Sunday, June 5, 2011

They Never Told Me

[ Written as a guest post for ShinyStarlight, who kindly invited me to write a story for her site on this topic, please take a look at her site and catch up on one or two of her stories. ]

They never told me going to school meant answering questions.

My first day at school.  I sat in the front row with my back straight, knees together, eyes forward, hands behind my back.  I can't remember much about my first teacher except he made us sit like those baby trees tied to a stick.  So I thought about the summer days of jumping into the fish pond with Tyler and Po, catching dragon flies and stealing walnuts from the tree hanging over our yard.  I listened to birds that chirped chirped outside calling me to go climbing in case another abandoned nest awaited me in the crisscrossing branches.

The teacher must have asked a question so everyone's hands flew up.  I caught the sight from the corners of my eyes and quick as a flash I pulled my right arm out and raised it up high.

Of course I didn't know the answer - I hadn't even heard the question.  Only that dad had told me to raise my hands and stay engaged.

They never told me going to school meant doing homework.

As the bell rang, my heart leaped out of my throat and my steps carried me like the wings of those birds that flew away as I ran across the school yard. My schoolbag flapped against my back and the bees chased me part way through those yellow and white flowering bushes. Grandmas walking home from getting vegetables at the street vendors shouted at me to slow down.  I passed the shop that sold fried bread and soy milk in the morning, and smelled the sticky sweetness that wafted through the windows.  I passed the popcorn guy who sat at the curb with his hand cranked stove that looked like an ink well inside and out.  It exploded when a batch was ready, popping out sweet, fluffy and white corns wrapped in newspaper cones for fifty cents.  When I got home,  I gather with "my team" and we play until all our moms grew hoarse shouting out our names for dinner.

The next day, the teacher asked us for our homework and he looked at me until I bent my head to hide my shame.  I didn't know what he meant and I didn't know how to ask.  No one ever told me to ask questions or how.

They never told me going to school meant carrying notes home.

For the first year of school I gave back no homework.  The teacher shook his head and wagged his fingers.  The class peered down at me calling me the "idiot" or worse, "baby".  I wanted to kick them but dad told me to get along with others so I hold myself back but I had to grind my teeth to get through the day. It  felt like jail to be sitting still from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon and I can't possibly imagine any more "work" at "home".  Mom fussed over dinner and dad fussed over my jackets and socks, everyone said I was too young to go to school yet I liked it so much better than the alternatives and no one made me eat anything like tomatoes or cabbages. So they let me sit there everyday staring into the space in front of the blackboard dreaming of swimming, running, jumping or escaping.

But the teacher eventually got tired of explaining homework to me and got nothing back.  In my second year they finally sent a note home for my parents to sign.  Mom had been teaching me to write my name real good, and she showed me how she write hers.  I copied it so many times I could write it just like her, with the curves and messiness that only adults allow themselves.  I practiced it again on the note the teacher sent me, as I saw a blank line at the end, next to the word "name".   I made it so good it looked like mom had written it.

When they find out I signed the note they got really mad at me and called me a liar.  I had never been called that and it felt rotten like those tomatoes I left sitting on the window sill all summer.  I didn't know what the note said, but I didn't want to find out anymore.  I just wanted to throw everything from my schoolbag into the murky lotus pond under of the White Tower Bridge and ran away. 

They never told me going to school meant admitting you made a mistake, even when you didn't mean it.  But when I did, my schooling finally began.

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