You know? It's not the easiest thing for me to remember and write about my "tween" and teen years. It's not that I have Alzheimer's or anything, but so many of the memories are unpleasant... like getting-bitten-by-a-shark unpleasant.
If I hadn't had access to horses, I can't even imagine how life might have been. Let me start with puberty. Personally, I welcomed puberty like I would have welcomed the plague. I had known the "facts of life" for a few years by age 10, but rebelled by dressing and wearing my hair like a boy. I'm not sure if I believed that pretending to be a boy would somehow prevent my perceived downward spiral into full-fledged womanhood, but to my dismay I was in 6th grade when I got "it." While I've heard stories about other girls celebrating the arrival of womanhood, I wanted to pretend it hadn't happened.
Because I tend to be very hypersensitive to physical stimulation, I was able to feel... "it." For me it was like wearing undergarments made of live, wiggling earthworms. I don't like the sensation of anything wet anywhere on my body, least of all... I truly found the entire situation completely unbearable, but knew there was nothing I could do about it. It was hard to concentrate at school, to visit a museum with family, to walk, to ride horses, to live when "it" was present. When I had "it," I constantly thought about it. I didn't adjust to it over the next years, either. In my 40's, I have finally come to terms with it... and the laughable irony that I am currently going through peri-menopause has not escaped me in the least.
Socially the other girls were progressing as girls through the 6th, 7th and 8th grade are supposed to, yet I seemed trapped in a fantasy world of childhood somehow. Tweenage girls are not nice creatures, and just when I thought I was getting the hang of social structures, my understanding of other humans seemed to be pile-driven into the dirt as my peers went through the catty rituals of puberty. I had a few close friends who stuck by me. They told me I was "weird... but in a good way." I was just happy they would still talk to me!
Other girls... I just didn't "get" them. I couldn't pick out the hidden meanings of tone or voice inflection. I knew that in tweenage terms, "Nice sweater!" could mean either "I like your sweater," or "OMG - did you find that in some nerd's time capsule from the '60's?" As a result of my confusion, my responses to people's comments were often very inappropriate. I tried to copy the tones and inflections of other people's speech only to find further confusion when adults were offended in being addressed too informally or without respect, or when peers took offense to my intended compliments.
To this day I find I still sometimes inadvertently offend others. I generally think out everything I am going to say prior to saying it - including the volume, tone, inflection and word-choices... every time. Do you have any idea how tiring that gets in a fast-paced social situation? Is it any wonder I don't belong to the PTA? I still sometimes misjudge how others will perceive my statements... and then I have to go through the acrobatics of trying to smooth ruffled feathers.
Anywhoo - back to junior high school.
As a result of my lack of social skills and understanding, I was often taken advantage of. I was teased and I was bullied. I had my few friends, but I was fearful of making new friends because I knew I wasn't very good at it. I was horribly anxious and also very depressed.
Like many Aspies I was gifted - my strengths are writing and art. Writing... probably because I spent every free moment analyzing language and trying to figure out the magical equation for fitting in with my 7th grade peers, and art because when every word has a concrete picture associated with it, one finds they have a lot of excess and random pictures floating around in their heads that occasionally need to be taken out for a walk across a blank sheet of paper.
One of my favorite poems from that year of hell is:
Little horse of the golden glade, All except my life is paid, And now because that is done, Across the fields of green we'll run.
We will run forever more, Until we reach the golden door, And when we reach that door - and through, Only then life starts anew.
What? Doesn't every 13-year-old write death poetry? Unfortunately, death just seemed easier than dealing with my quickly-wilting social life.
It didn't get better when my family moved to a different state and I found myself in a new school with new kids... to my defense, I did make a friend. She rode horses too and apparently never bathed. Then I moved to a smaller school in hopes that fewer kids would mean that there were fewer kids to shun me. I did have a few friends through high school, but my social issues persisted. Since I lived my teenage life trying to be someone else, I'm sure other girls found it more than a little creepy when I was trying to be them. It wasn't that I wanted to be them per say, but from my analytical point of view I could see who the popular girls were. I figured that if I could act how they acted and say the kinds of things they said in the way they said it, that I would seem less socially undesirable. It didn't work, and I became even more depressed, unable to figure out what was wrong with me and why I was so different.
I involved myself with an area college theater group (who embraced me and my eccentricities completely) and with horses. While other teens tested their boundaries with alcohol or what-not, I hung out with a 60-something theater director with the energy of a 12-year-old and the attention span of a goldfish. One of my fellow-actors was a wonderful bisexual black man and the others were just wonderfully accepting of other people's differences. Acting came second-nature to me as I had been pretending to be other people for at least 15 years by that time.
I also developed a deep love for stories of the middle-ages or of fantasy worlds. I devoured the Narnia series, the Lord of the Rings and anything written in Olde English with a mad passion, and would receive some very unusual looks when I would speak or write fluently in Olde English. Apparently that talent won't win you acceptance and respect in the high school lunch room. Who knew? Looking back, I know now why other girls rolled their eyes... but it seemed like such a good idea at the time!
I hate to say I was a show-off, but I was. I was grasping at straws - trying to find something that the other girls would admire in me. I admired them for just being able to socialize and I wanted very much to be seen as talented and therefore (in my mind) as acceptable. I was memorialized in the yearbook my senior year as being "Most likely to write a screenplay called 'My Life At The Barn'." Mission accomplished, no?
So, while I rode out the storm of depression, anxiety, social ineptitude and a stoically analytical view of the world around me, I did survive. If I had known then what I know now? Who knows? Perhaps I would have had 2 friends through those years! At any rate, college was much better for me both educationally and socially - but that is for a different post.