Part of the life of most bipolar people is regretting not living the life they could have lived. In most respects this is caused by the illness – the inability to make a keep friends, jobs, other social contacts.
But environment plays a part too. If one has strong ties to neighborhoods, friends, parent’s friends and school mates, that can go a long way towards ameliorating the effects of bipolar behavior. In short – they already know you’re kinda weird and they accept the good with the bad.
I recently felt this little sting of regret when I saw a reunion of the eighth-grade class of one of the Catholic schools that fed into Lake Catholic where I went to high school.
They aren’t the only Catholic grade school to hold such reunions. There were a lot of Catholic grade schools in the 70s that had large classes (it was the height of the enrollment boom) that sent the majority of their students on to Lake. Now, many of them are struggling to hold on and some have had to close.
My elementary school I attended beginning in November of my kindergarten year, still exists. It grew a little and became more exclusive and expensive than it was. The nuns have pretty much disappeared, giving way to lay teachers. It is in many way, a shadow of its former self. Which is a good thing.
About six miles to the north is St. Mary’s Chardon where most of the people I rode the buses with went to school. It was a bus transfer point for Notre Dame’s students. It was also my family’s parish where we went to church.
But my mother (who was the sole decision maker here – the only time in our family she was allowed to make unilateral decisions, perhaps because she was a cradle Catholic and my dad was not) refused to send me there. Her story, passed down through the years, was that a teacher at St. Mary’s told her that if she wanted the better Catholic education available, to send me to Notre Dame.
But Notre Dame has the beginnings of what would become a long waiting list to get in, as the entire school from K-8 had room for less than 400 students. So, I went to a public school, Park Elementary (strangely enough with some kids that would transfer later to St. Mary’s) until November of my kindergarten year when I was unceremoniously yanked out of what I thought was a fun school and delivered to the tender mercies of the Sisters of Notre Dame.
To say this was a shock to my system was putting it mildly. I will skip details; I’ve discussed some of them earlier in this blog.
But the real mistake was probably made earlier when my parents decided to move from Mayfield Heights to Chardon. I was on the verge of kindergarten when they moved (August 1968) and was set to go to my neighborhood public school in the Mayfield system, one of the better and later, best in Ohio.
It was also the system where my mother taught second grade – not in the school I would have gone to, mind you. But there would have been some familial clout later when she because the teacher’s union president.
I often stare at the ceiling at 3 a.m. and wonder what my life would have been like to go to school with the kids I knew in my neighborhood, without ever having to be subjected to the ritualistic humiliation suffered at the hands of the nuns, largely for two reasons – my parents weren’t rich and I was a willful and smart kid who didn’t want to hide it.
Even though my mother would never admit, I was in the worst possible situation I could have been placed in. Even she would later admit that I learned almost nothing in school relative to what I taught myself by reading. Several years into my 8 ½ year sentence, even my father was making the case to my mother that perhaps I should transfer to St. Mary’s. If you knew my father, or have read about him here, you know that his objections were significant. Usually he didn’t care if I was suffering if it would ‘toughen me up.’ But he had seen enough of the nuns’ behavior and what went on in the halls that even he was disturbed.
I got off easy. We literally drove some kids right out of that school through bullying – kids that entered in the fourth and fifth grade. And yes, I participated lest they pick on me. And I was picked on enough being a fat kid with a funny last name, a geeky intelligence and a family nowhere near the economic level of the most popular kids. And there was nowhere to escape when you spend almost nine years with the same 26 kids (more or less) in the same room.
An aside: I often wonder if it ever occurred to her when she sent me to my first shrink between seventh and eighth grade, that my school environment would have had something to do with it?
But mom held fast. First, as I said, it was the only decision she had ever been allowed to make unilaterally in our family and second, she was one of these people who believed that once you committed to something, you should stick it out no matter what the damage or regret. After all, she didn’t have to be exposed to the nuns on a daily basis, she didn’t have to stand in a lonely outfield on a hot day waiting for the occasional fly ball that I would inevitably drop.
