She really hadn’t wanted to skip a grade, but she did have to admit she was a little excited about it.
Her second grade teacher had told Mommy and Daddy that she was so far ahead of the rest of the kids that she had almost finished the whole year’s work, and the year wasn’t half over yet. “So,” Mommy had asked, showing an uncommon amount of interest…Mommy was never interested in anything about school except for her report cards… “What are you going to do about it?”
Daddy didn’t want her to skip. “Give her something more challenging to do,” he said. “But keep her with her peers.” She didn’t know what a peer was, but she didn’t really want to go to another classroom. She knew this one, she liked Miss Brandon, she had known most of her classmates since kindergarten. She didn’t want a change.
But she hadn’t much choice in the matter. Herded along by the momentum that Mommy’s insistence created, she ultimately had only the choice of which third grade classroom to join in mid-term…one where she knew some of the kids, and one where she did not. She took Mrs. Webber’s class because the two Janeys were in it…both girls lived on her street so at least she was not completely among strangers. The fact that the Janeys would never play with her because she was “too little,” being a year younger and a grade behind in school, was not as important to her mind as being in a classroom where she was at least acquainted with some of the kids.
Mrs. Webber was scary. She wasn’t the warm, nurturing kind of teacher she was used to. Mrs. Webber had large, bloody red lips and long, long teeth that reminded her of a rabbit, a thin, pointed nose, the most alarming shade of red hair she had ever seen, and a disconcerting habit of running her tongue over her teeth…lips closed…first the top set of teeth from jaw to jaw, and then the bottom. It made her feel a little bit like one of the Three Little Pigs being eyed by The Wolf.
And Mrs. Webber didn’t bother to help her learn what the children in her class had learned in the last semester. Perhaps the teacher was given to understand that this “gifted student” was up to speed, perhaps not…but the result was the same: the class was learning division and she didn’t yet know how to multiply! When she timidly approached Mrs. Webber at the first recess after the math lesson to explain her dilemma, fully expecting a kindly arm around her shoulder and a promise of help, she was stunned to get the same eye-rolling look of incredulity that generally heralded a tongue-lashing…or worse…from Mommy.
“Oh, great,” Mrs. Webber had moaned. “Just great. This is not what I understood when I agreed to take you into my class. I’m going to tell them to send you back to second grade…”
“No!” she interrupted hastily. “Please don’t do that!” Mommy would have a true-to-life fit! She was already lording it over her friends and bragging on how her child was a genius and was skipped a whole grade in mid-year. Mommy would not easily accept her being sent back, after only one day. “I’ll get my Daddy to help me. He’s very good at multiplying,” she improvised. “I just thought you might have something to help…”
Mrs. Webber rummaged around in her desk drawer and finally withdrew a list of tables. “Memorize these and you’ll be fine,” she said in a somewhat more kindly tone. “Now go outside, you need the fresh air.”
If she had thought knowing the Janeys would help her in the classroom, she was mistaken. She might be in their class, but she belonged in the second grade and they weren’t about to let her forget it. Unfortunately, her second grade friends seemed to view her mid-year promotion as some kind of abandonment or betrayal, and none of them wanted to play with her either. She sat on the steps…third graders weren’t allowed on the monkey bars or the swings or in the sand box, they were “too big”…and waited for recess to be over.
Walking home was no better. Her second grade friends, Choosey and Nancy, wouldn’t walk with her because she wasn’t one of them any more, and the Janeys wouldn’t let her walk with them because she was still, in their eyes, “a little kid.” It was a long three blocks home, and she wearily changed into her play clothes and began her chores. She wasn’t liking school much these days, but there was always hope. That’s what Nana liked to say to Grandpa when they were talking about Mommy and didn’t know she was listening… “There’s always hope, Johnny, always hope.”
It took weeks. She quickly became the best reader in her class, the best speller, and once she got the hang of writing rather than printing, her cursive was the most adept. She didn’t consider this out of the ordinary…she could not remember being unable to read, she could spell any word she had ever seen, and since she was a fair hand with drawing and cursive was more like drawing than writing, it seemed a rather easy skill to master. Arithmetic, however, continued to plague her. She couldn’t seem to keep the number combinations straight in her head, and each time she was faced with reciting in class, doing a problem on the board, or taking a quiz, her brain turned to mush. She could sound out multi-syllabic words, spell them, and even make reasonably accurate guesses as to their meanings, provided she had context…but she simply drew a blank on those multiplication tables. Unlike the kids in the second grade, however, the kids in Mrs. Webber’s third grade didn’t seem to see her as a friendly resource, someone who could help them with their spelling or reading. Instead, she seemed to be viewed as an interloper, a younger child who made them all look stupid by comparison…except in arithmetic, of course.
But at the end of several weeks, things seemed to be getting a little better. In the Girl’s Room at recess on a cloudy, windswept day, the kind of day that blasted stinging gouts of sand through the air, and pelted the children on the playground with an endless spray of tiny pebbles, the Janeys actually deigned to talk to her. She was delighted!
