I was homeschooled.
Anytime I tell people that, I see the other person’s lips part slightly to let an “ah” escape, the head nod and then tilt at an angle of hesitation, and the eyes move away. I wonder what’s racing through their heads: Do they picture me as a little girl in a jean skirt with a Bible in my arms? Do they wonder if I’m going to begin showing some weird, socially awkward behavior that will make them want to escape to “normal” people?
I’m nearly 30 years old, but I will never live down being a homeschooled girl. It nearly gives me a headache. It’s caused embarrassment my entire life.
I didn’t like being homeschooled. It’s going to sound sad, but I wanted to be around friends. I didn’t like most other homeschooled kids. They were weird. There was the family with a son and daughter, and they lived in the woods outside of town. The daughter didn’t say much; she was too scared to talk to people, so she remained silent, staring at me in her jean skirt. Her brother wouldn’t look me in the eye but didn’t stop talking – about history, about what he’d read about the American Civil War or Independence Day. There was the family with four or five daughters, all who wore the jean skirts, whose mother spoke in a soft too-sweet voice with a toothy smile about behaving better and following orders. Then there were the many, many families with children who acted like they were better and smarter than everyone else, the kids couldn’t even look at me without some level of jealousy or disdain glowing on their rude, unkind faces.
I only liked one kid, my best friend, who has been one of my closest friends for twenty years. I love her like a sister. We live three thousand miles from each other but we, as they say, always pick up where we left off. We haven’t ever fought. It’s a miraculously loving, freedom-filled friendship.
When I was nearing the end of fourth grade, I asked my mom if I could enroll in public school. I had gone in kindergarten, so I missed it; I’d tasted it and loved it. But she asked me to wait a year. When I attended middle school in the sixth grade, I started out great. Sure, there were some uncertainties; kids thought I was shy so I was not very interesting to them, or I imagined that, but I made one “best” friend quickly. However, she turned her back on me three or so months into the school year – due to some dumb misunderstanding about a party with drugs, when she assumed that I, the formerly homeschooled girl, would tattle (I didn’t and hadn’t planned to – her accusation completely surprised me). She stopped talking to me, which meant I had to change the lunch table I sat at and find others to talk to – hard enough for any other pubescent twelve-year-old girl, am I right? While I did have a couple others to lean on, I was hurt and went back to what I was used to. Homeschooling.
I wasn’t equipped to handle junior high drama. I probably could have if I had formed bonds with people for five years prior to that. And understood the social cues more. I might have had more confidence, the ability to say exactly what was needed in order to dissuade her, perhaps even the little bit of pre-teen strength to walk away and find new friends regardless.
I wavered, fled, from that school after one year, after the spring semester of loneliness and anger and insecurity. Two years later, I went back to public high school in a different school district – because my parents moved the family for unrelated reasons – and then I went through four years of painful catch-up on learning how to befriend people. I sensed little commitment from many of the girls who had bonded throughout elementary school and needed no more friends. Boys were a mystery, flirtatious and goofy and charming, but distant. While I have good memories of a handful of wonderful kids whom I befriended, I still became depressed my junior year.
Then, I became euphoric my final year when I saw college on the horizon – across the country, coming ever nearer.