She also didn’t have to attend the Cub Scout pack comprised of people from the local elementary schools I didn’t go to when the majority of my Notre Dame classmates were part of the pack at. . .yep. . . St. Mary’s.
I KNOW this sounds like whining and I get that. But she couldn’t have devised a childhood to fuck me up more. I was surrounded by people I couldn’t bind with. And my insecurity as I got older just got worse as the mental issues took hold. Chicken or the egg? Causation or correlation? I’ll never know.
When I was paroled from Notre Dame and went to Lake Catholic I was very intimidated at first. But the people I met were not like the kids at Notre Dame. They seemed far more accepting. There were more people like me. And a lot less snootiness. After about a month, I was in smoothly and greatly relieved.
It wasn’t perfect but for me, no environment is ever perfect. But, although it isn’t the same most people, high school, looking back, was some of the best years of my life, especially after what I had gone through.
The years immediately after high school were full of effort on my part, to retain those friendships and connections. Eventually, slowly and sometime painfully, eventually, we all drifted apart.
I guess that’s why I was so jazzed about my class reunion last year – our 35th. Of all the friends I had known, these were the people I had gotten closest to. I was very curious whether I could make friends again and possibly keep some.
The reunion went very well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and re-connected with some people. Unfortunately, for some of these folks, my own posting about religion and Trump have undone some of these connections. To their credit, most of my classmates are still nominally Catholic, many seriously so. Catholicism and I parted company some time ago. I do miss the feeling of belonging to a community, having something in common with people and the strangely comforting rituals of the Mass. But for many, many reasons, I simply can’t go back. They have their rules and I respect them but I don’t think it can ever be again.
As for politics, the heartbreaking thing is in another time, this would not have been an issue. Unfortunately, we only had a small grace period before the election would tear some of those bounds asunder.
If we can’t find a way to get beyond it, and we probably can’t, I probably won’t go to the 40th reunion. I still have Facebook friends that I am trying not to lose or push away for various reasons. I hope they understand that I was always just a little – maladjusted. But I mean well.
When the elementary school classes of 77, whether they be St. Justin Martyr or St. Mary’s Mentor get together, I feel that tinge of what might have been. Although I recognize many of them who went on to Lake Catholic from the Facebook photos, I know that is not my tribe. I had four years with them – they had 12 and many grew up just streets away from each other, attended the same sports and social leagues and hung out at each other’s homes.
There were only four of us from Notre Dame that went to Lake, absorbed into a freshman class of 375 students – all boys, no girls.
And many of them still have friends and family in Northeastern Ohio. I’m two hours away in Pittsburgh so I can get up there if I want, but it’s not the same. I only really interact on Facebook.
Strangely, one of the guys I went to school with at both Notre Dame and Lake Catholic lives here in Pittsburgh. We used to be thick as thieves at Notre Dame. He won’t respond to my friend requests yet he is friends with some of our mutual friends at Lake Catholic. I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt just a little.
I realize that a set of circumstances led me to where I am today – some I had control over, some I didn’t. I love Pittsburgh. I love my wife. But one should have friends outside of their spouse. My wife does – she’s tight with both her former classmates and all the friends she’s met in her knitting hobby.
My effort to do the same at work, at the Mustang club, at the local NAMI branch, at the improv school all have ended in either regret on my part or simply not being a good fit with others. But I have tried.
It’s difficult to talk about being lonely when part of the fault is mine. Most people who know me online don’t know how hard it is for me to go to work every day and when the day is over, I’m all out of spoons and find it difficult to leave the house for socialization. In fact, on my days off, I find I almost always have to work up the nerve to leave the house at all.
I try to be someone I’m not to make friends because I’m always worried that people won’t like the real me. And to those who always say, ‘be yourself’ I can go over my track record where that has lost me enough people in my life. And besides, this three-page whine has gone on far too long.
It just hurts.