The Rain Man Diaries: Revisiting Ancient Injustices Inflicted

I have snapshots in my brain.  They’ve been stored to my internal hard drive indelibly.

Day 1: Butte Montana. Kindergarten. We’re doing math workbooks, or what passes for math in Kindergarten. “Circle the sets of shapes that look alike.” “Color the triangles yellow and write down how many triangles are inside the squares.”   I read at the third grade level before kindergarten, so I was able to cruise through page after page. ButteKinderIt was fun. Twelve more years of this much fun? I’m in! Bring on the schoolin’!

Day 2: I hope we do more math! Mrs. Bowler hands out the books and I dive in. But all the instructions are blacked out with permanent marker. I look around to Mrs. Bowler and her assistant to see what is going on.   They both are looking at me with a “You thought you were pretty smart, didn’t you?” look on their faces. “But we showed you.”

“You need to stay with the class,” Mrs. Bowler said.

Still Kindergarten; After school. I get on the bus with my best friend Pat McFall. I don’t remember why, but he said he didn’t want to be friends anymore.   I slammed his head into the window hard. He cried. The shocked bus-monitor dragged me to the front to sit under her supervision all the way home.  (Flash forward 35 years: When my son, then 3 years old, whacked another child with a wooden train, I wondered what slight he felt had been dealt.)

The next day Pat and I met at the bus stop, on the way to school, and we were best friends again. I never hit anyone again. My mom probably unleashed the repeated, “You have to be careful and not pick on others; you’re so much bigger!” speech; the speech that haunted me through years of being bullied, afraid to retaliate because I was bigger and might hurt the poor, misunderstood bullies.

First grade: Shape cutting hour is over. We’re moving on to something else, but I want to keep cutting shapes. We’ve graduated from the dull, snub-nosed kindergarten scissors to real, “Don’t run with those” pointy ones. I have my hands inside my desk, continuing to cut, and cut and cut. From the German-English dictionary: Schneider… Tailor. Informal, “Cutter.” I. Am. Schneider!

I continue cutting paper. Ms. Clendenin sees me and asks what I’m doing. Total embarrassment; busted in front of the whole class. She makes me stay after school and cut a piece of paper into 100 pieces as punishment.

I know I was only there a year, and it’s a small sample size, but my 7 year old brain concluded Butte teachers were assholes. But I don’t hold a grudge, 44 years later.


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