My fate improved greatly when I moved from Winchester, MA to Commack, Long Island, NY at the age of 9. I missed the hills in the back of the duplex where we used to go sledding and my friend Magda. Long Island was much more liberal, I found, than Winchester—even with 9-year-olds. I was fortunate to experience a much more open culture where I was accepted, could fit in and blossomed more. I went from being the unpopular odd-ball who wore a “bindi” (dot on the forehead) and who didn’t eat meat to being the class president of my fourth grade. There was of course one incident when I ended up wrestling someone to the ground (she attacked me), because I was eating a peanut butter jelly sandwich and wouldn’t eat her chicken.
Other than that, Old Farms elementary school in Long Island seemed quite liberal to me. Kids were now fighting at lunch to be able to sit next to me. I didn’t know what to think of it. You can see the wide smile on my face in my third-grade picture. By the fourth grade, I consistently scored higher in vocabulary than my classmates. My teacher would remark to the others how despite just having learned the language, I was doing better than them and that they should work harder. I enjoyed being compared to in a positive light. I was finally getting some approval.
Before long (within two years), my family was moving to Tennessee. I was now a 5th grader and adjusting to differences in the people around me. I was lucky to have a 25-year-old teacher by the name of Ms. Sams, who forever helped me to believe in myself. Ms. Sams seemed to take a special interest in helping my reading and writing to improve. Initially, I was in the lowest reading/writing group, until getting to the highest, partly with the encouragement provided by Ms. Sams through words and even little prizes for progress. This instilled confidence in me. She also taught me about American culture. When I received a heart-shaped box full of chocolates from a male classmate who stated that he wanted “to go out with me,” I asked “where?” Ms. Sams explained his romantic interest in me.
School started to become the structured place I could count on to balance the kind of upbringing I was getting at home. It was reliable and predictable, starkly different from my home life. This gap began to increase and become more prominent as I grew older—through college. It was my safety zone. It was a world where I learned about the world beyond my home. I loved to learn new things. During the summers, my favorite activity had become to play “school.”
We moved every two years, from the north to the South. I did not fit in school the older I got, as I was not allowed to participate in the activities the others did, such as spending the night, going to parties, concerts, sports, or other school functions. Finally, we settled in NC for some of my formative years. I went to Junior High, High School and one year of college there.