I’m told that in the first grade I cried every day, usually late morning, my sobs so uncontrollable that the student teacher who acted as an aid to our class would have to take me outside until I could calm down. No one knew why I was crying, not even me. I’d started kindergarten at the same school the year before and never had any trouble adjusting.
The only memory I have of this experience was the feeling of my small hand enveloped in the warm folds of the student teacher’s hand; the cool, moist sea salt fog from Long Island Sound hung thick. We were all alone out on the asphalt; my head was bowed, my steps slow, my breathing fast, one foot in front of the other as we traced the rough-textured, spray-painted white circle on the asphalt outside the school. When I lifted my head the fields, the playground, the rest of the school, and the suburban streets disappeared into the cottony fog so it was just me and my teacher left in the world. We walked silently, steadily, until I could breathe again.
The walls of the high school bathroom stall were pure white, made of hard manufactured plastic, the surface pleasantly textured when I ran my finger over it. I’d hide my tears in the stall closest to the door for as long as I could get away with it. This wasn’t the closest bathroom but it was far enough away from my math classroom that no one would see me cry.
I took honors math out of a sense of obligation. I sensed my parents’ and teachers’ high hopes for me and my future even when they were unspoken, which made it all but impossible for me cut myself any slack. I loved every other school subject. But my honors math teacher rushed over concepts too quickly for me to grasp. I was in too deep to switch classes, to let people know just how little I understood.
As my thoughts spiraled I was sure my classmates could hear them loudly, as if broadcasted over the loudspeaker, I’m going to fail I’m going to embarrass myself I’m going to humiliate my family and my friends I’m actually a crazy person and I’m going to die right now, right here in math class.