peanut butter

Continuing on with my career journey, or, rather, my pre-career story.

Now, mind you, when I had started the task of achieving my high school diploma for myself, I was 10. Most ten year olds may not even think about those things, or if they do, they may take it for granted that of course they’ll get through high school. But for me, the goal was very specifically to get the diploma so I could get a job so I could move out.

To be fair, things at home weren’t great but they weren’t horrible. After a few years of moving around far too often during those already difficult ages of 10 to 14, we had finally settled into a home that we would stay in for more than a year, and we did. I lived there for over three years. And those years, both before and after that last move, were, well … there were good memories, even great ones, funny ones, and also not so good ones. But at the core, I still felt unloved, still felt unlistened to, misunderstood, lost, unconnected.

And not for lack of trying. I had interests, but I couldn’t hold it together enough to actually do anything about them. I wanted to join the volleyball team, but that required taking a health physical. I couldn’t do that. I spent three hours in the stall of a clinic trying to pee in a plastic cup, and in the end, I couldn’t. So I couldn’t join the team.

I tried the drama club. I couldn’t act for anything, but I could be a stagehand. So I was. Except then, in some play when I was placing a prop on a table between scenes, dressed all in black to stay in the shadows like we were supposed to, because it had to be done between acts, but I didn’t place the bottle quite right. It toppled over and fell, and I froze. On that stage. Froze. People were literally stage-whispering at me to move. The actors had to maneuver around me. I didn’t move until after the curtain closed again.

I got teased a lot in high school, both before and after that day. But the freezing wasn’t anything new. Fight or flight? Neither. Just freeze. Play dead. Like an opossum. And just like the opossum’s defense is an anxiety induced reaction that they can’t control, I couldn’t control it, either. So all their whispers and nudges and urging to leave the stage did nothing. If anything, they just heightened my anxiety, prolonging the episode.

These anxiety reactions I had to go catatonic, basically, started in 1980. Although, there were probably signs of them even earlier. But I’m not exaggerating when I use the term “catatonic”, a diagnosis I received many years later from a psychiatrist. I still can’t even think those words he said to me without having some sort of reaction. But his diagnosis kind of made sense. I could stand still for hours, not talking, not moving, shutting out the entire world around me.

I had a particularly bad episode in the parking lot of the mall back in 1981 in Fairfield that really freaked my friends out. I had others at school, in class, or at the playground or the park. They’d last anywhere from a few minutes up to a couple of hours. I wasn’t just ignoring people. I wasn’t just being stubborn. I wasn’t refusing to talk or move. But that’s what everyone always thought. They thought I was doing this on purpose. I was told I was doing it for attention. I was told many things. I was never believed.

Deep breaths.

Anyway, back to the timeline, although I’m struggling to stay chronological.

So, much like I had skipped classes throughout most of high school, I also skipped out on most meetings or tests having to do with college. No Pre-SAT, no SAT, no ACT, I couldn’t handle any of that. I tried once. I remember feeling awful that my parents had wasted money on some college prerequisite test or other, and they certainly let me know how horrible I was to have wasted their hard-earned money.

On the day of that test, I balked. I walked in the room, sat down, stared at the test, and froze. The test time ended, and I hadn’t moved the entire time. I hadn’t answered a single question. And it wasn’t until the room was emptied out and one of the staff administering the test came over to my desk and picked up my exam, berating me about working after the time was over since I hadn’t put my pencil down, and then realized that I hadn’t even written a thing on that paper. When they stopped yelling at me, that’s when I could finally move again.

So even before I graduated, I already knew, college was not an option for me. I couldn’t take the tests to get in. But in that last year of high school, I had taken an interior decorating elective, and I really enjoyed it. Enough that I applied to an interior design college in San Francisco. My mom made me this very cute outfit that I really loved (she made a lot of my clothes, naturally, and they all were professionally done, finished seams, etc.) and I wore that proudly as we headed to the college to tour it and find out more. We drove into Concord so we could take the train into the city, and it was a great outing. My mom and I bonded a bit more over the drive, the train ride, and that campus tour. But in the end, I didn’t get into the school.

That had basically dashed any last hopes I had of having some sort of college career. This, of course, resulted in more arguments about what I was doing with my life, what I was going to make of myself, why didn’t I apply myself, whatever. I continued to fixate on that goal I’d set in December ’79. Get the diploma. Get a job. Get out of the house. Get away.

Within a week of graduating from high school, literally just days after a graduation ceremony I hadn’t even wanted to attend, I had my belongings packed and I moved into a trailer park in Davis with my friend, Cho. Cho’s step-father owned the trailer, and it was tiny, but we made it work. She had done the normal college thing, gotten into UC Davis, and I tagged along with her at her invitation. I knew I had to get a job, contribute to our small household, so I applied at a motel, the Campus Inn, just a short walk across the railroad tracks from that trailer.

It was a small motel, two floors, maybe 25 rooms total. I cleaned the rooms, cleaned the lobby, did the laundry. And I actually enjoyed that job. I had two other co-workers, so there weren’t a lot of people to interact with. Guests mostly ignore the cleaning staff, as if we don’t exist, and I was fine with that. I could turn the radios on in the rooms while I cleaned, although I wouldn’t change the station if the room was occupied, but I could if they had checked out.

Life was pretty good. I was content. I developed a nice routine. Get up in the morning, walk across the tracks to work, walk back to the trailer. The freight trains came by on regular schedules, and I could tell time by them. The trailer shook comfortingly as they passed. Cho and I grew daffodils in a container outside the trailer, we picked out a nice burgundy rug for the inside, and we took turns cooking and cleaning. We would go out in the evenings occasionally, but usually we were home bodies. I’d spend evenings in my closet-sized room in the back reading, writing, crocheting, listening to music. Thankfully, Cho and I had very similar tastes, music-wise. So, yeah, life was good.

Only, being cooped up in a small trailer, even with a good friend, could be trying and tiring, for both of us. We didn’t always get along so well. But we did our best.

And then, one day, I bought the groceries, and I accidentally picked up the wrong kind of peanut butter.

Now, I have my mental health issues, and Cho had hers. And we understood that about each other. That jar of peanut butter was our downfall though. A simple mistake we should have both overlooked but we couldn’t. Because that’s how things are at times.

It’s pretty late, so I’ll have to pick up again another day. Thanks for reading through all this so far.

Peace and love to you all, and for those who like peanut butter, may you always have the kind of peanut butter you prefer, whether that’s chunky or smooth.

2 Responses

  1. So much to unpack. I think sometimes it is amazing to see what people go through and survive and cope the best way that they can. You have this fierce will and determination that makes me a little in awe of you, to be truthful! I agree with Deanna that it’s a privilege to get to read this.

    And you are loved, sweetie. So very much.

  2. Deanna says:

    “Just life” you call it, but it is just fascinating. Very powerful and true words you are sharing with us, Viv. It feels like a privilege to get to read them. Simple titles juxtaposed with the complexities of life. I treasure the opportunity to read all your words, my friend. 💜

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