Stream of consciousness: waking up knowing that today would be another day of just going to high school; knowing that I'm going to be confined to these mandatory classes that have very little meaning to me; every day I feel invisible to my classmates, to my teachers, and to my own opinion. Being in these classes, I am expected to raise my hand and say what is expected of me as a student. In speaking my voice, I am just pushed aside; no room for creative, individualized thinking. (I am not a clone.) I am not allowed to think freely; when I try to do so, I am labeled!
I felt this way for more than three years. In the middle of these years, I had a series of headaches from what my family thought was allergies. Then I learned that I had a brain tumor. The doctor showed me the MRI pictures of the tumor. Seeing these for the first time blew my mind. All I could see was a huge ball of white that looked as if it took up at least one quarter of my brain. The biggest dimensions of the tumor were between five and six centimeters, pressing up against my brain stem and my cerebellum. In May of 2004, I underwent major brain surgery. My surgery was over 13 hours long. When I woke up my head felt as if the back right quarter was missing. After spending two weeks at Boston Children’s Hospital, I had physical therapy for over two years, and I still go back for check-ups. It has been exhausting, but I did what I had to do. I am now healthy and whole, except that I have lost hearing in my right ear and I have fairly prominent double vision in my right eye when looking in a certain direction.
This experience changed my outlook. I found out my problems in school weren’t because of my learning disabilities; it was how the tumor had been distracting me. Now that I was recovering, I realized that my problems had more to do with how school was organized than with me. My medical experience left me with the understanding that the rules are bull and that I can only go around once and that this was the only time for me to recapture the control that I should have had over my life and learning from day one. Coming back after the operation had people looking at me differently. They put me further and further into remediated learning. After one more year of school, I decided to leave in the beginning of tenth grade. Seeing my brother Ian who was already at North Star gave me hope. For a long time I had not understood what he had been doing, and I thought he was just messing up his life. Now I felt this approach might be good for me too. Coming home from school every day and hearing my brother’s stories was very inspirational to me.
After I left high school, I began to act on the idea that I had the right to choose my learning path, and discover what would work the best for me. I had my fears because I had heard for so long that I was not capable of 'learning'. Since I left the control of high school every day looks brighter.
Just before my diagnosis, I had begun taking drum lessons. I have always had a passion for music. Coming out of my surgery I had lost all of my motor skills; I could not even swallow food. I had to be fed through a tube. The precision of drumming was such a challenge for me, and it created a driving motivation for me to be successful. Now drumming has become a huge part of my daily life.
As of now I go to North Star two days a week, taking classes such as Movement Matters, Art History, Mystic Path, Music Improv, and Collaborative Art. Also, I am getting tutored in math and writing at North Star.
Outside of North Star, I have started up an English class at Greenfield Community College. I am taking this class as a prerequisite for all the other history and music classes I am looking into taking at GCC. This past December I passed the GED test. It was not nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be. Getting done with the GED is such a big accomplishment, knowing that I am done with high school but definitely not done with learning. Also in December I got my driver’s license, which has made things easier for me this year. During the weekends I am a cook at Hayfields Deli in Northampton. On Saturdays and Sundays my workday starts at 5:00 a.m. and goes to about 1:00 p.m. I have learned so much working here that I never thought I would get the chance to learn unless I went to culinary school. Along with this, I still have my music. I play drums and guitar, and I’m working on piano. I am right now mostly focusing on drums. Last summer I went to the Berklee Percussion Festival, which was five days of intensive studies on drumming. I am hoping to go back this year.
If I were still in high school, I would still have a year and a half to finish, and I wouldn’t be able to do all of the things I have just described. I feel like I’ve started my life already, and school is just a distant memory.