Updated: Jul 19
I learned of the death of a former classmate late last summer. It was not that I was a particularly good friend to him in life or that we even kept in touch over the years through social media the way I do with so many of my past life.
While the man held no close bond to me these days, his name held special meaning to me due to the fact that we had weathered the same childhood storms. He, too, wore glasses and failed to connect with his peers in grade school. He, too, was termed “the cream of the crop” by his elementary teachers and he too, found those words to be hollow and meaningless in the cold dark stare of adulthood.
And like Robert, I despaired at my failures in the ensuing life and basked in the loneliness that is white male adulthood. The only difference between Robert and me, other than where in life we now found ourselves, was that he committed suicide and I was too wrapped up in my own existence to know it.
His name was Robert Iverson and in many ways, we were the same kid in school. I have no idea if he had the same neurodivergent issues that I had, that made living as an adult nearly impossible, but I do know he was above average and likely suffered from some sort of challenges like we all did in that 1984-experiment called The Advanced Learning Program.
Of the kids I kept in touch with or heard about through the grapevine, there were numerous examples of chemical dependence, relationship failures, and otherwise anti-social tendencies in all the kids who suffered in that class. One kid had an eating disorder while another was a toxic narcissist. One kid was a bartender struggling with alcoholism while another laid six feet under at his own doing. Of the 30 or so kids that were in that class, I knew of at least 15 stories of troubled adults, myself included.
While I am sure many would attribute our collective struggles to overdeveloped senses of aptitude or say that we were coddled because of high intelligence quotients. In truth we all were smart, but much like the fish riding the bicycle analogy, we were all gifted in our own special way and forced to excel across a spectrum of subjects or risk public shaming in front of our peers for failing to meet up to the above-average standard.
Robert was, from all appearances, a gifted child in math and science, language arts, and social studies. If he struggled at academics, I was none the wiser. My ADHD forced me to languish in math and science, and that lead to regular castigation from Mr. Kasper and Mr. Bracci. While I was getting publicly shamed, I can only guess Robert's struggles missed my fleeting attention span, if they existed.
No, Robert's struggle, from what I could tell being an unmedicated 8-year-old, was social in nature. He had no friends and found difficulty getting along with others. He wasn't alone in his social struggles, with at least two other students who left the class in tears over the years. But Robert hung in there and after three long years of abuse at the hands of classmates and teachers, he moved on and into life.
I can only guess that the reason he is dead now was that he too failed to connect with the world as an adult and had his social issues been recognized in elementary school, he might have had a wife and kids. He might have had friends and happiness. Instead, he was cast into a world where he failed to connect, and it is for that reason I suspect he chose to end it all.
I suspect it because I also considered ending it many times in my life. My failed Coast Guard career, the loss of my non-profit, my loneliness up until the time I met my wife when I was 40. I am sure that there but for the grace of God, I would also lie cold in the ground with Robert, but thankfully I chanced to meet the right woman who saw something in me where no one ever saw anything. She got me to go to therapy and to take meds. And I blossomed just about the time that Robert withered.
I can't help but recognize the similarities between Robert and me and the 28 other kids who suffered at the hands of those four monsters for three long school years in ALPS. I can't help but think that our teachers hated us and their hatred for us forced them to overlook Robert's social struggles and my ADHD.
The thing is, they were the “cream of the crop” too. Those four teachers, Mr. Kasper, Mr. Bracci, Mrs. Davidson, and Mrs. Willis were the best of the best in the Stratford School System. That's why they got the job teaching the advanced kids, much to the demonstrated chagrin of their peer teachers at Stratford Academy.
They had the training and the experience to teach neurodivergent students of exceptional talent, and that's why they got the bump in pay and the prestige of teaching the same 30 kids for all three years. I am sure they never considered when they took the job that they would hate those kids after 3 years and envy their compatriots who got a new class each year.
But what I know, is when they were training to be teachers and getting all the accolades to become teachers of gifted students, they also were taught to spot the troubled kids. The kids who just didn't make friends and the kids who just couldn't keep up. They were trained to spot kids like Robert and me.
What I know is, had they spotted the key signs of ADHD in me, my life would have gone in a much different direction. I was lucky enough to get found, but Robert wasn't. He was lost,
and it breaks my heart to know that Robert and I will never have a chance to talk about the successes in life we had despite the storms we weathered as kids together.