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False Alarm

Dreamed 1996/5/23 by Chris Wayan

I'm in elementary school again, eight or nine years old, in fifth grade (I was skipped ahead).

Slowly I catch on that I'm being lied to about school events--told false times to show up for group activities only to find an empty room. Or I'm ordered to report for "special tests" that seem pointless, cooked up just to yank me from class--or again I find the testing room empty. They always tell me I "must have misunderstood." I didn't.

Far as I can see, it's only me. Why single me out? No one will tell me. Covert punishment for being a child prodigy, a freak? A grudge against my parents? I dunno. They lie, and I end up alone where I'm not supposed to be. Not just students doing it--at least some teachers have to be in on it. Maybe not all, but I can't trust authorities. Each time I'm separated from the crowd I feel more vulnerable--marks me as different, sets me up for more gossip and pranks.

One day I'm alone in the hall, coming back from another bogus meeting or test, when the fire alarm goes off. I start running. We're supposed to use the nearest fire exit. I don't see one, though I know it's there on the right. It's narrow, so I may have missed it in my panic. Or is this another practical joke? Remove the sign, fake a fire drill? Kids should be pouring out of the classrooms, but the hall is empty. Yet school's in session and the fire buzzer's screeching. Eerie. Is it a nuclear war drill instead? Run alone down hall toward end. My homeroom is there too, room 63, on the right. I can look in the room, and if it's empty, run out the front door. Can see there's no fire there. But I know I'll be punished somehow for this.

Ink sketch of a dream by Wayan; teacher sends me to the school psychologist but no one's there; fire alarm goes off but the halls are empty.
Later, my parents are supposed to pick me up today after school, at 6 PM? We're going into San Francisco to see a play at American Conservatory Theatre. The school psychologist and nurse and my teachers told me that's impossible, my parents aren't coming then, because I have special tests today that will run well past six.

From their tone I know they disapprove of my parents' elitism in going to live theatre. And taking a small kid who can't possibly understand! It'll feed his egotism, already a problem. Thinks he's a little genius.

So they rig these fake tests to force me not to show up when I should. They'll keep me after class using their testing as detention! Punishment, not for behavior, but for being a prodigy: too young, unnatural. "That Chris, always lying." I'm glad they've turned so blatant. Know your enemies.

Trouble is, I don't know my friends. If any. Ink sketch of a dream by Wayan; a prune-faced, disapproving teacher or school psychologist

But I refuse to stay! Run out to meet my parents, who do indeed drive up. I tell them what's been happening. My mother asks "Are you asking to be pulled from this school?" and I say "I don't know." And I don't; I'm just reporting a problem. I have no way to know if adults in other school will be better. She asks what I'd do about it if they left me in this school. I say "I'll keep my self-respect at any price. I'll start hitting kids who lie to me or tease me; I'll make it cost too much. I'm too small to beat up the staff who've been doing this, but I'm smart. I'll think of ways I can hurt them too, until they're afraid of me too, and stop."

And I mean exactly what I say. Whatever the cost.

IN THE MORNING

What's the dream saying? That I underestimate the hostility I faced. I saw many kids and teachers (even ones I barely knew) disliked me, but as a kid I lacked the context to be sure I was singled out or that it was systemic. It's obvious now. They saw my family as elitist and me as a freak--assumed I was way ahead because my parents pushed me (false). My sisters and cousins were gifted too; we took intellectualism for granted, saw it as normal--till kindergarten when we discovered our "peers" were all illiterate!

The dream accurately evokes my childhood reaction: confusion and a harsh lonely pride. I scorned and mistrusted my teachers as well as classmates. I've blamed myself or my parents for being the school pariah, but was I really so dumb I couldn't tell who to trust? Consciously, I only noted blatant unfairness--theft, violence, provable lies (not just kids; at least two teachers lied to me and about me, going so far as to falsify records; one of my psychologists is now under indictment for abusing kids). Quieter abuse, I took for granted--rejection, prejudice, harassment, hate speech. At last, I ignored others' expressed feelings and judged only their actions. Outside my family and close friends, I was nearly mute.

For years, I thought I was a socally inept loner--but now I wonder. Stoic withdrawal may have been the only response to abuse by school staff paid to protect me! The dream's ending warns how close I came to violence, to a label of "delinquent", like so many gifted.

Sketch of a dream by Wayan; teachers and school psychologists loom around a small boy singled out for special tests.

I have few physical scars; I try to forget those years of abuse. But inside? I still mistrust groups, expecting prejudice, persecution and sabotage. I watch for evidence others are singling me out.

But the dream says my hair-trigger alarm system is like a firebell ringing in an empty school. False alarm.

That is, false now.

Ink sketch of a dream by Wayan of a school fire alarm going off.



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