Being told that part of who you are is a distraction to others is a hard thing to hear. And at seven I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I didn't understand this four letter explanation for something I’d never heard of. So doctors and teachers all gladly explained. “You have ADHD.” As if that wrapped everything up nicely. “It makes you a slight distraction. Medicine can help!” Really? How so? Did I do something weird? What did I do?
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder—ADHD. Symptoms being easily distracted, not sitting still, you know, the stuff kids do. And as a kid I couldn't have told you what I had done that made me any different. I was a kid who passed the time by doodling and trying to use my mind to make the clocks go faster, strictly to make recess start sooner. So really—What did I do? I didn't know, but everyone else seemed to, they made that very clear. Every dirty look that came my way—What did I do? At the tender age of seven, I realized a lot of looks can seem dirty. And pretty soon, just a look in my general direction resulted in the burdening question, forcing its way to the front of my mind. What did I do?
What did I do? The question popped up like a weed in the garden of my mind. Kids might not be as biased as adults, but even as a kid things are thought of as weird. And then all those kids who did weird things were weird. Finding out you are weird is a very jarring realization. And more times than not leaves you wondering—What did I do? Kids may not be as biased, but they are a thousand times more honest about their thoughts than most any adult out there. Kids, most couldn't hold their tongues if they were pinned between their teeth. It was this fault in my peer’s childish minds that they knocked me from my ignorant bliss and revealed to me that I was weird. And following this revelation, I soon started to wonder—What did I do?
What did I do? I was tall. And my pants were usually two inches too short. Because of this I was the punch line of a few childish jokes here and there —nothing that bothered me— that kind of stuff just made me weird to other kids. And as a kid not a lot of things bothered me. A few things did. The lemony smell of some sanitizers, the fact every Wednesday we had to color “Berenstain Bears” pictures, and the itch on my hip. I mean it beat trying to choke down a pill while half asleep in some ways. But as I sat in my every day dying to rip the patch from my hip, it probably distracted me more that my actual ADHD distracted everyone else. And me, sans the little sticker was what made me weird to adults. And so I sat—in my silent frustration—I wondered—What did I do?”
What did I do? Third grade was there and gone like a flash of lightning. It was better than second grade making the jarring confrontation to come in fourth that much worse. What did I do?
What did I do? They didn’t leave me to ponder for long as I reentered the school for my fourth grade year. Even earlier on when I first learned what it meant to be weird, I never felt hated. And I surely never hated anyone myself. But with the first week of school, I got my first lesson in the art of hatred. From someone who must have really hated me. What did I do?
“[insert name here]!” The way she drew out the word with her sickeningly sweet tone cooked up specifically for torturing children, made my skin crawl. I knew immediately something was wrong.
What does she want? It was past the first bell and school was nearly started.
“Just the young lady I was looking for!” Her voice is one I still associate with dentist drills in my mind. Or the dying scream of some sort of bird.
What did I do? In my desire to be rid of this woman's presence I don’t remember my next words just that they made her laugh; her laugh was somehow worse than her voice.
“I noticed a little change in your medical records.” She was referring the little space labeled “Medication” that had been left blank.
“Yes?” Either she could smell my fear and was relishing in it, or she thought the sound was a reassuring one, she laughed again. And to set the mood of this confrontation, the final bell rang. Turning confusion to anxiety.
She said something I can’t quite remember that was basically an over dramatized version of, “Why?” Followed by her intimidating rendition of what a smile looks like, as well as another laugh.
“Because I don’t have-” I paused, waiting for her face to change from the smile to her usual look of utter indifference, “-anything-” it didn't change, her face stayed frozen. “-to put there.” I held the last word longer than I needed to and watched as she struggled between the idea of chastising me or possibly even exploding. And she settled for chastising.
“And why is that?!” As if I—a nine-year-old—understood medication.
“Because I don’t have to?” It came out a question and maybe it was. I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t taking it anymore. I still didn't quite grasp the concept of why i started.
“And why is that?” as this woman stared me down waiting for an answer I couldn’t give her I felt small. I rarely ever felt small. I was tall for my age—as my peers loved to remind me—and was nearing her height. But right then and there, I felt small.
