I wrote a post about my mother that I took down as this week is both the anniversary of her birth and her death six years ago. This is the first year I can mourn for her separately from 9/11, and it feels both sad and good. I did write another post and put it on the sidebar.
My book is about being seventeen, being kicked out of Drivers Ed as I couldn’t learn the 10-2 position, and the ramifications. My teacher told everybody I came to school stoned. I was humiliated and went into the city to find a boyfriend and sex. It was really sex I cared about. I had a bad reputation, and sometimes we try to live up to our reps, unfounded as they might be. I was my school’s first hippie and am still known for that.
By the end of the year I realized that I wanted an education and did go to college where I met my Prince Charming the first day, but having Non-Verbal Learning Disorders didn’t recognize him for a month. He was gorgeous, and gave me a present a day. A few guys were giving me presents and most did have that Byronic thing–but weren’t as good looking as him. I should never say that. He claims to read this blog.
Here is the excerpt with its explanation:
This was my first day in a new Junior High. It was November 1, 1962. I was twelve. I didn’t just have normal first day jitters. I had a disability that wasn’t going to be diagnosed for many many many more years. Non verbal learning disorder–often confused with laziness, sloppiness, unwillingness to learn or to care about myself when the exact opposite was true. This book shows what living with this disorder is like. Though I met my ex-husband myfirst day of college and have enjoyed much success, I still sometimes think “if I only tried harder.” And if I think that….
Spanish was my first class…..
I looked perfect for Queens, but was now living in the North Shore of Nassau County. Home for centuries to truly rich, well mannered WASPS. It was now being invaded by Jewish and Italian interlopers. I wasn’t going to understand the unspoken Villager clothes and Papagollo shoes dress code for sometime. Just thought the girls looked strange in their floral pattern shirts, wool A line skirts and flats.
After being introduced to the class and told to sit down next to a big girl, Arlene Cohn, I tried to understand the conversation. It had more to do with the teacher’s alma mater, Yale, than Spanish. After a while Arlene leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“See that boy who is staring at you?”
Actually I had been oblivious.
“That’s Richie Fein. He’s off limits. The girl sitting next to him is Ellen Cohen. She’s his girlfriend and my best friend. if you talk to him or even look at him, I’ll deck you so fast you won’t know what hit you.
I couldn’t speak. It wasn’t noticeable, but I had begun to shake
“And cut the dress that shows your waist, and stupid pony tail. Got that?”
I believed Arlene. She looked like she could kill me with her bare hands. Kids tried to talk to me but no words would come out of my mouth.
When I had been given my bus numbers that morning, they had reversed the 15 and 32. 15 was the morning bus. But when I got on it that afternoon, the bus driver didn’t even seem to notice that I was new. When we got to the end of the run, he told me to get off. I had no idea where I was and had to pee. I just began to walk. I wandered around in circles for what seemed like hours until I saw the shopping center near our house. It was starting to hurt, I needed to pee so badly. I found a phone and called the number I had been made to memorize. Marion answered.
“Oh thank god. Where are you?”
“At the shopping center. I took the wrong bus.”
“Daddy’s out looking for you. Wait there. I’ll call the school and tell them we found you.”
Pee came down my legs through my tights and onto a puddle in the phone booth. Now I was totally humiliated.
I wanted to die. Even when I was a small child, I never had an accident.
Max came in his ancient Buick Electra, which looked like a Buick but had the body of a Cadillac. Max hated people who showed off. He made fun of his friend’s Cadillac convertibles and foreign luxury cars. I was standing outside the phone booth holding my legs very closely together. He got out of the car. To anybody else he would have appeared smiling and happy, but he had that madman look in his eyes that only Marion and I noticed. I could see how hard he was trying not to show it.
“Hi sweetie, I’m so glad to have found you. How was your first day?”
“It was okay”
“Just okay? How were the kids? Did you make any friends?”
For some reason the lyrics to Dion’s “the wanderer” came cascading through my mind. Yeah, daddy, there was Flo on my right and Marry on my left
I wasn’t going to tell him about Arlene and how horrible she was. I was scared of her. I was more scared that Max would feel sorry for me, and be even angrier.
“I met all the kids in my classes. They were nice.”
“Who did you have lunch with?”
This was veering into dangerous territory. I didn’t want to lie and say that I had lunch by myself, but I didn’t want Max to feel sorry for me
“A couple of girls. I met so many new kids today, I don’t remember their names.”
I had met seventeen kids and remembered all their names.
