It’s Friday morning and I’m gathering all my homework and books for a meeting with my teacher. I attend an independent high school, and I meet with the teacher for one hour a week to review the work I’ve done and to plan on what homework I will do.
This is my first and only year here. Last year, in regular public high school, I was failing all my classes and missed more than half my school days by going to friends’ houses and hanging out at the library. My school counselor told me, straight to my face, there was no hope for me. No hope. He sat behind his oversized brown oak desk, wagging his yellow number two between his right hand fingers and adjusting his the reading glasses that were propped on top of his head with his left hand. He spoke casually, like he was ordering a pizza over the phone.
I volunteer at a local human needs center as a crisis line operator and a child care attendant. At night I work at an international import store stocking dusty shelves with wicker baskets and stinking scented candles. I’ve been volunteering since last fall; it’s required to attend this high school and I work because I have to help my mom pay our bills. I do it all with minimal complaints because this is the first time I feel responsible and in control of my life.
I’ll graduate next month with a 3.89 grade point average.
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I was one of the seven Blues. We were the second graders who couldn’t keep up with the rest of the thirty-three students in our class. Some were class clowns, some dyslexic, one’s English is his second language and I was apparently slow. Too slow.
It was the class after recess. Quiet time for everyone, almost everyone. It was the class that Sister Bernadette would read from a tattered, well-read Golden Book or everyone would take turns reading from the assigned second-grade textbook. The Blue Group was never included.
Everyone would settle into their polished wooden desks, tiny hands folded with interlocking fingers and waiting for instruction. Everyone was well behaved because they knew this was the period to catch up on extra sleep, do homework that was due for the next period or write notes to their best friends.
Sister Bernadette got up from behind her olive drab metal desk that was almost as tall as her and directed the Blue Group to go with Sister Nancy. She pointed to the door with her wrinkled and Holy index finger.
We followed Sister Nancy through the open cement courtyard. All eight classrooms surrounded us as we walked to the opposite end. Sixteen footsteps echoed and bounced off the windows that caged the peering older faces.
Sister Nancy escorted the heavy pumpkin orange door into the large windowless multi-purpose room and flipped the three light switches upward. The room was always cold, and more than that, it was always yellow. Big rectangular fluorescent lights flickered and churned and finally, with their familiar hum, became light. The long brown fold out tables absorbed the sharp yellow and seemed that much more brown. Beneath my required dark colored tennis shoes and blue knee socks, the pale linoleum with little flecks of black reflected the naked walls, the lights, the tables, and at last, my shoes in its recently buffed wax.
This was Blue Groups permanent impromptu classroom. Our reading and writing classroom for the next five school years.
Blue Group was never serious. We all understood that we were the not-so-bright future of America so we spent a lot of time making each other laugh and kicking each other under those temporary tables.
As we sat down facing each other, Sister Nancy gave us our special reading books. Most of the time, we would read out loud into the circle of Blue. When my turn came to read, the words tripped over my lips and fell to the floor, one syllable at a time. Halting and with such irregularity, whiplash felt imminent. Sister Nancy would chime in every now and then telling me to sound the word out or ruthlessly spat it out for me. When I was done, the next reader would continue the almost unrecognizable story and with the same broken flow.
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The magazine with my essay in it has arrived. I am published.
I open the post office box and there it sits. Unfamiliar to me at first, but then, as my mind sorts out the picture, I know exactly what it is.
My fingers release the keys dangling from the door and I reach for the bent magazine stuffed sideways in my box. Outstretched arm - twisting, fingers grasping. It’s really here. Slick magazine paper marred with black postal fingerprints blind my view of utility bills and postcards.
Holding the spine with my left hand, I leaf through the pages with my right. I see my words. My words in a magazine. This is bigger than a journal entry or a letter to my mom. This is bigger than a class paper or a cover letter to vie for a job. This is my words being read by possibly thousands of people. I’m self-conscious of what the world might think but delirious that I’m given the opportunity.
I work hard with this lifelong struggle with words and am pleased to have this grand reward. I’ve always wished for something to be good at. Something that is comprehensive and can be worked to a fine art. Something that’s deserving of green stares and jagged comments. Now I seem to have it but who knew it would be writing?