mental disorders than you already have, you just might be okay.

Even so, you have many doubts, and you worry. Your anxiety mounts, and only your closest friends know the extent of your problems. They know they root of your problems, too: you, most of all the people they know, need to leave your house. It's almost that simple. Your friends, though, can't be there at every moment to assuage your fears, and your anxiety festers like some eternally irritated sore. You are an eternally irritated sore, and you doubt that you'll heal without the aid of some sort of psychologist. You won't get one while living at home, though, because your tribal shaman, ahem, father, is too afraid of losing his power over you, seeing as any psychologist would most likely pinpoint him as a root cause of your unrest. He gets angry whenever you show your intellectual superiority to him or hint at having the ability to manage your own affairs because every second your existence threatens the tenuous hold he has over his own life. For some reason you are his life, and he feels his choke-hold weakening as you speak.

Your boyfriends try to "save" you, because they all have the same innate need to prove their superiority and power. Somehow, things never work out with the guys, and you worry more. You can't tell whether the relationships end through some strange something you project on these guys, through bad judgment in the choosing of your subjects, your constate state of "unconsciousness", or just because it's high school. You worry that this kind of failure is inherent in your personality (or physique). This undermines your frail sense of self even more, and you develop a peculiar sort of bravado to cover your weakness. At one point you realize that this is how the cycle of abuse perpetuates itself, and that, oddly enough, you're likely to become the next abuser. But you can't help that right now. You're trying to survive.

You make lists, both mental and on paper, of all the things you're missing. You swear to yourself that you will do all the mundane things your father has never let you do when you go to college. You're not sure where your money will come from, but it matters not: you must have something to hope for to prevent your falling deeper into madness. Next year you'll watch R-rated movies, stay out after 10:30 p.m. for no good reason, drive a car, get a job, get contacts, get a real haircut, buy CD's you actually like...all the things you'd hoped in vain that you'd get to do this year, that your friends have been doing since at least sophomore year. Next year, it will be your turn. One of your teachers comments that after the hectic pace of high school (you've been involved in so many activities just to stay out of the house, although he doesn't know that) you should just kick back and relax your freshman year of college. One of your best friends is convinced that you'll become a true wild vixen once you're outside the scrutiny of your dad. You just want to recover; maybe you won't have to spend thousands on a psychologist down the road if you just have a chance to rest, to sleep, and during that sleep metamorphosize into the butterfly you were meant to be.

You have taken up the habit of scribbling down your thoughts whenever you're angry enough to bother, and that's rather often these days. You obsess over the failed relationships, you procrastinate, and the hours tick by each weekend without a thing getting done. You work on a website just to nurse your shattered ego. Eventually your depression (that's what you think you've discovered you've had all of these years, in one form or another) becomes so great towards Christmas break that you, who haven't been truly ill for upwards of four years, develop an illness that keeps you in bed for three weekends straight. The senior counselor takes pity on you, making an exception to her rule that students with applications due in the two weeks after break must give her their application materials before break, and gives you the extra time to finish everything up. You know your illness is the physiological manifestation of your inner turmoil. You've taken psychology; you know what happens when one feels like they have no control over their stressors.

It is now two weeks before Christmas break. You know you're not getting any presents for Christmas, just like you had Spam turkey for Thanksgiving, but you're just looking forward to the break. You need the time to finish the college applications that your illness kept you from. Maybe you'll get to recover a little. Maybe you'll get berated every day for existing. You don't know, and you can't predict the future. It's a lovely existence, isn't it? After all, you're at the top of your class. You're a National Merit Semifinalist. You must not have any real problems, not with that 34 on the ACT. No. Not you.

You wish yourself luck; you're going to need it.

12:00 pm, December 01, 2001 :: erstwhile

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