(12) A Dark Place
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
You took me to a dark place. I hear that you wondered would I still be with Ian if you hadn't have. You asked did I blame you. I am glad you asked.
Some people referred to it as a witch-hunt. Others were less dramatic. Nobody outwith my immediate family saw the whole fall out, and some laughed. 'Did you hear about the carpet munchers?' A short time ago, a while after I'd left, the Would-Be Good Volunteer was trying to give her own flawed and sensational account of What Katrina Did and What Katrina Did Next - I don't know the New Teacher, but from what I have heard and what he replied to Would Be, I know I respect him. There are, thankfully, people who defended, and people who told others that it wasn't a joke, real lives were being fucked up. I heard that New Teacher stopped her short.
I have always experienced a degree of healthy anxiety. On highland dancing competition days, as a child, I was unable to eat before the event, but then afterwards ecstatically displayed medals, trophies, going to sleep doubled up, knees tucked in, hurray I've won, stomach pain gone in the morning. At University, I developed more social anxiety and calculated how many tutorials I could miss and still get through the philosophy course. I want to say, because that is also part of it (bothering too much what people might think) - that I did well. I got a standing ovation once and an exemption from the end of year exam. Do you have the wrong Suzanne? someone asked. And no wonder. I barely spoke and I spent an unreasonable amount of time not there.
I have, since moving away from Applecross, pushed my anxiety back to a mainly humourous level. In the school I am working in, I make up my mind which toilet cubicle I will go in before I get to the photocopier machine around the corner from the toilets. I feel a little dismayed, but not distraught, if it is occupied. Sometimes when entering the staff room, I wonder can I just go through the whole room as if I am actually heading for the paper-cutter? I can sit down and chat normally. But also I know I can make other people feel uncomfortable with my discomfort. I am happy to talk standing up, but I know that sitting down might be the wrong thing, especially if you have a phone and don't make eye contact. When going home by bus, I cannot get off at the stop before the stop that I always get off at (even though I suspect it might be a shorter walk home). I can laugh about this to Is and my brother, who understands this more than most people, and has far better anxiety stories than I do. Crank it up a notch and up a notch again. These are nothing compared to my dark place.
I cannot talk about staff stuff. There is a whole pile of that. Two staff who disliked each other immensely and disliked a lot of other people too, many of them children. That is the least serious of the staff stuff. And I can't talk about your accusations from a teaching point of view. As a parent, though, of the protagonist, I can surely have my say now. Let's assume that the teacher (me) spoke to the head teacher (me) and was advised to speak to the parent of Katrina (me) and then let's do what I could not do then. Let's stand me outside the school gates to join you, from a parental point of view. And what I am saying, at the gates, to you and to other parents, is SHE NEVER STOOD A CHANCE. I didn't stand a chance. You attacked, it is fair to say. I had my theories as to why, some of them are not far from the truth. I would like to say publicly, since I was not allowed then, that KATRINA may be NOISY, gregarious sometimes, IN YOUR FACE, argumentative - but she is also EXCITING, interesting, caring, WILD in the best way. Your children obviously saw that too, flocking to her every time they saw her at community events. It always set people talking, they were surprised, trying to match what you said and what they saw in front of them. Happy, chatty, laughing girls. I am saying loudest of all, and I hope you are hearing this, KATRINA IS NOT A BULLY. Shelving works for a limited time. I baked bread, some sourdough, some rustic granary, and I bought an enthusiastic baking book. I fashioned a cabinet out of an old guitar, made a shoe shelf, built a wood pile so big (6ft high) and beautiful that passers through the garden of Garden Cottage stopped to take pictures. I made a how-to-improve-my-life booklet with sewn seams, cooked new things for large parties of people, learned to knit, learned to light fires with stone, flint and dried grass. I posted all the new things on facebook and it all seemed - off the shelf- as if everything was more or less great. We lost the ability to talk properly about it. Ian thought it might all go away if we tried not to think about it. I went from shelving things, ignoring them and hoping they would go away, to some cold place, sick head, heavy heart. I lost a stone and a half in three months. And I stopped going out if I thought parents of children might be there. I caught the hushed voices, guilty eyes giving looks. I sank. I smoked a bit, sometimes quite a lot. I stopped reading altogether, which surprised me, a lover of books from the age of eight. I took sleeping pills but didn't like waking up ( sleeping pills don't make the anxiety go away - when you wake up it is still there and you haven't slept a proper sleep). I went to counselling but got off to a bad start because it seemed the counsellor was agreeing with everything I said, and I knew that if I had been Butter Wouldn't Melt, she would equally have agreed with her. I know that is her job, the counsellor, but I didn't like it. I eventually took antidepressants and felt somewhat flat. Not low, just nowhere.
I have apologised to Katrina. After your visit, I wouldn't leave her alone in class. I set out to prove that I did not ignore things (one of the many accusations). And so I shouted at her for forgetting to put her hand up, I shouted at her for putting it up at the wrong time, I shouted at her for not listening, and I shouted at her for responding to my bark. There, go home and tell your mum that Mrs Gillies does indeed shout at her girl. Dog with a bone. When you are in such a tiny school, in such a small community, faced with such accusations, BE A DOG.... One of Mr Minchin's lesser known life lessons, between Be A Teacher and Define Yourself By What you Love. The more agitated I was, the more she reacted in a way that would make me shout. I almost pleaded with her - please, please don't do this in front of them.
Three out of five of her other teachers came to me, over the years, to suggest Katrina was on the Autistic Spectrum. Four out of Six if you include me. That was a factor that grew between us, Ian and me. He disagreed adamantly with labelling, and until then it hadn't mattered. After you though, I started going home as her teacher and stopped remembering to be her mum out of school.
I was dulled, strained and striving not to be - my relationship with my lovely girl at a near permanent battle. I had six times off altogether with stress, anxiety, depression. Each time longer than the previous one. Anxiety seeps in coolly, collectedly, and leaves some permanent memory there. When you have been there, it is easier to go back.
I can't entirely answer your question. But, yes, I do blame you.