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There's something going on in there..
My mother, sister, and I moved into a two-bedroom army barrack in a town called Fort Defiance in Arizona. There were five units to one strip of barracks. To the left of us was a teacher who was also a nun, and to the right of us was a teacher who was a bee-keeper. Lucky for me, my school was directly in front of our place, so I didn’t have to walk far at all anymore. The teacher nun next door to us hired my sister and me to pick dandelions for her so she could make wine, and the bee-keeper loved to tell us about his grandson who was so incredibly smart because at age 5, he could tell you what time it was in China. He had a rusty old bus parked out front of his unit filled with who knew what and was often out there with his bee-keeper outfit on tending to his bees. In the front of his door, he kept rows and rows of hanging chili peppers. If I ever saw him, he offered me both, and I always declined, knowing that if I ever said yes, we’d be heading towards are more intimate friendship than I certainly wanted. I would quickly say no and run inside.
We had a big mirror above our dining table that, if you came out of my sister and I’s bedroom, was perfectly positioned to watch tv past our bedtime. My mother was completely unaware of this, so if she were up watching something or had a guest over, we would watch through a slightly cracked open door. Sometimes we regretted what we saw because she’d have a guy over, and they’d be naked on the floor together. Even more unfortunate, is that later on, we’d realize who these people were because they were also teachers.
My mother, missing Cleo, decided to get us another dog. I don’t know where she found him, but I came home one day, and she introduced us to Igor, the Doberman. Igor was severely abused as a puppy, so he had all sorts of issues. If you raised your hand at all, he would cower in fear. I tried to form a bond with him, but I couldn’t. He wasn’t Cleo and never would be. It was my job to take care of Igor, whether I wanted to or not, which entailed washing him, trimming his nails, and cleaning up his poop out in the yard. Well, Igor never had a solid poop in his wretched life. I escalated this issue to my mother continuously, but she told us there wasn’t anything we could do about it. Igor just had the runs.
One day, fed up with Igor, my little kid mind thought I should maybe teach Igor how terrible it was to pick up his poop. It always seemed like I could communicate with Cleo, so Igor must have understood me on some level. I told him that he should work harder on having more solid poops. He wasn’t trying hard enough. I tied two grocery bags on his back and scooped all of the poop into the bags and made him walk it across the road to where we dumped it all. Afterward, I thought he would be so unhappy about this that he’d get it together, but he never did.
At some point, without explanation, Igor was gone. We had a habit of things just happening, so you just accepted it and moved on. If I had to guess, my mother gave him away to another home.
I was now in the 2nd grade, and I was placed in a special education group because I still couldn’t read or write. My skill level was “see spot run. Run spot run.” However, my math abilities started to accelerate. I would do all of the arithmetic in my head, and I loved shoving my hand up in the air to answer any question the teacher had. Getting everything correct made me feel like I was on cloud nine, and it was the confidence booster I desperately needed. I was finally good at something!
Well, this set off a lot of alarm bells with my teachers. How could someone who was “slow” be good at math? Those two things couldn’t be real in their minds. There were a lot of parent-teacher conferences where they discussed what to do with me, but ultimately what got me to read was a girl named Erica. Erica skipped the 1st grade, and she was incredibly smart. Erica could read anything, and she’d often bring books to the class that was beyond what all of us were reading. So, I decided that if she could do it, so could I. I set out to learn how to read quietly and without anyone knowing. Eventually, I could read The Little Prince.
Erica was also a pale Indian like me. If you were pale, you were placed either in the teacher or doctor compound. She was the daughter of two doctors, and they were allowed to live in houses with huge yards.
Years went by before I figured out why we were segregated. We were in a fenced-off community that was guarded by a Navajo patrol guard, who roamed around in a big truck. My friends at school came in by bus, sometimes from far away. I heard stories of having to travel for hours to get to school. Many of my classmates didn’t have running water or electricity and lived in traditional hogans. Often, the children I went to school with was the second generation to learn English or the first. My little barrack looked pretty amazing with all of its modern marvels. I could take a shower when many of my classmates could not. While we were poor, we were rich. The doctors were even richer by comparison. They may as well have lived in castles.
What was exciting was that I loved school for the first time in my life. My primary teacher was terrific. I sadly don’t remember her name, but she made me feel incredible every day that I showed up. I felt like I mattered. She was always sunny in disposition and incredibly calm when she taught us. I loved her so much that I decided I needed to make her a gift. After school, I would wander over to my mother’s classroom, and if there were something I could do with the older kids, I would try. One day they were all drawing still life portraits of some fruit in a basket with pastels and charcoal, so I decided this is what I should make my teacher. I worked on it for a week, and when finished, my mother sprayed a fixer on it that kept the colors from smearing. I took it to school and handed it to my teacher, who didn’t seem to love it as much as I thought she would. She just smiled and said, “Oh, thanks!”. I saw it later laying on the floor.
When my Mom and I returned home from school that night, she asked where the picture was, and I told her I gave it away. She was incredibly upset by this because she wanted it and was planning on framing it. She told me how good it was and that she was surprised I could make art. Her reaction was incredibly touching.
My mother started teaching night-school several days out of the week to make some extra income, and she left my sister in charge of me. My sister pretty much let me do whatever I wanted as long as I didn’t tell on her, which I regret that I often did. I would have a running ledger of things to use against her if I needed to. So, usually, I would wander off to the playground to see who was already there and play with them. I didn’t have a neighborhood friend yet. Friends were a daily thing and not permanent.
The playground was massive. The amount of real-estate dedicated to this play area was something, and this playground had everything a kid would want. We had a tire swing, play structure, several slides, monkey bars, and gigantic tractor tires laying on their sides that kids loved to pee in for whatever reason. I spent so much time on this playground, and I loved just about every moment of it. As an adult, I’ve driven back there a few times just to sit where I once played and take in the memories and emotions of it. It was a special place.
As I advanced, the testing began. I started taking what seemed like days of tests. At the end of the year, my mother sat me down at the table and had a stack of papers. She said, “Cyan, you aren’t retarded. You are smart. The school wants to put you in a program next year called GO, and I’ve agreed to it.”
What I didn’t know was I was administered an IQ test, and I scored 99% on the Iowa test of basic skills, putting me in the top 1% of the country’s test-takers.
I fixated on that word. Smart. I was doing something right, and someday I’d be of value for it. I needed to double down on the smarts. I was excited that there seemed to be a quantitative measurement, and it wasn’t something someone would just tell you. It was real.
So, from that day forward, I decided I would adopt that label. I was Cyan, and I was smart. Nobody could take away either of those things; they were given and intrinsic to who I was. In the lottery of intelligence, I somehow won.