What we are is some mixture of environment
The environmental component is made up of a lot of bullshit socialization
that makes us more like everyone else.
It is good to know what makes you uniquely you. Socrates
and all that.
Remembering how you were in elementary school
might allow some glimpse into the process by which who you really are was molded into who you became, and by remembering
who you were then you can divine who you ought to be now.
My bathroom had two sinks and a double mirror. One morning before school, my 3-year-old sister and I were both standing atop the counter in front of the mirror. Our cheeks were bulged out like chipmunks, concealing some amount of coinage and water. Swishing this concoction around felt good and looked funny, so I enlisted my sister’s participation and we both spent some minutes swishing money in our mouths and trying not to laugh. After the novelty wore off, I was dismayed to find myself short 35 cents. Apparently, my swishing was too ardent and I had swallowed a quarter and a dime. My father, a doctor, was livid and worried and drove me to the hospital where he worked. I told the story to the radiologist and he laughed at me in a way I found unpleasant. The x-ray showed my missing monies in clear relief, two bright white spots in my stomach area amidst gradations of grey. “Well, if he doesn’t pass the coins within the next month or so, we’ll have to intubate him,” the doctor explained to my dad and I. This sounded bad, and was. Especially the part with the strainer which was largely my mom’s duty. Anyway, at school the next day my teacher, Mrs. Thompson, asked where I’d been. I told her that I swallowed a quarter and a dime. She asked how. I told her that I was running behind Tom, the kid I walked to school with, and a quarter and a dime flew out of his back pocket and into my agape mouth. Before I knew what happened, I’d swallowed the coins. I remembered the radiologist’s laughter, and congratulated myself on cleverly averting another instance of same.
There were three of us who could read. Aaron, the first Jewish person I had ever met, was around 2 1/2 feet tall and had an air of world-weariness about him and a sprig of unkempt, wiry black hair. He wore natty clothes and laughed sarcastically at things. Emily was quiet and collected all things porcine. Stuffed animals, small porcelain pigs, drawings of pigs, etc. During reading every day we’d go to 2nd grade where they were reading Honeycomb. The second-graders were ambivalent about us interlopers. To look cool, I would have “swear attacks” on demand, wherein I would string horribly incongruous combinations of all the bad words I knew for the amusement of the older kids. The teacher overheard one of these “attacks” and I was sent to a kindly, bald man who asked me a lot of questions about my family and subjected me to a battery of tests. As a devout Catholic, I would pray for atonement after each of these indiscretions. Sins of thought and action grew too numerous for me to count during nightly prayer, and I decided that I was an atheist.
School began to seem absurd. Our teacher gave us each a sheaf of graph paper on which we would daily list the numbers from 1 to X. For 30 minutes per day we would perform this mindless exercise, counting into the thousands. One kid, Ramon, was a little too cool for the rest of us boys. The girls liked him. He had older brothers who smoked. He could do an elegant flip over a low chain-link fence that none of us could. One day after school twenty of us circled around him and beat him up. I later found out he had been in and out of foster homes since being taken away at 2 from his crack-addicted mother. My friend Steve and I concocted a plan to melt all the snow on the playground on the heating vent and sell the water. Steve knew and used the word “abominate”, as in I “abominate” you. I added this word to my attacks. We tried to come up with a way to make diamonds. I became very interested in all things Japanese.
Being forced to sing in school chorus like the rest of the 3rd grade incensed me. I sang the wrong words, making up my own to the amusement of others in my desk neighborhood and just below the din of the collective voice. During a rest, I carried on alone and our choir director, Mrs. Ream (her brown hair like a mushroom) sent me to the office. I hid in the coatroom for 1 hour and returned looking penitent. I wasn’t caught but had nightmares for months. My friend Greg and I were allowed to miss class for a week to write a play which we were to perform in front of the class. It was cut short by the same Mrs. Ream after the 5th instance of the word ‘crap.’ I told people I wanted to be an international lawyer when I grew up. I won the school spelling bee, and then lost at district: z-e-n-o-p-h-o-b-i-a. Because I hated pom-poms on winter hats, I cut them off. Walking to school one day some 5th graders sidled up behind me. Noting the hole in the top of my hat, they sang “Billy Billy butthole! Billy Billy butthole!” This escalated into one of them, Brendon, taking my lunch and drop-kicking it into the street. I told on him right when I got to school. His mom had to make me a replacement lunch. Ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato. It was better than my mom’s usual. Brendon and I became friends, walking from the office, implausibly.
A kid from Laos named Blong came to our school and I decided he would be my friend. I felt as if I was simultaneously being a good Samaritan and finding out about distant lands. Once I caught him reading a small slip of paper. I asked him what it was and he refused to show me. I chased him and tackled him and he put the paper in his mouth. I forced open his mouth and read it as he ran away. It was a psalm. I won the Young Author’s contest writing a thinly-veiled account of our friendship. I was voted “best dribbler of a soccer ball” in gym class. As this was voted on solely by the girls, and as I had meager athletic ability at best, this was my most precious accolade. I fell in love with a girl named Nicole who was born on the same day as I was, but denied it more than three times when faced with the accusation. I began taking Japanese lessons but stopped after my teacher tried to get me to visualize a bell ringing on a distant hill. He made me close my eyes, and shouted at me to relax. It freaked me out. I tried and failed to start a simulation of medieval Japanese samurai society on the playground, complete with printed currency and assigned roles. The games always devolved into smear the queer.
More tests land me on a bus every day to learn algebra with other inbent social stragglers. The sweatpants quotient was high. I would write the Hiragana and Katakana syllabaries on the back of tests to impress my teacher. I engaged in daily races with Paul to turn in our worksheets first. These would involve jostling and red faces. I was elected head crossing guard. A Cambodian kid taught me how to swear in his language, and some Kukido moves. I chugged milk faster than anyone when we had fun lunches. I was named citizen of the year. At the end of the year, Nicole had a pool party and I wasn’t invited. The day it was held, I went to her house and spied on the gala through a knothole in her wooden fence. Kids were laughing and diving and joking. It was completely natural and unpretentious. I knew right then I was not going to have an easy go of things in the upcoming years, and I was dead right.