I remember being taken out of school at sixth grade. Don’t get me wrong, it was the right idea. My dad knew me like no other and he saw that I simply wasn’t getting it. A conspiratorial confluence of events and influences had led to my tanking in the academic arena and so he simply elected to pull me out and homeschool me. My lack of focus was leavened, so to speak, as the school had in an effort to acclimate students to the Middle School way decided to have them go from class to class and then be based in a home room. History, Math and then Science (my home room teacher) were parsed out amongst the three teachers there. A month had gone by and the schooling I was receiving was not taking (probably more interested in girls and in “being cool” though there could have been some sort of “learning disability”). So when in a heated phone argument with my history teacher, she promptly hung up on him, the last straw was lain. Wilson school would no longer be the place of my learning.
Let’s rewind a bit shall, we? For something so momentous as me going to college—I mean, for you to truly understand just what this means—I should lay the foundation for what my mind has gone through up till now. Starting with my very first memory.
We had moved from Plano, Texas to Montrose, California. I was about a year-and-a-half and I remember certain things. Not, like, the day in, day out routine of that apartment but I can flesh out an interior, an atmosphere. Certain colors and pastiches. In other words, nothing really concrete. I remember being babysat as a toddler and my parents coming home from their night out. Evidently the babysitter had either done something she wasn’t supposed to or had forgotten to do something she was supposed to, I dunno. I just remember my dad being put out with her, to put it politely. And then there was the time he called me in sick to school because he wanted to spend time with me. I distinctly remember that. And now that I think about it, I can recall this time where I’d gotten a new Lego set, a helicopter, and I recall staying up all night to build it. I don’t know why it would have taken so long, perhaps I didn’t start till way late? Who knows. The thing about all these memories is that they took place in my childhood living room in Montrose, California. But none of them are my very first memory. That one involves me sitting on the floor in my diaper reading a novel called “Warleggan” from the Poldark series of novels by Winston Graham. It sported the series cover as it had been made for TV. I thumbed through (all thumbs) the yellowing pages and was taken in, not by the story nor the characters, but by the fascinating rows of symbols and, I suppose, punctuation. Not that any of it made any sense to me, I simply remember it. My very first memory and I still have the book to this day.
I began attending a Christian Montessori school a couple blocks from where I lived. It was there that the aforementioned symbols began to make sense to me. The alphabet began to crystallize in my head and parts of speech were assigned their correlate shapes (the Montessori Method, you understand) and I even read a book or two. I also took up drawing and fancied long division. Learning was fun. And it was in this atmosphere that I feel that my truest self took root. The three-and-a-half years from Preschool (I remember an earthquake on my first day of Montessori preschool) through Second stand out to me this day. In much the same way that I have a simple gestalt for memories pertaining to my Montrose apartment, the same holds true for my time at Montrose Christian Montessori. Albeit larger, the grounds of the school are intermingled with childlike feelings and perceptions and literal dreams. It’s like this orange bubble that is living, pulsing with an atmosphere of pure freedom and possibility. Warmth and love and growth. It would turn, during that time, into a rich loam from which to draw as I moved up and on and out. I left MCMS after second grade. My mom (a nurse) had taken a job at a hospital up the road in Glendale and so we relocated.
The silent era
I went from a happy-go-lucky kid, a tad on the silly/flighty side to crying in the back of my classroom. The half-year I spent at Glen Oaks Elementary nearly stamped out the fledgling mental state in which I wandered around in wonder. I don’t remember my third grade teacher’s name but I distinctly recall her wishing us good luck as we talked to her for the last time before moving up to Oregon. My mom had again found a better position in her health care career and so we moved up to the area I am now. But before we go any further, I would like to make a couple clear points. The memories of Public school are, for me, a lot harder. Harder as in jarring and dry. Whereas the beauty of the Montessori atmosphere I would have likened to color (warm pastel, specifically), the long, lonely school building nestled in the old-growth neighborhood of Glendale connotes concrete. A gray wash with an urban feel that is indifferent to the warmth and excitement that my former school instilled in me. I have one good memory from my time there: a young boy, my peer, gifting me a little pencil box with a simple manga-like character on it. It lent a tincture of comfort to what I was thrown into, what I was going through. Otherwise, you’d find me sitting at my desk, weeping and snuffling for disorientation. But it was the era of neon and of late Michael Jackson. Of the Los Angeles Lakers and of kickball on the blacktop. The excitement of Ducktales and Talespin after school and of Gameboy in my dad’s big red leather chair. But if you’ll notice, most all this stuff is extracurricular. Well, with the exception of my neon yellow backpack. But I wasn’t growing the right way, I know this now. Your average Montessori school will shuttle its students through the same grade all the way up to the end of Elementary. And I can say that my fellow MCMS students and I had grown close, the relocation doing little to mar the closest friendships. But I didn’t know anyone at Glen Oaks. Making friends wasn’t something I did instinctively. It either happened naturally or not at all. The marked distinction in the two schools, not to mention schooling styles, had cracked something deep inside of me. Yes, my teacher (again, I forget her name yet somehow remember all my Montessori teachers’ names) used certain devices that must have been eminently her own, but nothing stands out. And with reference to the jarring relocation, I believe people in general are more resilient than that and I in particular am no exception. But if you read the first paragraph of this post, know that what reached a head in sixth grade—that which would be the cause of my dad expelling me himself—would have taken root here, in this school. And as I would have been a few years older, my mind and its memories are were (and are) more developed. I suppose, now I think about it, that it was good to have gone to a Montessori school first. As that seed would have been planted deeper, it would have taken root first and as such would have been my first love, so to speak. This being said, my time at Glen Oaks was a blessing as well. It’s important that we stay true to our calling and that our motives are pure, to say nothing of our influences, but how do we really know what light is—let alone how to appreciate it—if we haven’t tasted a little darkness? The contrast is then more distinct, the balance between the two gained and hopefully maintained. But if six months of public schooling after three-and-a-half years of private is enough to balance out the beauty with a hardship, what would another two-and-a-half years in yet another public school atmosphere do? Another school at still one remove from the other? Things were going to get darker, much darker, before they would ever get brighter.
I’ll finish part one with this memory. My family and I had moved from Glendale, California, to Medford, Oregon in January of 1992. We got up here before the moving truck and I remember looking out of the second floor window of our empty, light blue apartment on Poplar Drive. I was looking at this bare tree across the street. The sky was an even lighter, almost translucent blue and the pale morning sunlight belied the forthcoming rigidity that the school across the street would soon be inculcating into me.