I went on a tour of a daycare preschool for my 10 month old this morning. I saw a lot of happy kids, and I saw one kid on her first day, crying. And then I saw teachers comforting her. They were unsuccessful, but they kept trying to reassure her in a calm and persistent manner. I was touched by their caring.
And then I had a flashback to my first day of preschool. It was 1977 in New York City. I dressed up in my favorite red dress and black patent shoes. My hair was in ponytails. My parents saw me off to the bus. I held the hand of the bus driver and they took pictures. In those pictures, I look like I’m holding my breath. I probably was.
When the bus took off, I started crying hysterically. The bus driver had to pull over and strap me in, because I pummeled the windows, hoping I could get him to stop and drive me back home. But we continued on to school.
I spoke no English. I was born in the States, but my parents didn’t want me to speak with an accent; they’d experienced endless pain in their early years in the United States because they spoke accented English, and did not want me to live through the same. They took me to the preschool administrator and asked what they could do. “I’ll teach her English,” she said. “Don’t teach her a word.”
So I showed up at preschool with only the words, “Where is the bathroom?” burned in my memory.
The bathroom is where I would spend the first three days of preschool.
I was scared. I spoke no English. I had not ever been separated from my family for this long. And I cried. I cried with hysterics. I was frustrated. I kept trying to speak Korean, and screamed it, thinking that the louder I spoke, the better chances I’d be heard.
The teachers grew frustrated with me. And dragged me to the bathroom. And locked me in a bathroom stall. They put a chair against the stall. And I could understand that they were saying, “Stay there until you stop crying.”
I cried. I kicked the metal walls. They came in and I understood they were telling me to stop doing so. I did not. I kept kicking and screaming.
I spent the entire day in the bathroom stall.
I spent the second day of preschool in the bathroom stall, too.
And the third.
I don’t remember being let out. I don’t remember what happened to end it all. But I remember being locked in there. I’ll never forget being locked in there and being ignored with all the pain I had as a four year old. And that is how I feel with my pain to this day–locked in a stall, without the key, hidden, and alone. And only allowed to come out once I stop crying.
In other news, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression a month and a half ago. I’m okay now. It’s like waking up from a living nightmare. One in which I lost half my hair. In which I realized I’d neglected my life and half of my life had fallen apart. It was hell. And now there’s light. And I’m back.