Although I never really got into trouble much, I remember always feeling like I was a bad child. The feeling just lingered there, staining my thoughts and drove my words and actions. I remember feeling like I had to lie to make myself sound more worthy, because I’d already accepted that I couldn’t possibly be good enough as I was. I can only assume now that I must have felt that way because of how easily my parents seemed to have left me. The lack of apology for leaving me parentless destroyed any self-worth I had as a 4 year-old.
Now that I look back on my childhood, I’m impressed by how well-behaved I was. Aren’t parentless abandoned children supposed to go off the rails, rebel and get into trouble all the time and then end of on The Jeremy Kyle show one day? Instead, I was this weird mixture of timid and brave. I rarely tested the boundaries (even though I had the urge to) as I was much more concerned with adults’ approval. I had no parents, so I was desperate for any other adults’ attention.
I found school exciting and loved helping my grandmother around the house when she let me. She taught me to knit and crochet. She even convinced my teacher to give me a report card even though I wasn’t officially enrolled. I mean, I heard her convincing her to do it and I knew that all the As were meaningless but it still made me happy. My gran cared about me.
Our little school in our little village in Cyprus consisted of two classrooms in a building surrounded by almond and cherry trees. I loved getting lost in the surrounding woods at playtime, daring myself to go in deeper every day. I would usually be alone as being in the wrong year group isolated me. As the school had accepted me 1 year early, I was younger than all my peers and found it hard to be accepted.
I pretty much started my school life as a loner. I was in the infants classroom with Teacher Oya. We were arranged in rows according to our year group. There were 3-6 children in each year group. She would teach us from the blackboard one row at a time while the rest of us sat or worked in individual silence. She was a softly spoken lady from Turkey, who wore a black velvet Alice band. I remember trying to get my hair to sit like hers. She was probably the closest I had to a mother figure for a while. We barely spoke to each other, but she was someone to look up to.
Her husband taught the juniors (aged 9-11). He was called teacher Ferit and was scary. He had all the features of a teacher from the 50s. He had a hot temper and readily used his cane. He had nicknamed my older sister BigBird because of her larger frame and would regularly humiliate her in front of the whole school, especially during PE. He would throw items he found irritating out of the window (e.g. scented rubbers, tiny bouncy balls) and hit our knuckles with a ruler if we didn’t meet standards.
I do remember occasionally doing naughty things for attention and always feeling awful for not getting in trouble. Once, I kept and spent a coin I found on the floor in the school shop and was so terrified of being caught I hid under a willow-tree-like tree at the end of the playground when playtime was up. As I saw the teacher marching up to me, I tried to hide deeper in the tree, terrified of being told off and publicly scolded.
He simply told me to come to class. The guilt wouldn’t leave me. Why hadn’t they told me off? I was so consumed by guilt that it never occured to me that I might not be found out!
I tried to make up for what I thought was my inherent badness by being a good student. I found the work they gave me too easy and just took it upon myself to start doing work set for the class above. I understood the teacher’s explanation of column addition, so I did that instead of the dot-to-dot activity meant for me. I finished all the sums faster than most people in the class and proudly took my work up to the teacher’s desk- I still remember that I got about half of them wrong, I remember the shame, the disappointment. Why do I still remember this sometimes and why does it still make me feel bad? I was a 4 year-old doing 6 year-olds’ work but I still fail to impress myself?