She had gone inside the restroom because the raw, open patch of eczema on the inside of her left calf stung and burned from the blowing sand. Mommy would not let her have knee socks to cover up the ugly, weeping rash that covered most of the inside of her lower leg, saying that it needed exposure to the sun. But without the long socks, the itchy patch was exposed to the rest of the elements, too, not the least of which was the blowing sand that embedded itself in the damp, oozing tissue. On days like this she went to the Girl’s Room at recess and stayed until the bell told her she could go back to class.
The Janeys found her in the bathroom, and surprisingly, engaged her in conversation about what kinds of dolls and accessories she had. Knowing the way of little girls, she recognized this as a kind of interview, a preliminary investigation into her worthiness to join their little clique. Janey Kinkki excused herself to use the toilet while Janey Bertolli continued to compare notes with her about their dolls and toys, and when Janey Kinkki came out of the toilet stall, she called the two other girls over. There was a word written on the inside of the stall door, a word she did not recognize.
“What’s this word?” Janey K., as she was known in class, asked her. “You can read anything, so maybe you can read this word.”
That familiar sense of being drawn into a trap came over her and she shook her head. “I’ve never seen it before,” she said warily.
“C’mon,” Janey B. said. “That doesn’t stop you in class. Sound the word out, like you do for Mrs. Webber.”
She shook her head, backing away from the stall door and the four letter word crudely printed on it. “I don’t know that word,” she said, edging towards the restroom door. “I haven’t seen it before.”
Janie K. ran to block her exit from the restroom. “C’mon,” Janie B. taunted softly, advancing on her. “C’mon. You can read anything, Mrs. Webber says so. So read this, smarty pants!”
She felt panic rising and began to pray for the bell. The Janeys would have to leave when the bell rang or they would be late to class and Mrs. Webber wouldn’t like that. “Yeah,” Janey K. chimed in, “Miss Smarty Pants, read it. It’s only one word. We’re not as smart as you are…we didn’t skip a grade like you did, why don’t you show us dumb kids how you do it?”
She could feel tears pricking behind her eyes, but stifled them rather than be labelled by these girls a “cry baby.” Why were they doing this to her? Even her mother could be pleased when she excelled at something…why were these girls mad at her just because she could read well? Janey B. grabbed her by the hair in a gesture terrifyingly familiar and tried to drag her resisting form back to the stall. “Read it!” she commanded. “Read it!”
She couldn’t struggle against the two of them as they pushed her into the little stall. “Read it or we’ll lock you in!” one of them said, laughing.
“Fuck!” she cried out, but never having heard the word spoken, she wasn’t entirely confident of the pronunciation. “That’s what it says!”
The Janeys froze and looked at each other, then burst into laughter. “Boy, are you in trouble now!” one of them said. “That’s a really dirty word and I have to tell Mrs. Webber that you said it.”
“You forced me!” she cried hotly. “You forced me to!”
Janie K.’s beautiful blue eyes widened to round, innocent circles, her white-blonde curls framing her angelic face. She blinked and looked at Janey B. “Did you see anybody force her to say that nasty word?” she asked, all innocence. The other girl shook her long dark ringlets.
“Did you hear her say that awful word?” Janey B. widened her eyes and nodded vigorously.
“Do you think we should tell Mrs. Webber? Or maybe we should go right to the principal?”
“Let’s tell her mother,” Janey B. suggested. “I live across the street and she gets a spanking every day, don’t you?” the child asked, turning her attention to her miserable victim. “Your mother would give a real good one for this, wouldn’t she?”
Not knowing what the word meant, but suspecting it was a serious transgression, she nodded dumbly. The bell rang but the relief she had anticipated did not materialize. If anything, she felt even more threatened.
“Please don’t tell my mother,” she begged. “You don’t know what she will do to me!”
Janey B. giggled. “Yes, I do. I seen her whip you when the front blinds are open. She whips you on your bare butt!”
Janey K. looked incredulous. “Every day?” she asked. “You get a whipping every day?”
She nodded miserably. Now that they knew how bad she was, they were never going to want to play with her. She found out in the first grade that other little girls didn’t get spankings every day…some of them had never, ever had a spanking.
Janie K. shook her head. “Your mother is tough!”
They were running for the classroom now, trying to get in line before the second bell rang and they were marked tardy. She miserably took her place in the line, knowing that as soon as the girls told, her life was over. Her mother would wash her mouth out with soap, then take the strap to her, then tell her father, and Daddy would be so disappointed in her! She sniffed, trying to hold back her tears, lest Mrs. Webber see her crying and try to find out why.
Behind her in the queue, Janie K. poked her in the back. “We won’t tell,” the girl whispered, “But you gotta do whatever we say. OK?”
Relief flooded over her and she nodded her head vigorously.
“OK, then, after school today I’m going to come over and you are going to give me your Dinah Shore paper dolls.”
Her heart sank. Nana had bought those paper dolls for her and she played with them all the time! Miserable, but knowing the alternative, she nodded slowly.
“Good,” Janey said. “Oh…and if anybody ever asks you to say that word again, say the word is ‘fudge.’ Then they have to say the bad word instead of you and you can get them in trouble if they don’t do what you want. OK?”
She couldn’t imagine why she would want to do that to someone, but to keep the fragile peace forged with the Janeys, she nodded. They weren’t exactly her friends, but they would have to do.
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.