The importance of time with my friends cannot be underestimated. Meeting up with school mates after school or at weekends and holidays was not allowed for me. The journeys to school, time with my friends, during break and lunchtimes, was my only chance of any kind of social life, a time to mix with my peers.
Friends would often ask me to their houses, to meet up after school, go to the park, go swimming or into town, but I would always have to make up an excuse. To a few close friends I was able to admit the truth, telling them that I wasn’t allowed, but I would still feel embarrassed, feeling that it was somehow my own fault, and I could see that they struggled to understand. Some of them even suggested that I just did what I wanted, “What can they do about it?” they would innocently ask, having no idea of the repercussions I would suffer if Sylvie or Larry knew I’d even thought about it.
Academically I was very able, I liked learning and could grasp subjects well, but chances to excel would be scuppered time and again and in several ways. The sheer amount of time absent from school resulted in a constant catch-up. Any time I would be doing well at one or two subjects, and there were several times when this was the case, I would suddenly be kept away from school for days at a time.
I don’t think there was ever any deliberate intention to hinder my progress; it was just that my services were needed at home, to be roped into grooming dogs or caring for the ones we bred or boarded, or the mountain of household chores. I would return to school having missed several days lessons and would have to scramble to catch up.
Participating in after school activities was something I would have loved to have been able to do, particularly the sports clubs and being part of the sports teams. Athletics and netball, long jump, high jump, hockey and swimming were all things I loved. I would look forward to PE lessons and would often being asked to join the athletics clubs, the netball team and such, to represent the school. If these clubs ran at lunchtime it was OK , (as soon as I stayed for free school lunches), but anything after school or on weekends was out of the question.
Despite loving the sports and the games lessons, they were always marred by the fact that no matter how well I did at any sport, I wouldn’t be able to represent the school at any level, and I couldn’t be part of the netball or hockey teams. Watching the teams go off to compete with another school, and the match reports read in assembly the next day, with praise for the star players, would leave me feeling frustrated, angry that I hadn’t had the opportunity, that my chance to shine had been dulled once again.
More than that was the sense of it setting me apart from the people around me, the people I desperately wanted to be like, to fit in and not feel that I was always separate and alone.
And so, again, that cloak of isolation would repeatedly engulf me, leaving me totally adrift and alone.