“My parent said so.” And that was true. They had said no more and that was that I no longer took a pill every day at the crack of dawn or meticulously placed a strip a tape like patch, on my hip. And for this I was thankful, while my counselor apparently felt personally offended.
“Did they?” She asked, her tone now sarcastic, and nonetheless, extremely intimidating.
“Yes?” her arms crossed and she leaned back on her heels, her sense of self superiority was stronger now than ever. My arms dangled limply at my sides unsure what might set her off, as if she were some sort of wild gorilla. She stared me down silently waiting for something, seeming to continue leaning back, widening our distance but not quite. As if she had caught me in a lie.
“I’ll have to talk with them.” She explained after the long silence, I felt slightly more relaxed at that knowing what their response would be. As she waited for my answer she began the journey towards standing fully upright.
“Okay.” I smiled falsely hoping this was the end of this distressing confrontation. She had other ideas. She apparently felt her underlying threat wasn’t clear, and honestly it hadn't been.
“You better focus on your school work.” She declared, now standing firmly on her feet arms still crossed.
“Okay?” as if school was for something other than, well, school.
“I will personally be watching your grades.” She could do that? I thought only teachers could see grades. Even though at this point I'd never dipped lower than the C range, I felt uneasy. “And just you wait, high school is a thousand times harder than elementary.”
“Okay?” The clock, that hung on the wall showed me I was definitely going to be late today. And being late—on my first day—only added to my unease.
“And if you don't get all A’s,” she paused for what I can only imagine as dramatic effect. Leaving me to wonder how on earth she had any power over my grades. I was a decent student but even for me all A’s seemed crazy; this year there would be fractions in math. “I'll have your parents put you back on the medicine.” Could she do that? Did she have that kind of power? I mean she was older than me—and my parents—by a lot. Could she do that?
“Okay?” I asked for the last time. And without a single smile, laugh, or even a goodbye she rounded the corner disappearing. Leaving me to wonder how I invoked such confusing words from a counselor. What did I do?
What did I do? The question was one that held a special, virtually permanent position in my mind. Paranoia and my now persistent personal question followed me as closely as my own shadow. I was the epitome of someone mistakenly labeled by the school system's desire for a sense of hierarchy among even the students. I was a “Trouble Maker” and given my lack of trouble making I was often left to ponder—What did I do?
What did I do? Apparently nothing too bad because my counselor never called my parents. She never even made so much as a laugh when I got my first fourth grade report card, sans an A in all the classes. As the year went on and I got my second report card, nothing. Third, not a word. Fourth? No response. I realized as fourth grade ended, this woman couldn't do that. She still glared, that look of superiority never wavered, as if her master plan wasn't even facing so much as a delay. What did I do?
What did I do? At ten, a full three years since the question first reared its ugly head and I still didn't have an answer. And fifth grade held no answer, but started and ended in flash, just as my third grade year had.
But this was the year I fell in love with reading. I could read about anyone or anything under the sun! Kids my age going on these fantastic adventures! I found comfort in the pages, so much so that I forgot to question myself. I read everything I could get my hands on, the only question in my mind was what kind of book would I read next? Fiction? Nonfiction? Pictures? No pictures? Ten pages? A thousand? Would it be about a the vastness of space? Would it be about a journey with wizards and dragons? The possibility was endless and I loved it. What would I read next?
What would I read next? With fifth grade gone, no counselor in sight I entered the sixth grade. This was to be my final year before transferring to the junior senior high school. Unfortunately it wasn't to long after the year had taken off that I ran out of books. There's—sadly—only so many times I could read the small set of books intended for “big kids” and the “adult” section was more cookbooks and romance novels than I could stomach. And without books I no longer had a distraction. Maybe they were my way of coupling with the crushing sensation of inferiority I wouldn't learn to recognize until years later. They might have even been the crutch I been unknowingly using to avoid facing my fears. What now? What would I do? What could I do? What should I do? What did I do now? What did I do?
