School hurt so much, I just stopped going.
In these enlightened times, my condition would likely be swiftly identified as “school refusal behavior,” treated with care and skill and billed to my parents’ insurance under DSM-5 code 309.21: separation anxiety disorder. The root cause might be fear of academic failure, trauma associated with the location, worry over leaving a parent’s protective sphere or upset caused by unkind classmates, but the outcome is the same: It’s not that the child won’t go to school, it’s that they simply can’t.
In the mid-1980s, as a panicky, sensitive freshman being systematically bullied and beaten by my jealous best friend, all I knew was that the act of exiting my home and pulling into the school entrance caused every last spark of energy within me to short circuit and drain from my body. And once “Elle,” the name I’ll use for my friend, learned to infiltrate the fortress of my home with strategically timed phone calls and wicked notes slipped in with the regular mail — thank goodness the Internet wasn’t yet available as an efficient conduit of cruelty — summoning the strength to leave my bed consumed my allotment of will for the day.
School attendance — let alone social obligations like new friendships, drama club and cheerleading squad (which I’d made and Elle had not, which played no small part in her vendetta against me) — just seemed like a play acted out by the normal people on the other side of the thick, glass fish tank in which I now lived. If it seems odd that someone so young would be capable of such deliberate malice, or that I’d still have thought of her as my best friend, I’m just going to take it for granted that you never logged time as a teenage girl.
Read “When it’s not just skipping school” on CNN Living