A few days ago, I posted on here about the struggles I had when in Primary school, and how the simple actions of one teacher became a pivotal moment in the way I was dealing with it all.
Here is the original post, for those that didn’t see it. School Days
I wanted to clarify that the original post was not meant as a sad piece, or an attention-grabbing rant, rather, just the writing down of some thoughts that had been in my head at the time. Continuing on from that time, there was change in how I dealt with everything.
At the end of Grade 5 (the year that the teacher had asked me if I was OK), I decided to change schools. At the time, I thought that a fresh start before high school might help me transition, and the realisation that the teacher I was going to have in Grade 6 was one that not only did not ask about my welfare, but on a few occasions when I asked her for help, she put it down to ‘attention seeking’, shunning me and even speaking to my parents about what I had said. To add to this, as mentioned in the previous post, I did not have many/any friends in school. So, the decision to move schools had been a rather easy one.
My new school was not far away from my old one, only a suburb away. But it felt like a new world. No one knew me there, so I could reinvent myself. I could attempt to make new friends, pretend that things at home were not so volatile.
At my old school, I was often picked on, or even bullied by not only my own class mates, but also the older kids. As I was “the kid that sat alone” or “the kid with no friends”, It was almost like I was fair game. The people in my class were more into name-calling and that sort of thing, but a few of the older kids were more into the beatings or the “shoving into the fence/wall” game.
At my new school, no one knew me as “that kid that sits alone”, so I made a few friends and started hanging out with them at school (but never out of school). Within a few weeks, a kid in my class started picking on me, mostly about my mother who is disabled (kids have no conscience or morality). Something in me snapped and I beat this kid up. Off to the principal’s office. I explained everything, but of course, got detention.
A few days later, the same kid said the same thing. I decided to warn him this time. “If you keep it up, I’ll beat you up again!”. He kept picking on me, so I beat him up again. Back to the principal’s office. Detention. This went on at least once a week, and always the same kid. Within a month of being at the school, I stopped hanging out with my new friends, resorting to the younger kids, as I had done at my previous school. I retreated back into my own world, and sat alone. I did not participate in class activities, and stopped making an effort. This one kid had beaten the glimmer of hope I had to forget the past. I had reinvented myself, but it was not me. It did not hide me from my problems, it only masked them and pushed them down.
Eventually, the Principal became sick of seeing me and suggested to my mother that I attend a Child Psychologist. I remember to this day, the questions they asked me. “Why do you start fights at school?” my reply, “Its only with one kid. He insults my mother’s disability, I warn him to stop or I’ll beat him up, he doesn’t stop, so I beat him up!” Their reply was “But why do you really fight?”. Almost as if I would find enlightenment or have an epiphany. I was twelve. I only went once, and it was rather difficult to talk in more depth, as they insisted my parents remain in the room.
The following few weeks saw a few more fights, and the principal, at wit’s end, decided to expel me from school. My mother home-schooled me for the remainder of the year. She managed to source 6 months worth of school work for me. I completed it all in around two weeks, and took my BMX bike out for as much of the day as I could to avoid being at home.
Looking back, my fighting was probably a cry for attention. It was definitely out of character for me, and it was only an issue at that school. At no point was I asked if I was okay, or if there was something worrying me. My teachers at the school had not said anything to me, and I found out later that the Principal had employed a Psychologist to attend a few of my classes (for perhaps six weeks?) and observe me. We were told that she was a student teacher. So essentially, instead of just asking me if I was okay, the principal had someone spy on me, destroying my trust in authority figures at that school, and still said and did nothing.
High school delivered new challenges, although many things got a bit better. I made some great friends (as my high school was a few suburbs over, the ability to have friends seemed easier, as the whole ‘sleepover’ thing was not really done anymore, and we usually just socialised at school in the yard. Many of these friends are still a part of my life now, one was best man at my wedding.
It was around this point that I actively stood up to my father. Perhaps it was during my six months of ‘home-schooling’. I remember a huge argument at home that started getting physical. I snapped. I remember I stood up and yelled back at him, telling him to back off, grow up and stop acting like a complete asshole (or something to that effect). I was sure that it would result in the abuse being redirected to me, but he simply yelled some expletives, stormed off and went for a long walk. Wow. I had done that. I stood up to someone easily twice my size, and survived without a scratch. It was a confidence boost, but not one that I should have received in the first place. When he returned he was sulking, but never mentioned it to me again. From that day on, the physical abuse toward myself ended. I still received verbal and mental abuse, which in many ways, are far more damaging.
