While she looked down, I stared. Every time she was this close since that first day, my hand always almost reaches to touch. My hand wants to, besides my wanting to. Curiosity and that feeling of touching soft, of touching mystery is too much this time. I figure she won’t notice. I’ll barely touch, and she won’t even feel it. Then, I won’t have to ask. I don’t know what she would say if I asked. She might get mad. She might not like me anymore. She is my teacher. I want her to like me. I like her.
My fingers reach and touch her hair. She does notice. She doesn’t seem mad, or surprised. Her hair is soft and fuzzy in a big roundness and it doesn’t move like all the other hair I’ve ever seen does. It looks soft and feels fluffy and spongy. I hadn’t been sure it was hair. I still am not sure, but I think it is. I don’t know how she gets it like that.
She used to be strange when I first came to school, before she was Ms Andrason. Her face is wide and round, with a flat wide nose. She looked like people I know in Mexico, except they all had dark skin and I expected them to look like that. Her lips are thick, too. She seems so different from all the other normal people I know. Her skin is whiter, but she looks more Mexican than Mexicans. Then, she has that fluffy round hair. Now she is Ms Andrason and I wouldn’t like at all if she looked any different.
The kids that she had in kindergarten like her, too. She lets them wrap their arms around her waist or leg and hang there, swinging like babies. She wraps her arms around them back. Sometimes she leans to put her arms around the kids who put their arms around her. I want to be like that, too, but I didn’t go to kindergarten. And I don’t want to be a baby. I’m not a kindergarten baby. So, I told the kids singing:
Born in the navy
Eating butter and gravy”,
I’m clean. I never got contaminated by kindergarten. Now, I’m lucky I didn’t go.
Ms Andrason doesn’t know me like she knows them, though. I can’t think of any excuse that doesn’t terrify me, to stand close to her like they do, and be a favorite. I don’t feel like I’m not her favorite. I just want to be her most favorite. She doesn’t have one yet. I’m going to be right there next to her with the same reasons they have to be there and for her to remember things with me, the way they do.
When she calls to line up I am the first. Well, except those times I was flying so high on the half-moon seesaw with Courtney. We would be friends forever flying off our seats, white-knuckle holding on, shrieking wild terrified delight.
I ignored her calling everyone to line up. She frowned. My heart sank. Courtney seemed not to notice. Something in her voice told me I could still be her favorite anyway, though. Courtney And I couldn’t wait for recess again. We wouldn’t stop breathless whispering in line. So, that time, well, I whispered in line and, didn’t try to please her at all.
Next recess Courtney is playing with Casey on the seesaw.
I don’t play with girls. His voice was steady and certain. It is a fact, by his voice. I never have. I never will.
Casey is the handsomest boy I have ever seen. I never talk to him. I might smile, or cry, or smile crying. I rush away. Watching them on the seesaw from behind the bushes bores me. Their butts stay in the seat. Courtney searches the playground till he sees me in the bushes. He looks at me bored from slow in the air. He looks away on his way down, then gets off.
It’s easier to mind Ms Andrason, again, so I do every day. I watch for when she reaches for her whistle. Before she blows it, I rush to line up. Sometimes I line up when I think she is going to reach for it. She doesn’t. I pretend to be playing just there, by myself.
I’m like a stone in line. The girls giggle. I’m a rock. Boys and girls chase each other around in the line. I’m still as a tree. They run around me. Ms Andrason notices I don’t play in line. I stay quiet when we file into the classroom. No one else notices me.
Okay, Marcy does notice me, but then she puts on her swagger and walks away. She has this walk. She walks like she would never fall off the seesaw no matter how high she flew.
The way she moves her shoulders and sways her hips in a stomping sorta way makes me think she is like a boy. She would be fun to play with, but she doesn’t want to reel on the seesaw with me.
We could touch the sky!
Her indifference is not an ooh-hoo indifference. She is not scared or fragile or wearing a dress or might hurt her fingers or lose a barrette, miss an earring. So I figure she only likes bigger ones. Bigger seesaws or Disney Land or something worldly like that, maybe even real horses. Horses are not worldly though. Well, I ride horses, too. I got to in Veracruz when we lived there. But she doesn’t talk about it. So, I guess she has been all over and done all the fun stuff. She wants to talk about something else, now.
