The following is a combination of what I can remember, what I think might have happened, and what I know for a fact did happen. I lived this hell.
It was somewhere after 9:00 AM that my own personal hell began. I didn’t know what to call it then, and still don’t. But it was hell. My own personal Hell.
It was early in school year. Mr. Stoynoff, my grade 2 teacher, was having parent-teacher consultations. If you’re an adult now you know what I’m talking about. Your mom or dad talks with the teacher about you. The following is a theoretical transcript of what I think might have happened.
Mr. S. – Glad to meet you Mrs. Austin. May I ask you a question?. From time to time Toms shoots his arm and he waves his hand in front of his face. Does he do this at home?
Mom – His father and I have noticed this too. We’re taking him to our family doctor to see if he can shed any light on this.
Now, Dr. Cox was a great doctor. His prowess at giving injections was second to none, however his ability to communicate verbally with some of his more diminutive patients stank. The parents were told what was going to happen and it left to them to explain what was going to happen. I don’t recall either of my parents actually telling me anything. All they might have said was something like this.
Mum: “You’re not going to school tomorrow. You and I are going to accompany your father when he goes to work. And in few hours we’re all going to see Dr. John Stobo Prichard at Sick Children’s Hospital”.
There are few words in the English language that strike fear and terror into a kids heart and “Hospital” was #1 or near number one. That’s were vampires lived and nurses gave you four foot long needles. When we met Dr. John Stobo Prichard I noticed he talked strangely. I quietly asked mum why he sounded funny. She said it was because he was English. He wasn’t. He was Welsh. When I was growing up few adults had genuine interest in what I was doing. Most feigned interest. When I was 7 I was in my dinosaur phase. I couldn’t get enough of them. Dr. Prichard and I talked about dinosaurs for what seemed like hours. He asked me (remember….I was 7) if I would consent to some tests. I consented on the basis that any doctor who liked dinosaurs couldn’t be all that bad. A nurse, who was about as attractive as The Phantom Of The Opera, took so much blood out of me I think I shrunk. And at seven years of age you can’t afford to lose any height. After Vampirella was through with me Dr. Prichard asked me to have an E.E.G. I said “okay as long as there are no needles”. The E.E.G. machine was about ten feet long (Remember….this is the fall of 1964). Today, in 2019, E.E.G. machines are about the size of the first laptop computers. My first E.E.G. had this light which strobed at different speeds. After all was said and done it turned out I was allergic to an unseen wavelength of light. And that I was borderline epileptic. I learned a whole more after my first seizure when I was 13 but that’s another post. Dr. Prichard and Dr. Cox put me on orange flavoured goop called phenobarb. My hand simulated the strobing of a light source and I….well, sort “zoned-out” for a few seconds. I became different and a prime target for some of the worst teasing and taunting imaginable.
Kids can be really cruel and some can be really nasty. And at school some kids teased me when ever they could which was most of the time. I remember many a lunch when I would trudge home crying and miserable from all the teasing. When kids tease they can be really creative. They teased from nine in the morning till 3:30 in the afternoon. Even after school I wasn’t safe. They would taunt me all the way home. But the absolute worst insult was they called me a “retard”.
I decided to call this hand waving flapping. It sounded and looked like a bird flapping its wings. And they’d taunt me. I didn’t know I was doing it. All I know there were less and less kids to play with. I was so unhappy I wanted the earth to eat me alive. During my entire childhood I was only invited to only one birthday party. My brothers weren’t quite sure what to do with me and life became lonelier and lonelier. Grade three was awful. Miss Smuckler was a real piece of work. She only wore black (at least it seemed that way), and had horn rimmed glasses. There were 45 pupils in my class with half of us in grade 3 and the other half in grade 4. At Blythwood Public School life was miserable. My friends became fewer and fewer until I only had a handful. The teacher didn’t have a clue what to do with me, and the flapping was getting worse and worse.
My teacher in grade four was Mrs. Kerr. She was neat. She got a kick out the Charlie Brown comic strip. She was able to look past the flapping which was now happening with alarming regularity. At recess there was this one kid named Fred who liked to get his jollies by teasing me. One day he went too far with his “retard” comments. I went ballistic in the extreme. Fred was too busy flapping his gums and getting me furious. With no warning I lashed out. I gave him three shots to his abdomen which made him double over. When he bent over to prevent further pummeling to his stomach I slugged him as hard as I could in the side of his head. He went down. I knocked him out cold. After this experience Fred gave me a wide berth and was a little more conservative with his teasing. Grade five was horrible. The staff didn’t know what to make of me. The French teacher really had it in for me. Whenever she called on you you had to stand. And one day she called on me when the flapping was really bad. She asked me this question. Nervous as hell I started to flap. Then she got under the collar about my flapping and not answering her. Then she really lost it and called me a fool. Well, the rest of the class came to complete stand still. No student had ever been called a fool before and slowly the class looked at me. I was so embarrassed, so humiliated, I pulled the neck of my turtle neck sweater over my head and sat down. The teacher went on to pester someone else. I knew I soon be going to Glenview Senior Public and there was no way on gods green earth this private hell was going to follow me there. I started looking for something to weigh my arm down. I experimented with lead. Too little wouldn’t work at all and too much…well, I might knock myself out. I needed to secure it to my wrist too. The only good thing about grade five was leaving it. That summer (1968) I went to Kilcoo Camp. For a month the flapping wasn’t much of a concern. I felt relatively relaxed. And for once I finally felt like I fit in. You couldn’t tell if I was flapping or brushing away mosquitoes. Grade six was mildly informative when the teacher, Mr. Legge, wasn’t salivating about his car (a Dodge Charger) or using his wife’s hairspray to slick down his hair. I have never seen a guy so obsessed with his appearance. That summer (1969) two things happened that helped me form a plan. In July mankind landed on the moon for the first time. The papers covered every conceivable angle. I saw the kind of strap I would need to hold the lead in place. At Kilcoo a counselor-in-training (C-I-T) had an ankle injury and was required to wear a lead ankle bracelet to strengthen a tendon. When I came home I bought a five pound ankle bracelet of lead shot. I wore that ankle bracelet on my wrist the entire time I was in grade 7. If anybody asked why I wore it I’d say it was to strengthen a weak arm muscle. The only time I didn’t wear the bracelet was when I was asleep or in the shower. I wore the bracelet for an entire year. In August 1968 I took the bracelet of lead shot off my wrist and I haven’t flapped since.
I chose lead because it’s a soft metal, mailable, and it’s inexpensive. And because another year of hell simply wasn’t an option.