What did I do? I was thrown back into the paranoia that plagued me previously. I don't know why, there wasn't really a trigger it just happened. Maybe I realized high school was next and, “...would be a thousand times harder…” What did I do? I had no idea. Why am I worried? I wasn't sure of this either. But of course this was just the beginning of sixth grade, so as it dragged along their were bound to be other bumps in the road. This bump had a name I won't disclose, because I didn't know. What did I do?
“[insert name here]!” Somethings never changed. Half way through sixth grade and I'd found myself in the counsellors office. “So I've heard you've had some problems with another student.”
“I'm not really-” Despite my obvious confusion, she didn't care enough to let me finish my sentence.
“Now don't worry I know the story I'm just here to help!” The word “help” sounded forced.
“I really don't-”
“No need to fake a brave face I'm here to help!” She pressed the last word harder. “Who's bothering you, [insert name here]?” I hated the way she said my name, you could insert any name—or word—in its place. I wasn't a kid to her: I was a thing.
“I won't tell them if that's what you're worried about.” What did she want? What did I do?
“I am not having any problems with other students.” I managed in a jumbled mess of desperation. I wanted her to hear it before she could stop me. And the way her eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas morning I knew I'd walked into her trap.
“You don't sound too sure.” She feigned empathy. “You can always confide in me.”
“I'm fine, I will.” I'd sooner confide in the mystery student I had supposedly been having problems with.
“I believe you, [insert name here].” She nodded like your average bobble head. Her head kept bobbing around as she talked, like she was reassuring herself of something. “In high school there are a lot more students, and you might not get a chance to talk things over with a counsellor. They don't get a chance to get to know the students.” If they were half as bad as her I'd still have better luck consulting a magic eight ball. “Sometimes you'll have to rely on yourself.” The head thing she'd been doing stopped.
“Okay?” She stared me down. What did I do?
“At the high school they can't keep track of all the kids.” She states rather calmly
“Meaning,” Had she heard me? “if someone's bothering you, you could punch them.”
“O- What?!” I waited for signs of to reveal the jesting behind the words.
“I'm not saying you should hit kids, I'm just saying they might miss it. With so many other kids they probably won't notice.” There was the “smile” only this was one of self-appreciation. She was proud of the horrible advice she'd just give me.
“Okay- I will?” I wanted this conversation over and to be as far from this woman as possible. She'd just tried to convince me to punch people!
“Kids curse in high school.” And that's when I stopped listening. This lady was nuts! “I'm sorry for the confusion.” That grabbed my attention.
“It's okay.” I offered a false smile. I was just glad she knew she'd been giving pretty ludicrous advice.
“I really thought I'd heard you were having problems with another student.” She followed that with another of her shudder worth laughs. Like it was funny, like she hadn't just dragged me down here and told me to attack people.
After an awkward pause she'd cleared her throat and I realized she still needed a response. “Nope I'm fine.”
“High school will be fun, for you.” I nodded but didn't speak. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what she wanted from me. After everything how could she say that? What did I do?
What did I do? Sixth grade ended just like the school year always did. I never spoke to my elementary counsellor again. And happily received the news that she'd retired after that year. Maybe without me to torment she had nothing to do. Or maybe someone else got bad advice and told the principal the counsellor was insane. But that might have just been something I've spent years wishing I'd done. But when it comes to facing facts, I never even told my parents about the strange conversations I'd had with her, until much later. But regrets only get you so far and leave you wondering—Why didn't I do that? Which is as ineffective method of dealing with your though as constantly wondering—What did I'd do?
What did I do? In the new school I found friends, and was surrounded by more people who didn't know me than ever before. And I relished in it. Teachers couldn't hate me for the things they didn't know about. No one looked at me and saw a kid with ADHD. Maybe some thought I was distracting but I never was cornered by an adult who had taken on the role of my oppressor. So I guess I’ll never know. What did I do?
What did I do? I made it farther than I ever thought possible. I made it past elementary, and I braved the junior high! Now I am left to wonder—What will I do? I’ll keep my head high and continue taking high school head on. It may be, “... a thousand times harder…” But if you ask me, I’m doing just fine. So it no longer matters—What did I do?
What matters now—is simply—What will I do?