(Title borrowed from Stephen King’s 1993 short story collection.)
I have a lot of very real dreams. So vivid, in fact, that I often awake still gripped in overwhelming emotion that can take hours to dissipate. Often it is anger, and much to his dismay, The Husband is usually on the receiving end of these lingering hostilities in the morning.
Last night, I dreamed about junior high school. It wasn’t a nightmare exactly but it was an uncomfortable dream. I awoke feeling out of sorts and anxious. Feelings that returned to me periodically throughout the day as the dream continued to resurface. I’ll tell you about it, but first I have to give you some background information.
It all started in grade 3 when I was among a handful of students who were selected for a “pull-out” Enrichment Program. What I didn’t know at the time, was that this was happening in elementary schools all across the city. Once a week, the teacher of this program would come to my school and our little group would congregate in an empty classroom and be put through our paces. I wasn’t aware of the greater significance of this, I just knew it meant I missed art every Friday.
I’m not sure what qualities were needed to have made this cut, as we were an odd mix… a little like Professor Xavier’s school for mutants in the X-Men. All of us with unique talents, but still in need of training. My super powers were advanced reading and comprehension, and complex problem solving skills.
We continued like this through to the end of grade 6. At this point the ostracism was still relatively minor as the majority of our week was spent in a regular classroom. We weren’t too different… yet.
In the summer between elementary school and junior high, I was invited to join the full-time Enrichment Program. It would be at my local school and the rest of the “pull-out” kids from around the city would be bused in to form a full class of our own.
I remember sitting with my parents at the picnic table in our old backyard. They were asking me if I wanted to join the program or not. I wanted them to make the decision for me but they wouldn’t… this had to be my choice. I said, “Okay, I guess,” and when grade 7 started, I became a “Pinhead”.
You see, the Enrichment Program was known as the “Pinhead Program” to the rest of the student body. Also unbeknownst to me, this program had been going for a few years already, so there were “Pinhead” classes in grades 7, 8 and 9.
We were all teased, but there were several of us who were able to assimilate pretty well into the general student body. We were outwardly “normal”. I played sports and made the dance team. I also had a sister in grade 9 who was very popular and was afforded some second-hand status.
All said, I had a pretty typical junior high experience. I went to dances and was actually asked to dance. I had my first kiss and a few boyfriends. I was marginally popular and was invited to my share of sleepovers and parties.
Others in my class weren’t as lucky; they were taunted mercilessly and even beaten-up. But this bullying wasn’t what the dream was about.
Last night’s dream was about a real conversation I happened to overhear between the three core Enrichment Program teachers. I’m not sure how I got myself in the position to overhear, perhaps I was in the corridor getting something out of my locker afterschool, all I remember is pausing in the midst of what I was doing when I heard my name. It wasn’t an intentional case of eavesdropping.
The general conversation was about our class and how we were performing as individuals compared to each other. What was so disturbing about it was that they were naming those who weren’t “conforming” to the program; trouble-makers who were expressing dissent. My name seemed to top the Orwellian list.
Earlier in the week we had had a class discussion about the pros and cons of “fitting-in” with the rest of the student body and I had stated my opinion that the program put a target on our backs. I felt that the rest of the school resented us for getting special treatment. I clearly remember the teacher’s response being along the lines of, “Well, you can leave if you don’t like it.” I was filled with shame and embarrassment and was very nearly brought to tears.
This morning I woke up with those feelings flooding back over me.
Today I thought a lot about my classmates from the Enrichment Program (some of them are still very close friends) and I wonder, did that program do us any good? Are we any better off because of it? Perhaps it created a safe space for us to express ourselves, but was that worth the greater ostracism that it created?
Interestingly, the program no longer exists. Was it disbanded because it was a failed experiment or was it due to financial restraints? Maybe a little of both, I really have no idea.
None of my questions are new but last night’s dream caused them all to resurface and they left me discombobulated.
Anyway, now I’m off to bed… let’s see what tonight brings.