By Jonathan Alexandratos
My elementary school experience was both mentally and physically abusive. Most days were a Venn Diagram of those two categories. Seeing my second grade music teacher hurl a dry erase marker at us out of frustration: physical. Overhearing my fourth grade teacher call us “a waste”: mental. Being swatted in the head with my classroom-made hall pass by my fifth grade teacher because I didn’t put as many colors on it as the other students: both. Being given up on, and relegated to remedial coursework, instead of imposing upon my teachers the descriptions of their jobs: mental. The list goes on. I won’t attempt to equivocate with phrases like “at least, that’s how I remember it,” or, “I could be wrong – I was young,” or, “others had it worse,” or, “I’m being too sensitive,” or, “maybe,” or “perhaps,” or “I think.” Fuck it. I know. This is how it was.
What was propagated there was a system that almost ensures its own survival. I have since felt anger toward a class of people, elementary educators, who are, surely, by-and-large, good, honest, well-intentioned, hard-working people, for no reason beyond the fact that abuse ensures that the fists of a few will silence the open palms of many. It, abuse, further guarantees its longevity through convincing people, like the devil, that it isn’t there. That the word is too harsh. That it happens to other people. What results is a generation of young people that must grow up with the notion that the world is what happens to other people, and has nothing to do with me. It is a new Lost Generation that rests in the gap just after the last of the traditionalist educators – the spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child group who came of age under abuse that, while still being abuse, could hide in a crowd and find strength in numbers and the justification of “That’s what my teachers did…” – are on their way out, and the victims of this practice – if they have managed to claw their way out of a pit of self-worthlessness, stagnated learning, and a general hatred of the classroom – are on their way in, with the conviction never to repeat what was done to them. Many of us never make it to the level of literacy expected by upper-level schools. What’s worse, many of us never get to feel the excitement of cracking open a book, the awe of the fateful twist, the passion behind every fraction of every letter, the wide, dimension-shattering space that exists between words.
And we don’t get to move to Paris. We don’t get to eloquently explain our pasts. We dwell in society, without a society. We are the ones you don’t see, and don’t feel the need to teach. We are the ones who put our heads down, and close our eyes, and make sure you have no idea what we’re dreaming. We are the ones you wouldn’t bother making that reference to, because you somehow know we wouldn’t understand. It has, in your eyes, nothing to do with me.
We are the abused who must both sit for the abuse, and wait to find out if what happened to us matches your father’s definition of the word. This group is not - *not* - the only entity that can, or should, claim this; however, this is the only group for which I, from experience, can see just how much the song remains the same. In our feelings that we do not own the world’s problems, we are often feel that we also do not own a voice about our own. Because, of course, these problems have nothing to do with me.
In seeing wave after wave of the flashing screens of the 21st Century, we sit under a veritable ocean of distractions, for which the high watermark is still nowhere in sight. The shockwaves of abuse do not, we feel, resound under water, under the 24/7 pharmacy of the Internet – but that should not stop us from pounding the wet sand, rattling the coral, and shouting to the smallest air bubble that we will not be a part of the lineage that abused us. There are distractions, but they have nothing to do with me.
There are some on our side. Some who even saw it coming. Take a look at the documentary A TOUCH OF GREATNESS, about the 1960s-era elementary school teacher Albert Cullum, who never found a child he couldn’t teach. Take a look at the 2005 Canadian film WHOLE NEW THING, about a young boy’s need to preserve his identity in a classroom, and a town, that preys on difference. I will leave the plot details a mystery, as they’re best unwrapped and discovered and felt without introduction. They are best experienced the same way many of you will experience many of us: in a room with frost-covered windows, where we’re alone, together. Where, it turns out, that the bullied and the bully find out, years later, they were both looking for the same love. Where the tables have not turned, but merged. Where we discover that, as Don Grant of WHOLE NEW THING proclaims, “Everything is a love song.” That is, if we survive long enough to make it that far. Sure, there are differences between you and me, pasts that have come and gone, apologies that may never mean a thing, and apologists that downplay themselves for something unknowable, but they, in this moment, have nothing to do with me.
But until that moment comes, we are lost between a generation who would insist that the abuse we suffered was a “rite of passage,” or because “boys will be boys,” or because it was “God’s will,” and an imperfect generation who must reinvent the wheel, with plenty creating oblong shapes that get us nowhere. However, there will come a day where we will invent something that rolls us all forward. And plenty will offer reasons not to go, not to move past a history for which nostalgia has whitewashed violence. But these reasons will have nothing to do with me.