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The Snakes and Arrows a Child is Heir To

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The Snakes and Arrows a Child is Heir To

I was born on July sixth, nineteen-ninety-nine, at three-fourteen in the morning, to Iris Suzanne Adcock Gibson and Timothy Ryan Gibson. I had to be a summer baby, seeing as my father was getting his P.h.D at Simon Frazier University in Vancouver, and my mother was teaching full-time at Western Washington University. I was born at Peace Arch Hospital in Vancouver, and according to my mother, the process took a grueling day and a half. I was a forceps birth, so when you look in pictures of me as a newborn, all red and grumpy, I have one eye blackened shut. Because of this, I was christened “Winky”. My name is Clara Joy Gibson. “Clara” means either “bright” or “clear”, and comes from Greek. I suppose both of these meanings work. “Bright”, because I (and others) regard myself as intelligent, with a good memory and big-picture sensibilities. “Clear”, because the world is remarkably simple to me. I am a black-and-white thinker and not prone to flights of fancy, so I like to think I see things as they are. But, as Steve Hogarth sang in Rich, we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. Maybe I’m fooling myself. But, as aforementioned, I don’t do that very often. My middle name, “Joy”, comes from a license plate. Yes, right before my mother found out she was pregnant, they got new British Columbia plates, on which the convicts at the local penitentiary had hammered out J-O-Y. And so I was christened. But my future was anything but clear.
There were no signs in those early days that anything was atypical about me. I read early, focused early, and spoke early. I think I may have walked and crawled late, but there was no significant delay. I outgrew my squinchy, red-faced look and became a stereotypical Irish baby with clear blue eyes, strawberry-blonde hair, and rosy cheeks. My parents dressed me in vintage baby clothes found at a thrift store near their neighborhood. My father was the one who stayed home with me for the most part, because his work was writing his dissertation (Securing the Spectacular City: The Politics of Homelessness and Revitalization in Downtown Seattle), and my mother continued to work full time. When she was home, he went out with his tape recorder and canvassed downtown Seattle to mine the secrets of the Glenn Hotel Hygiene Center. We went back to that neighborhood, and he showed me the small building, situated under a place called “Bruno’s Mexican-Italian Eatery” and next to the Wild Ginger Dinner Theatre. I thought of him walking there twelve years ago, while I was sleeping at home with my mother.
Most likely, the best part of my life so far was before school. I was all right in preschool and kindergarten, most likely because in those grades, kids don’t really associate with each other. You play on your own. You’re expected to be reserved and maybe a little shy or standoffish or whatever. So I hid. But there was one thing, in kindergarten, that is a prime example of what I call “foreshadowing”, when I speak of the path to my diagnosis.
I had really bad handwriting.
And I mean really, really bad. It looked like I had dipped a many-legged creature in ink and let it writhe around on the paper. So I went to an occupational therapist. She had me squeeze a rubber bunny until its eyes bulged out (traumatizing), do some exercises, but, most memorably, run an obstacle course in which I had to duck under something. I did, but it got stuck on my a** and I dragged it a few yards before it fell off. The therapist turned to my mother and said;
“Most children would’ve shaken that off right away.”
See what I mean? Foreshadowing. But, unlike a more competent occupational therapist, she did not follow that up with anything. So my mother shrugged and we went merrily on our way. When I started kindergarten, there were no obvious problems. I had a good teacher and did well in the class, if you can even call kindergarten a class. I guess you could even say I thrived. But my mother, ever-vigilant, decided she didn’t like the look of the two first-grade teachers. One was grumpy, either from fertility drugs or pregnancy, and the other was absent “a ridiculous amount of time,” I remember her saying. So we moved to Fairlington and I enrolled in Claremont Spanish Immersion Elementary. One of the most poignant things about that transfer was that my mother actually asked my opinion. According to her, this is how I replied.
“Sure!” I chirped. “I could try something new!”
This always makes me sad, not only because of the miserable five years I would spend at that school, my fate sealed in one expression of innocence and naivete, but because I would never, ever, ever say anything remotely like that today, perhaps due (in part) to my experiences at that school.
I don’t remember much about that first day at school. The one thing that sticks out is that I brought my stuffed panda bear, Cutie, with me. I remember walking to my first class with him clutched to my chest, sucking on my bottom lip. Much of those first days elude me, in fact. But I do remember the field trips. Most schoolchildren love field trips. I loathed them. I hated the struggle to find a seat on the bus, I hated how I always ended up alone, or with one of the other unpopular children, such as a girl who I now suspect had ADD and always wore long, overly- cutesy dresses, or another girl who was all bones and angles, and was as likely to bite or scratch you as she was to say hello. I hated the disruption to my routine. I hated the uncertainty and the not-knowing exactly what I was in for. But most of all, I hated the Planetarium. The dark terrified me, and my loving mother always packed my beloved Cutie and a small flashlight in my backpack to make it a little easier. I always tried to snag a seat next to a sympathetic teacher (and I do remember sitting next to Mrs. Klein that first year on the way back, chatting about something or other) who would be less likely to laugh or elbow my arm off the armrest or call me a baby, a wuss, a weirdo.
But the truth was, I was a baby. I was only six years old, and a very young six at that, still afraid of the dark, carrying around a stuffed animal, and whispering “Mama loves me. Mama loves me.” over and over again like an incantation that would take away the fear at hard times. I wanted desperately to believe in magic, to be swept up like Cinderella, wrapped in beautiful dresses and magicked away from being an unpopular six-year-old with an awkward haircut that couldn’t tip the scale at fifty pounds soaking wet. I wanted to be brave and pretty and well-liked. I wanted everything to be easy. But I wasn’t, and it wasn’t. It never is going to be, for anyone, and I was no exception.
Sometimes I think that was my problem. That I was too caught up in wishing that I never did anything to make the moment better, to make friends, to speak to other kids, to tell my parents or a teacher about the bullying. I felt like the titular character in Stephen King’s Carrie, wanting so desperately to be a part of the gang that I laughed along with everything, even the cruel pranks and insults. I comforted myself with the illusion of power and my own narcissism, telling myself that it couldn’t be like this always; that I would stop it; that it was ridiculous to think of me, of all people, always being an outcast.
That was five years, ages five to ten.
And so it went.



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