Skipping forward to about Year 10, and I had some close friends. Friends that were closer than anyone had ever been to me. I was able to tell them what was going on (or at least, some of it) and not worry about them telling their parents, or it getting back to my father. I was able to open up for the first time. I would spend as much time as I physically could at their houses. Sometimes staying over for a few nights, then going to a different friend’s house for a few more days. I occasionally went home, but aimed for times when I knew he wouldn’t be home. My record for staying at a friend’s house on their couch was six weeks, I think? I never told their parents, although they were very accepting, as to why I was there… I simply came home from school one day, slept on the couch, went to school the next day… and repeated this for six weeks. I am sure they knew something was wrong, but no one said anything.
I knew that if I was at home, I would need to tread on eggshells. I literally knew every creaky floorboard in our house (and still do!) and could move in and out of the house in silence. I knew that even the smallest of sounds would be enough to start an argument. It could be a sound, an action, the wrong TV show at a particular time, homework on the dining table, homework in my room, music that was louder than a whisper, a closed door, unwashed plates etc. Any of these things, and so many more, would often result in a yelling, screaming, abusive argument that often ended with an item being broken, smashed or destroyed. Homework torn up for being on the dining table, a radio smashed for being too loud. A door being slammed so forcibly that the door-jam shifted a full inch from where it needed to be. All very common.
Eventually, things got completely impossible at home. I had discovered that my father had been cheating on my mother for many years with many different people. I discovered letters that he wrote to these people, so it was confirmed by his own pen. I made copies of these letters and hid them. For many weeks, I contemplated my next actions. Should I give them to my mother? Should I confront him myself? In the end, I felt that my mother deserved to know. I told her not to confront him unless I was around, in case things got violent.
She waited a further two weeks before confronting him. I was home, doing homework with my headphones on. I heard an eruption of verbal abuse, swearing and items smashing. This was much worse than previous spats. I figured that my mother had confronted him. I was correct. In the space of around ten minutes, he had all but destroyed the entire house. Every plate in the cupboards had been pulled out and smashed. Every drawer had been upended. Every item of furniture had been flipped, tipped or smashed. Every door had been slammed at least once. He then looked me right in the eye, blamed me for everything and stormed out. He never returned. The police that attended (due to the amount of damage, and the fear that he would return with much worse) were shocked at the level of damage. I told them it took him ten minutes, but they thought it would’ve taken him three to four hours of uninterrupted destruction. It took five adults more than a week to clean it all up.
The day after the confrontation, we were at the Magistrates Court, filing for an AVO. The police report was there, and the Magistrate granted it on the spot.
We had escaped. My mother had escaped. We were finally able to relax a little at home, not worry about outbursts for the tiniest of things, and more importantly, mum could finally start living her life for herself, and not for him.
After we had appeared in court, mum drove me to school. I walked in and met with the Principal and Vice Principal. I explained it all to them, with as much detail as I dared. I had never opened up to a teacher or figure of authority like this. By the end of it, the Principal was gob-smacked, and the Vice Principal was in tears. They were both amazing, offering me any support they could, from informing my teachers, assisting me with my grades, and on occasion, allowing me to stay back after school to try to get in some extra homework time. They informed me that their office doors were always open if I needed to talk, or simply needed somewhere to retreat to.
Fast forward quite a few more years, and I am now married to an amazing woman, with a gorgeous little girl. I have vowed many years before even considering kids that I would never be anything like my father was, and I have kept that promise to myself. I enjoy every moment I get to spend with my daughter. We go on adventures, exploring the botanic gardens, playing at playgrounds, going for bike rides, singing and dancing to silly songs and enjoying each others company. We laugh together, play together and we are silly together. I am teaching her so many things, and learning even more from her in return. looking back to my early school days, and I never for a moment expected my life to be where it is today. I never expected to get married, settle down, have a family and especially to be a stay-at-home parent!
And to think, all of this stemmed from that one teacher asking me if I was OK. Sometimes the simplest or seemingly insignificant actions can result in monumental outcomes. Never underestimate the power that one person holds in their words or their actions.