“Pia what happened with your bus?”
“Here’s the slip. They wrote the bus numbers wrong.”
Max looked at the slip. His eyes glistened even more. I was scared of what he was going to say next.
“Pia didn’t you notice that the bus was going into a strange neighborhood? Didn’t you ask the bus driver? When he dropped you off why didn’t you ask him to take you back to school?”
Max was right, and I knew it. No way could I explain that I was too scared to ask the driver.
“Shouldn’t the driver just have driven me back to school?”
“Yes sweetie you’re right. But you’re twelve now. You have to start acting like a big girl. You have to learn to ask questions. otherwise nobody will know that something is wrong. Pia if I have told you once I have told you a thousand times, you have to ask questions. You can’t be afraid of people. Nobody wants to hurt you. Look at you, you’re a beautiful girl. People want to like you. You have to give them a chance.”
Max’s voice seemed to be so loud, people in the stores in the strip mall could hear him. I knew it probably wasn’t true but I felt so ashamed. Everybody in our community would now know that I was a frightened girl who peed in her pants. I wished that we had never moved.
My records arrived six weeks later. Mrs. Garfinkle called me into her office and asked if I wanted to transfer into the honors class. I had gained 35 pounds, was almost failing all my classes and failing typing. I knew that Mrs Garfinkle wanted me to say no, so I refused. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found it strange they asked me and not my parents
By Junior Year life was very different. I had a best friend.
Junior year we went to a party in a basement apartment in Levittown. Allan and Les were living there while attending Hofstra:
What’s your sign?
You know, your sign.
Oh, I’m a Cancer.
No boy had ever asked me my sign before. I couldn’t believe that was a real pick up line. Les gave me a joint. I choked as I had never smoked anything. I wanted to pretend that I was getting high, and thought maybe I could get high from the air. Beth and Allen were actually smoking. She had been to some parties before, and smoked cigarettes. Beth noticed me choking and took me into the bathroom to teach me how to smoke.
You have to take a deep breath–watch me
I watched. This didn’t look fun. I saw her holding the smoke in. This looked dangerous. My parents had made me smoke a cigar when I was eleven in dire hope it would turn me off any smoke for life. I tried it. Before I was able to hold the smoke in, I choked a few more times. Then I held it in, and in, and in. The mirror in the bathroom looked funny. So did my face, the sink, vanity and toilet. Everything seemed funny. We were laughing as we walked out.
Les was about 5’8″ with a pimply face, small eyes, a large nose, and a moustache that didn’t quite hide his turned down upper lip. He was wearing a plaid shirt and jeans that didn’t fit correctly. I didn’t want Les to be the first boy to kiss me since the summer I turned twelve. The room was spinning. I had to sit down. Les came over and grabbed my face. When he kissed me, all I could feel or taste was his saliva that seemed to go everywhere. I wanted to gag, and abruptly moved away from him.
What’s the matter? You don’t like me?
I didn’t want to admit that I found him gross. I told him that all the cigarette smoke was making me sick.
Allan was a bit better looking and seemed more intelligent but he wanted Beth to go into a bedroom and go all the way or “ball” as he called it. She found that vile. We straightened out, and got the older girl, Marti, who had driven us to the party to take us home. Marti was pissed that nobody had wanted to kiss her. I couldn’t believe that a girl in college had never been kissed. I hoped being a virgin at eighteen wasn’t my destiny.
I still had penises on my mind. Just not Les’s.
I made a page–the first one on the sidebar–for this excerpt. I might change it to something more “book like” but I do remember that day as if it were yesterday not nearly 45 years ago.
The book isn’t about Junior High or earlier but to explain how non-verbal learning disorder first affected me I had to go back in time to the time I stopped being everybody’s golden girl.
Oh those first eight years were incredible.
Yes I see the humor in my problems. That’s part of my problem. I refuse to be thought of as “disabled” as I wasn’t considered to be most of my life. I won’t give into something that has made me burn out and played havoc with my life because I am smart, funny and finally am beginning to look like me again. I looked pretty damn hot most of my life
This is a comment I just got on my NLD post
As someone who was just diagnosed with NLD this past spring at 26 years old, I want to thank you so much for writing this! I have felt most if not all of what you describe above and really appreciate finding out that I’m not just a failure or crazy! will write more when I get time. once again thank you!
People need to know about and understand this disability. I always feel that I could have done better. If something goes wrong it’s always my fault. I refuse to live a tormented life anymore. Too few therapists know anything about NLD to be any help.