(Grace’s Note: This post deals with a topic that some of you may find stressful: sexual abuse. If this is too difficult for you to read about, you may want to skip over this one. Part 1 of my story is here, and part 3 is here.)
I walked into Mrs. Holloway’s classroom and gave her a big hug. Maybe I held on a little too long. Mrs. Holloway knelt down and looked into my eyes. “Gracie, I’m so happy to have you in my classroom this year.”
For one perfect moment, my heart felt complete. I smiled at Mrs. Holloway and took my seat near the back of the room. Before I sat down, I asked another boy in my class if I could switch seats with him to sit closer to the board. “Gracie, that’s not your assigned seat,” Mrs. Holloway said.
“But my eyes hurt if I have to squint to see.”
Mrs. Holloway tilted her head. “Okay, that’s fine,” she said. “Let’s get going, everyone.” I scurried to the front of the class, took my seat, and folded my hands over my new notebook. “Everyone starts today with an A in my class. It’s up to you to keep it,” Mrs. Holloway called out as she wrote out the daily agenda and date on the chalkboard.
This would be my job from now on. My overactive brain devised a plan as I began to sweat, worrying that Mrs. Holloway would ask my parents if they’d had my eyes tested. I needed to keep that A average, go to a good school like really smart people did, become a doctor or something very successful, and make money. Lots and lots of money.
I threw myself into school. I was good at school. I loved being the only person in my class to get perfect test scores. I always wrote more pages than required for every assigned paper. My parents would hang my tests on the fridge and brag to their friends. My mother would say, “Do you believe she was hit by a car, thrown 50 feet, and hit her head on a curb? She almost died. I prayed to God to let her live a normal life. Now look, she is an A student!” My father would walk by and rub the top of my head and say, “My little smart girl.”
Mrs. Holloway must have realized something was wrong, but I never told her my terrible secret. I wanted to so badly, but I was afraid she would think badly of me if she knew. And I believed my parents would be upset if I told Mrs. Holloway. But Mrs. Holloway showed me real, unconditional love. Throughout the year, she would send notes home complimenting my parents. And every day, I fought to become what I was pretending to be.
I began to feel I needed affirmation to perform, which drove me to overcompensate. I couldn’t relate to my classmates because I felt they could tell I was hiding something. I wore being called a “teacher’s pet” like a badge of honor. Instead of playing outside, I asked Mrs. Holloway if I could help with classroom tasks during recess and lunch. I lived for praise, slowly becoming addicted to the rush I got whenever I received a compliment.