August 11, 2019:
I'd just begun to forge new friendships when the second disaster changed my world forevermore.
The San Diego Unified School District has a gifted program — yay. The District Powers pressured my mother to send me across town to my second new school in just a few months. They were persistent and unsubtle. They told her that I'd mentally stagnate in ordinary classes, and when I pointed out that I'd done fine in ordinary classes up till now they insisted with more emotion than reason that without the accelerated program I'd later falter throughout the whole of a miserably stultified adulthood. I was vehemently opposed, and I was right. It was clear to me that socialization in my new neighborhood was more important than advanced arithmetic. Bussing my fourth grade ass to a special school would isolate me from the new friendships that were not yet secure, but which I needed if I were to have any genuine chance at emotional normality. I fought, I said no, I refused, but the adults were united. All of them. I have a vivid memory of an alcoholic neighbor, swirling a glass of bourbon on ice in the hot summer afternoon, slurring her words as she insisted, "Us intelligent people gotta stikka gether."
You can sympathize with my mother's motives. Single parent, factory worker, not much going in life, surrendering her own dreams because it's just too much effort to work forty hours and raise a kid and major in music all together. With her own legacy of childhood abuse, depression, social isolation — and her profoundly Ozarkian belief that children lack lasting feelings.
With consummate cluelessness she had me read two science fiction novels. An explicitly portentous gesture: These will help you understand your new life. They were Slan by A.E. van Vogt, and Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke: both centering on uniquely gifted male children whose profound otherness isolates them radically from peers and from society. You're different to everyone else, she was saying. Get used to it.
These were disastrously wrong decisions which profoundly colored the rest of my life. Forever after, wherever I was, was wrong. In my blue-collar neighborhood I was the special kid who was too good for the neighborhood school. At school I was the blue-collar bad boy in a world of white-collar good boys and girls. Our fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Schulman, said so, out loud, in front of the class. "I taught at your school," she said, pointing at me. She meant the school in my neighborhood which would have been mine had I not been exiled to the gifted program. "You're lower class."
I said nothing, because even at the tender age of eight I knew not to argue with the truth.
I was miserable. And very lonely, and very lonely at home, where I coped with schoolday misery by calling in sick two or three days a week. When children lack the power to overrule adult ineptitude all they can do is evade. I learned to wear masks, meaning, hide my feelings and my ambitions from others, because I was convinced from experience that if I gave them access they would fuck them up. I maximized my personal control by withholding my identity. I built multiple public personas, all false: False Mark at School, False Mark in The 'Hood, False Mark Among Family. Where my fear was that if I shared True Mark, someone would take him away from me.
It did feel very much like the protagonists of the sci-fi novels with which my mom had so carefully delineated her view of who I was to become. Like Jommy Cross, the orphan mutant in Slan, I hid my lonely identity in fear of those in power. Like Alvin in Against the Fall of Night I rebelled, at first within the limited means available to childhood, eventually bursting openly into full-on-fuck-you revolt. I was lonely all the time. I've been lonely all the time ever since.
But loneliness is not depression.