Not sure what triggered it, telling my “story” in an interview with LiveThroughThis.org last weekend or an energy clearing class I attended Thursday in which fear and shame came up with some specific childhood memories of being picked on… but visiting my old elementary school popped into my mind when I woke up Friday morning. I do my best to honor my intuition – especially when it doesn’t make logical sense to me.
So on this fine spring Sunday afternoon I put Sadie in my truck and we went to roam around Johnny Appleseed Elementary. I just live a few towns away, but I very rarely drive past the school and am pretty sure I hadn’t visited since 1980.
Not sure what I expected to find or experience, but as I approached and got my first glimpse of the building from the road I felt an anxiety building; a bit of dread. I asked myself what was that about – fear of the unknown was the clear answer. Much like the first day of school, I thought to myself which made me laugh and dissolved the tension.
The school looked very much the same from the front, but as I walked around to go out back and see the playground I spent so much time on and the big playing fields behind the school I was met by huge additions to the building. Everything I remembered was mostly gone. The swings we used to get massive air on and then jump as far as we could down a hill were removed, (I’m sure due to that very practice), also the steel pull-up bars and monkey bars we used to have fights on were gone, the giant half-buried tires we played King of the Mountain on had been removed too. Sure, people got hurt almost ever single day, but now how do kids learn to take a tumble and shake it off these days? I had been looking forward to taking a flying jump from the swings today. The only remnant from my time there was a faded four square outline on the oldest section of pavement.
The huge playing fields where dreaded gym classes were held, when I would sweat being the last kid picked or not were only half there. Just barely enough room for a decent kickball game now. And all enclosed by a chain-link fence that wasn’t there in my day.
I wondered what the point of my visit was. I walked around and did a bit of tapping, remembering some of the times I was bullied, picked-on, and generally felt like shit there. I stood in the general vicinity of places I knew I stood praying that the ball wouldn’t come near me at all while playing baseball or softball. This school was the first location I remember thinking about suicide. But, I was rather surprised to remember more fun times than bad.
I walked some of the same ground I used to play Six Million Dollar Man on – I was usually Bigfoot. Running around, tossing other kids all over the place – that was my game. I remembered my gym teacher pulling me aside in one class when I wasn’t paying attention. He told me I had a big, powerful build and I was going to be such a strong man; that I had so much potential and that I should pay attention to who I chose to hang out with and not just goof off. I recall being floored; pretty sure that was the first time any adult told me they saw potential in my or praised my athleticism in any way. I even ended up doing some after school football following that talk. I avoided all organized sports previously because as an only child and being raised by my mom, I didn’t know how to play anything. It seemed like every kid doing Little League, Pop Warner and the like already knew how to play. Plus everyone who did play sports made fun of the kids on the worst teams. I never tread anywhere near a situation that I had a chance of being at the bottom of.
It’s so odd that I carried more conscious memories of being picked on there than being picked up. Years later that gym teacher moved into my father’s neighborhood and I got to see and talk with him a few times, but I know I never thanked him for that conversation. He died pretty young from cancer, but I hope he knows the positive impact he had on me and so many others.