My 3rd grade year was, perhaps, the most formative year of my life. Most of the questions, struggles, and dualities which haunt me today, began forming around the of age 8 or 9. Those were the years I learned about war, divorce, suicide, social unrest, and the destructive powers of alcohol and hard drugs.
Though I may have been exposed to all of those earlier, that was the time in my life when I became able to comprehend them. In 1970, the harsher side of life began to show up in my city, in my neighborhood, and even in my family. The innocent boy who’d previously been a wide-eyed spectator to the world, became absorbed as a participant.
During my 3rd grade year, the older brother of a classmate was killed in Vietnam. As shocking as that was, I was more confused, and saddened that my classmate had to go to school the next day. Perhaps mom and dad had no better way to create space to deal with their loss.
A well respected businessman from the neighborhood, when caught stealing money from the company he worked for, decided to take his own life rather than face a trial. His daughter, Connie, the cutest girl on my diving team, had a perpetual smile. She continued with diving practice after the loss of her father, but the smile gave way to a haunting stare which remained until her family moved away later that summer.
A kid who lived on the street behind me died of a drug overdose. I didn’t know it was a drug overdose at the time. To protect me, my parents told me he’d gotten sick on a trip to Estes Park with his parents. I’d later learn that, though he had been in Estes Park with his parents, he’d taken some (unspecified) drugs along the way — apparently too much.
Not long after, a kid from down the street drowned at a nearby lake. Again, to protect me, my parents told me that his legs got caught in some underwater vegetation that held him down. And again, I’d later learn later that he’d been drinking, passed out in the lake, and drowned.
It was in my 3rd grade year that my own parents, who’d previously said “for better or worse“, decided to void that contract, at least for a while. They’d actually done it once before, when I was in kindergarten, but I didn’t understand it at that time. In the 3rd grade though, it was a kick in the stomach that lasted for months. They would reunite, only to break up again, a couple of more times during my childhood.
The 3rd grade is when I began talking to myself. In part, because I enjoyed conversations with myself more than those I had with friends — I could be more creative, stretch truths, and call fantasies into order. But also, because what few friends I had, weren’t interested in what I had to say. The 3rd grade is when I developed my lifelong tendency toward isolation.
It was the year my teacher, Betsy Ridell, frustrated from me asking the same question several times over, pulled my head back so I could look her in the eye while she scolded me. She didn’t mean to cut my forehead with her fingernails, but when she saw blood, her disposition changed. My dad took it from there.
I was in the 3rd grade when the Beatles, who I’d only begun to appreciate, broke up. Songs like Come Together, Magical Mystery Tour, and Let It Be opened my ears and mind wider than I could have imagined. Don McLean be damned, when I heard that the Beatles broke up, it really was the day the music died.
Apollo 13, the most haunting thing I’d ever been exposed to, took place that year. Could anything be more frightening to a nine-year-old than astronauts floating into space for eternity, or until they ran out of oxygen…? One morning my mother told me about an earthquake in Peru that took 80,000 lives.…
“Some of them“ she said, “were probably Cub Scouts like you…“
Mom didn’t say that to scare me. I’m sure she hoped it would foster empathy. But I cried myself to sleep that night, and it didn’t want to go to school the next day.
And the riots of 1970…? My dad would have me believe that life outside suburbia was unsafe, and a place I should never go. The required evening news drove home a fear in me of the inner city, by watching it burn on television, that’s still with me today.
When I think about my doubts, fears, character flaws, and the visceral cynicism that underlies them all, it was the petri dish of my 3rd grade year which provided the perfect environment for it all to grow. And I think about that time in my life, and in the world, every day of my life.
This is what I think about when I ride… Jhciacb
Whether you ride a bike or not, thank you for taking the time to ride along this week. If you haven’t already, please scroll up and subscribe. If you like what you read, give it a like 👍🏻 and a share. Oh, and there’s this from Slightly Stoopid. Enjoy…!
5 thoughts on “Grade 3…”
If I had known that my third grade would be that traumatic I would have immediately skipped a grade or stayed back. Very nice deep dive. Sounds very pivotal. We are seriously forged in these early years.
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Thanks for taking the time. Ironic that you would say that, because I dropped out of school, illegally, in my ninth grade year. I saw the writing on the wall of another pivotal year and just couldn’t face it…
I dropped out in the eleventh and hitchhiked across the northwest. Went back later and finished up, don’t regret it a bit. My year of “contentment.”
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Wow, that was quite a terrible year! The only thing that approaches it in my naive childhood was the loss of a family friend’s 10 year old daughter to a heart issue. Now, surgery would have fixed it, but they didn’t have the way back then. Because of that I’ve realized that some medical treatments should not be rushed into.
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Review in the timeline with my brother, a little while ago, it’s more like a stretch of a couple of years, but it seems to pinpoint between second and fourth grade.
And it’s amazing what can be done medically today, that wasn’t able to be done in the 1960s and 1970s.
Nice to see you here, Doc. Thank you for taking the time…