Red Wright Return, a novel - an excerpt
To the parents of (family name here),
It has come to our attention that your son / daughter (circle the correct sex):
Is in need of special services / qualifies for advanced placement (circle which applies)
We’ll need to administer the right dosage to keep them all afloat and on the right track.
Separate but equal, all drowning on pills.
Please sign and date on the dotted line
(Subject #26)(ADHD-LEGAL) “. . . I drew outside the lines in coloring books, and was told I was having problems with my fine motor skills. Doctors said they could help my mom fix it with medicine. I was four . . .”
(Subject # 24)(ADHD-LEGAL) “. . . My principal in fifth grade told my parents that all of his kids benefited from the pills and that I would, too. He explained that the personality of only one of his kids was destroyed. ‘We’re still adjusting the meds for that one,’ he said. That same year my social studies teacher said the same thing about his kid, who started the pills at seven years old. He said they worked so well that he expected to take him off soon. My parents asked how old his kid was. He said nineteen . . .”
(Subject #82)(ADHD-LEGAL) “. . . I couldn’t sleep because of my ‘calm’ pill so they gave me another pill, a sleeping pill. I had anxiety when they took me off of my ‘calm’ pill on summer vacations and weekends so they gave me an antidepressant, which they said would help me with my anxiety. When I didn’t gain enough weight they put me on a thyroid pill. I was twelve . . .”
(Subject #1)(A-ILLEGAL)“I only take them when I have a research paper or midterm to study for . . . Each time I was glued to my chair for six straight hours. I didn’t like how they made me feel, I was shaking the whole time, but they really did work. I got 96 and a 93 . . .”
(Subject #1)(A-ILLEGAL) “. . . I do them mainly because of the hypocrisy, written in letters, spoken in words, scribbled on notes home, and documented on printed forms. A system that figured out how to eat us for breakfast, never gave us enough time to eat our lunch, then spat us out eighteen years later overcooked and yet raw. And all of it, in the name of our well-being, our future success . . . But for a general education kid like you and me, stuck on the bottom tier of the academic system, put here because of economics and race, there’s only one way to climb out; a rocket ship.”
(Subject #13) (A-ILLEGAL) I hid the pressure success put on me even though it grew like a tumor inside, threatening suffocation. Once you learn to hide that, you can hide anything.
(Subject # 1)(A-ILLEGAL) “. . .If I knew how to stop taking them, I would. But if I stop then everyone else will do better than me and I’ll fail in comparison. I think stopping isn’t an option . . .”
(Subject #11)(A-ILLEGAL) “I led a life, broken down into digestible sound bites and morsels of misinformation. Driven here, driven there, somewhere close to nowhere; 60 mph was the medium in which I floated. All in the name of the career and college of my choice, but without parents who knew how to model freedom or choice for me. The extra-curriculars nibbled and gnawed away at our family structure, because no other structure existed. I was so tired. I looked for something to wake me up. Do you do that too?”
(Subject #54)(A-ILLEGAL) “. . . catapulted into a world of success before the age of ten, breaking the sound waves of all their standardized tests. I was marked as a success-in-the-making. Not knowing how to stimulate me, or with what, they chose overstimulation. Applause, encouragement from test scores, teachers and systems were put into place to spot early success no matter the cost to those left behind. But I started using because couldn’t keep up with their expectations . . .”
(Subject #118)(A-ILLEGAL) “. . . because I was told to never stop [by his parents]. ‘Stopping is for less successful children,’ my dad said when I was seven. ‘Idleness is bad for the mind,’ my mom reprimanded when I was nine. ‘A well-rounded resume,’ my mom said, when I was twelve, ‘would be reviewed at some time in the future’. ‘Hanging around and wasting time,’ my dad said, when I was sixteen, ‘is something only other kids need to do.’ ‘Altruism,’ my mom told me, ‘could be clearly marked down on a piece of paper for future reference’. I collected future references like baseball cards and never stopping became a goal of mine. My ‘future’ was an insurmountable pressure cooker they placed me in, a future that seemed far-off but impending.”
The Oped Files
Tanya H. Van Cott is currently finishing up a novel trilogy that captures a snapshot of our current social, political, and personal challenges as a nation and especially as women and men, within the Global community.