THE CAPRA DIARIES
“ADHD and the 80’s”
Growing up, I never felt “normal”. Obviously, there was the gay element.
But, all gay things aside…
There was something much more, which made me different from your typical 6 year old kid.
I was hyper. And, I don’t mean your typical hyperactive 6 year old. I couldn’t sit the fuck still. I was extremely impulsive, and easily distracted. To the point where my Ma was starting to receive phone calls from my concerned first grade teacher…on the regular.
“We were in the middle of a spelling test and your son abruptly got up, before he finished his test! He went to the music closet, and pulled out a tambourine. He disrupted the entire class, playing the tambourine, and singing, It’s a Small World!!”, she exclaimed to my Ma.
When my Ma tried to calmly extract a reasonable answer, as to why I was creating chaos in the classroom, I answered as honestly as I could: “I got bored.”
This was 1982. It was a time when ‘psych diagnosis’ was reserved exclusively for people who were having psychosis, mania, or what was considered a complete “psychotic break”.
Terms like ADHD hadn’t really been established. And, psychotropic meds were barely on the horizon.
There was such little knowledge and information regarding ADHD. And, when there is no knowledge.. Ignorance rules. I think we all know what ignorance can breed.
For me, it bred “labels’. From my teachers. From my friends and peers, in school And, generally from anyone who shared more than 5 minutes with little 6 year old, me.
“Slow down!” “I can’t understand a word you’re saying. You talk so fast!” “Sit still!” “Why don’t you ever listen?” “Spastic!” “What’s wrong with you?!?”
Today, when I hear other adults, who grew up with similar issues. Many of them share with me how quickly they became immune to the name calling and insensitivity. And, I find myself feeling somewhat envious, when I hear those stories. That wasn’t my experience.
Because for me, at 6 years old… Being gay. Extremely sensitive. And desperately wanting to feel some kind of acceptance. Every single time I was judged for my “weirdness”. Or shamed for being too loud, and speaking too fast. And called terrible names on the playground…I died inside.
I remember running home from school. So fast, I could barely catch my breath. I would throw myself on my bed. Grab one of my stuffed animals. And, I would cry. I wished and wished that something out there would make me “normal”. I hated myself for being defective. I felt hopeless. And most of all, I felt unlovable.
My Ma would hear me sobbing, and come into my bedroom. She would sit down next to me on the bed, and hold me. “I love you more than anything in this world.” she would tell me. “But, you only love me because you’re my Ma!”
She would shake her head and say, “You are such a creative, beautiful boy.. God made you exactly this way, for a reason. You just haven’t figure out why, yet.”
She loved me, and I knew it.
But, even she was pushed to the edge, by my ADHD.
It took many years for Ma to come to terms with the fact that my intensity, my lack of concentration, and my infinite amount of energy, couldn’t be simply disciplined.
But, boy…did she try.
I was always a physically active child. And, I had absolutely no fear of injury. No matter how many bruises, scrapes, and stiches my physicality brought me.
There was a large tree in our front yard. It stood, easily40 feet high. It’s long branches extended in every direction. And, I knew each branch, like the back of my hand. I remember climbing to the highest branch that would carry my weight.
I screamed at the top my lungs, “MA! MA!! MAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!”
She came running. I heard her burst out of the screen door. And, I hung upside down by my legs.
“Ma! Look at me! Look up, Ma! MA! LOOK AT MEEEE!. I felt the blood rushing to my face.
Sprinting towards the tree. My poor Ma was hysterical. “Get down from that damn tree before you kill yourself!
She was gnawing on her fist (Italian style) and pacing in front of the tree.
And, I just kept swinging. “But, Ma! I’m a fancy daredevil! Look up, Ma! No hands!!”
Ma’s face contorted in horror.
I realize now she feared for my life. But, at the time, I was too consumed by the adrenaline that pushed me faster, and faster, and faster.
“JEEZUS CHRIST! HELP ME! MADONNA MIA! HE’S GONNA KILL HIMSELF, THIS KID! JOSEPH!!! GET OUT HERE NOW, BEFORE HE BREAKS HIS NECK!”
I saw worry on her face. But, my mind was whirling so quickly. I continued swinging faster.
Ma ran back towards the house, screaming for my father.. “God Dammit! Joseph! Get your son down from that God awful tree, before the neighbors call Child Protective Services, and they haul us all off to God knows where!”
My father finally emerged from the house. Newspaper in one hand. Beer bottle in the other.
He was a burly Italian man. Standing 6’4″. 220+ lbs.
There was no mistaking my father’s intent. Standing under the tree. Rolling up the newspaper, like he was gonna swat my ass.
My little circus performance was officially over!
I climbed down from the tree.
My father was standing beneath it, holding the rolled up newspaper, ominously. Ma was pacing the front lawn, like a tiger.
Yep. I was in shit water!
Logic entered my mind, vaguely. It told me that my best bet was to ‘cool it’, once I hit the lawn.
But, the intense urge inside me, which always outweighed rhyme or reason. The whirling mass of intensity which dove me. It prevailed.
“Ma! Didn’t you just see me? I’m gonna join the circus. Not like a clown,. But…but, like an acrobatic person. Maybe they’ll decide to shoot me out of a cannon, Or, I can walk a tightrope, while I juggle fire!
Or, Ma! What about a trapeze? Did you see how I was up there, Ma?! Can I take trapeze lessons next Summer, when school lets out? Like, real trapeze lessons? Oh boy!! I’m gonna be a famous trapeze person! And, you both can be in my act, too!! And, we’ll be real famous, like the Brady Bunch! Except, we’ll be the Brady Bunch in the circus, without Marcia, or Greg, or Peter,or….
I paused. But, only long enough to gasp for air.
“Oh, Hi, Mrs. Elliott!” I waved furiously at the neighbor, who lived across the street. She stared incredulously, at this little six year old tornado, who was just spinning round and round.
“Did you see my tricks, Mrs. Elliott? Wouldn’t that be a really neat circus act?”
Back to Ma..
“Or Ma, I could be a fireman, and rescue kittens, stuck in people’s trees!! What about that, Ma?!?”
My father just shook his head. He walked back inside the house. Ma was still pacing the front lawn. Holding the sides of her head.
“So, Ma. When the circus comes, can we show them my act? Do you think it was good enough yet, Ma? Or, do I need more practice?”
Finally, she bent down and gently squeezed my lips together, in an effort to silence me.
All you could hear were my stifled exclamations. “Buh, Muahhhh..We shuh john da circuhhhh!!”
Ma knew I wasn’t being a little asshole. She knew I couldn’t stop. I could barely pause to catch my breath!
I remember that day, so vividly.
What I remember most about that day:
Despite my misconduct. Despite scaring the living shit outta my mother.
She was still trying to smile at me. To console me. But, tears rolled down her face. I think that was the moment she realized that there was nothing she could do to stop this disorder, which drove me.
I saw the deep sadness beneath her smile.
And, I felt like an utter disappointment to the most important person in my world.