Friday, 24 August 2007

Long, and probably very self indulgent post...

I apologise in advance to anyone who actually reads this - I would advise that you don't! I am trying to clear something out of my head that has been knocking around for a while, and the hope is that by rambling about it on here, I will actually be able to get a decent night's sleep. There are also items in here that I have not talked to anyone about.

Between the ages of 11 and 14, I went to a private school, and for the second and third of those years, I boarded there. I did not have the temperament for boarding, nor the social skills to be able to succeed within my peer group. At the age of 14, I came very close to breaking down altogether, and I left the school. I have since had frequent nightmares about being back there.

However, I have found myself in recent weeks deliberately going out and looking up information on that school and on the people that I spent three years of my life with (to the extent of getting in email and Facebook contact with some of the people that I was closer to). I am dragging up memories, most of them bad, and going over them again and again. This on the outside (and from the inside!) seems very much to be a stupid thing to do - I should leave the past well alone, and let it sink to the bottom of my memory pile, covered over with the dust of years. But, at the moment, I can't.

I can think of a few reasons for this.

It has now been over ten years since I left the school. I know that there were good times as well as bad, but the bad memories are clearer and sharper. By getting in touch with people who have nicer memories of the school, they can help me (without knowing it!) to bring those better memories to the fore. (for example, instead of my memory of sports being tainted by being the only person in the year not to be put into the big rounders match (the teacher forgot about me), I can remember about being in the tennis team, for one match...)

There is also the idea of picking at a scab to see if the skin underneath has healed. The memory that taints most of my time at that school, colouring even how I feel about going back through the county, is that of being assaulted by one of the boys in the year above me. It was not a serious assault, and I doubt that the boy in question either (a) considered it to be an attack at the time and (b) even remembers the incident now. However, it left a pain inside me that has persisted, and affected the way that I saw and interacted with boys and men for a long time afterwards (indeed, until I met John...) When I went back on Facebook and found the group for my year at that school, he was on it. And I am incredibly happy to be able to say that I was able to look at his picture and think about what he did with complete detatchment (rather than the sick to the stomach feeling I would have had a year or so ago). It is in the past, and whilst it has affected my life, I think that I can safely say that I have healed from it, and that I am a stronger person because of it.

And, the most important and overarching reason: I am coming up to a very important day in my life (some would say the most important, but I am withholding judgment until I'm on my deathbed...). It represents an external committment (I made the internal one a very long time ago) and a new chapter. Therefore it is important to me, even on a subconscious level, that the past is tidied up and sorted out. As with any person, I will always have 'baggage' to take forwards, but if it is in boxes and packed away neatly, then it is a lot easier to carry.

The school gave me a lot of pain, but it also made me who I am today (to trot out the old cliche...) My streak of independence, my resilience, my thick skin, all are as a direct result of what I went through. I can't say that my life wouldn't have been happier if I had never gone to that school. But the direct path that I was on at the age of eleven led me to this stage in my life, and the wedding next week. (If I hadn't gone to the school, then I would probably have less independence than I do now, meaning that I would be less likely to have gone to Australia on my Gap Year. This means that even if I had gone to Exeter, I would have been a year younger when I met John, and far more naive, and our relationship might never have happened. I also started my love of Sci-fi / fantasy as an attempt to escape from the reality of the school around me - if I had never been there, I might not have the deep love for the genre that I have today, and might never have joined the Sci-fi society to meet John in the first place!)

It is very easy to be fatalistic and say that it was all meant. I don't believe that, but I do believe that the bad times are as important as the good ones (if you don't have bad things happening, then how can you know how great the good ones are?) The most important thing, for now, for me, is that I feel that I can finally close that chapter, that I can accept what happened as something in the past. That the memories, good and bad, are not ones to be ashamed of. When they surface, as they will, in response to a smell, sound or other trigger, I will be able to look at them and accept the emotions, happy, sad or painful, that they engender in me. And then put them away and get on with my life.


Sarah said...

It seems to me that you need to work through your time at boarding school. In my experience trying to hide your memories away and forgetting about them is rather like trying to squish a balloon into a container that is too small, sooner or later it will burst. Having nightmares, as I am sure you are aware is your brain's sub-conscious way of dealing with your experience.

It also seems (and this is only my opinion) that as you are actively seeking out people from your school, you feel ready to confront and work through those memories. Also as you say, you are entering a new chapter, a blank page, a fresh start. As with the beginning of a new chapter, you don't want 5 pages worth of introduction of what has happened previously, you want to get on with the story.

As you say, the path you followed lead you to where you are today. But man! Where are you today?! You have a man you love, you are going to have a wonderful wedding. You will outclass Liv Tyler easily in your dress. You will be moving to the land of LOTR in a few years AND once there you will have NO WASPS to contend with (lucky swine. I rather like what the Professor says in 'Old Harry's Game': "Life is about the Journey, not the destination."

Jo said...

I think that this post has helped me work through it very well! I'm feeling a lot better now, and am actually now enjoying being back in touch with people (admittedly the people that I'm in touch with were the ones who were my friends, and it is brilliant to be able to talk to them without other nasty memories tainting my feelings)
And totally agree with you about life being the journey. Everything we go through makes us who we are, and if you want to change something in your past, you are wanting to change yourself. My philosophy, brought home to me when I went round Oz, and had some truely dire times, which then saved me from even worse ones (the most important being when I ran out of money and ended up having my passport held onto by an unscrupulous hostel owner who wouldn't get me the fruit picking work that she promised, in the knowledge that I couldn't pay, and was therefore running up a huge bill. I had to get money wired to me by my parents (very humiliating!), and was existing on bread and banana sandwiches. This meant that I ended up "running" to Sydney, not stopping at a hostel where I'd planned to meet with a fellow traveller. That weekend, the hostel was burned down and 10 people died. My friend had also moved on - she had been staying in the room where the majority of people had died.) is that you should never regret doing something. Always regret not doing it. The regret should be in the missed opportunities, not the experience.

Skeeter said...

Skeeter gives hugs...

I know that being bullied at school helped make me the person I am today - it forced independence of thought and deed on me (which I also got from my parents). I would not be without those qualities in the world even given the negative side of my school time.

I have also been attacked by a guy and know that it can affect your behaviour in ways you are sometimes not even aware of.

In the past, some of my rotten memories have started haunting me when I have been at my happiest - almost as if my mind is trying to redress an imaginary balance.

Anyhow, you are getting married to a wonderful chap (don't tell him I said that) and I envy you your future (in a nice way, not a movie psychotic "Hand that rocked the cradle" way). You also know that you're not living in the past, you're just visting to pick up a few things you need.

Loads of love.