No one else knows about what I like to talk about, so I don’t talk to anyone. She seems more lost and frustrated than haughty. I know how she feels.
I bet you don’t know either.
I bet I do.
I bet you don’t.
What then? I challenge her. Nothing she can say will be anything I don’t know.
See, you don’t know.
She tells me it is a thing that does things. And you make it do things.
No. Way better than a toy.
But nothing is better than a toy. And her thing is weird and doesn’t make sense.
I do know, but I think it’s boring.
Know you don’t either know. I don’t have one, but I want one. And, I’m going to help my brother and my dad work on them till we make one. I’ll know all about it by then. But you don’t know what I’m talking about or believe me either.
Why would she ever choose whatever that boring thing is instead of seesaws, horses and fun toys? So, she has all the horses and seesaws she wants, but she wants that whatever thing, obviously dumb and boring, or I would know about it.
Yes I do, I just don’t want to talk about it.
No you don’t. No one else does either. She gives me a frustrated defiant head shake, turns around and swagger off. I love watching her saunter with her straight blonde hair swinging back and forth like a boy’s would if it were down to his shoulders. But boy’s hair never is.
She is such a waste of fun. But I like her anyway, even if we don’t talk about anything.
It’s story time. I’m wondering if I can sit next to Ms Andrason and try to touch her hair again.
Who would like me to read their library book for story time today?
Oh, you can read mine, Ms Andrason.
Then everybody else says. Mine, mine. You can read mine.
My book though, is the best one.
For sure Ms Andrason will be able to tell my library book is the best. But she still tells the class:
Anyone who wants to share their book can go quietly to their desk and get it. Then come and sit back down in the circle.
I went as fast as I could to be back and sit next to Ms Andrason. But one of the boys had just scooted over closer to her. Marcy didn’t get up and get a book to share. There is a place to sit right there next to her, now. My hair plan is gone, so I plop down in the new best spot, and the best part is she doesn’t know I want to sit next to her.
For sure Ms Andrason will see my library book is the best.
But Miss Andrason didn’t. For some reason, she couldn’t just tell my book was the best. I don’t know why. She looked at everyone’s books. I thought she was just being nice to them, like my mom giving everyone else a chance to answer the quiz question before she asked it to me. But then she didn’t pick mine anyway. Mine is the best. I can tell by the pictures-bright sweeping fast furious, adventure pictures. A girl and her horse, robbers, fast river, friendly horse rescuing her best girl, races, treasure, daring escapes, first prize.
You will each get a turn to tell everyone about your book.
I can hardly hear boys and girls showing their books and telling why they chose it, while I’m comparing the fist thing they say and the front cover, to all of how better mine is than that.
What an interesting story.
That’s a nice story you chose.
Such a sweet kitten on the cover. Is that why you chose it?
I can’t make up my mind. They are all such good stories. She smiles around at us.
She is just going to pick mine, for sure when it’s Jennifer’s turn. She’s a no fun ooh-hoo girl who giggles and whispers with a group of other ooh-hoo girls on the playground. Recognizing her now smart voice suggesting a really ooh-hoo unexciting story about some boring stuffed rabbit, shocks me. That is not her usual voice. She knows what she is talking about. It’s a dumb book though. Nothing fun happens in that dumb kind of story. Her voice, and the way she talks about a dull rabbit is like she knows. Like she knows what she is talking about.
You like horses don’t you? She is suddenly looking at me.
I nod wildly. I don’t know why I’m nodding, because, obviously, these are the best thing to like, and I do-of-course. Not liking horses or not riding the flying-off-the-seesaw-bucking bronco, that would be the wonder. Some people just are dumb. But Miss Andrason isn’t. So, I know she will pick the best book-mine, though not a word that sounds how good this book is, comes out. All its glory gets stuck in my throat. She doesn’t know mine is the best.
All of your books sound great. It’s so hard to pick one. Let me see.
Read this one! