It was the summer of 1987, and I was ten years old. School was just about out, and as usual we had our ‘end of the year school trip.’ We had gone to Marineland that year as well, but that was part of our Science program, and not ‘the trip.’ No. For that one, they took us to the water-slides and wave pool along the lakefront in the city where we lived.
I was quite a loner that year. I was quite a loner every year – but that year, we had been shipped off to another school as we awaited a new one being built for us. The ‘old’ school (which had also been built for us, and opened the year I entered Kindergarten) was overfilled, and by forth grade, we were already out in ‘port-a-packs’ because there was no room for us in the school.
So not only was I in a new school, but I was also put in a split level class, and was the only person from my ‘old school’ in my grade in that class. I didn’t know anyone. Not that I hung out with anyone in my previous grade either, but…
Anyway, there I was at the wave pool, enjoying myself on my own – because what else was I suppose to do? Even after a year, I still wasn’t friends with anyone in my class. I wasn’t a strong swimmer, but I did enjoy it. I was in a section of the pool where I could just touch the bottom, when they turned the waves on. I still remember the sensation of being plunged under the water again and again by the waves, and barely being able to get a small breath in before I was plunged under again.
Luckily the waves didn’t last long, or that would have been the last day of my life. No one noticed my struggle. No one ever did. It didn’t matter if I was drowning beneath the waves, or drowning in a life that traumatized me, they never noticed.
After that, I decided to spend much of the rest of the day on the water-slides, or sitting on my towel on the concrete beach. I had brought a t-shirt to wear over my swimsuit for the sun – but found when I got there that t-shirts weren’t allowed in the water. I had sunscreen, but at ten, didn’t know about re-applying it when I got out of the water – and as I said, I was alone. Though I had a class, and teachers, and people all around me, I might as well have gone to the park alone on that day for all they noticed me, and helped me through my struggles.
Of course I ended up with a really bad sunburn on my shoulders especially. Blisters and all, and extremely painful. Being the quiet child that I was, I never mentioned that to anyone. When we went to school the next day, one of the boys in my class put his hand on my shoulder (I don’t remember why) and I punched him. I wasn’t a violent child. Not at all. But that hurt! I very nearly got into a lot of trouble, until I mentioned the sunburn, and the teachers looked at my shoulders. Then they understood, and I was let off with a very mild warning.
That weekend, I went camping with my family – and got in trouble for ‘whining’ about my shoulder when explaining why I couldn’t wear a t-shirt, but wore a tube top instead. Though my father was abusive, the rest of my family weren’t. They were, however, of the generation that believed the phrase, “suck it up, buttercup,” which felt harsh on a child as sensitive as me. But that, is a post for another day.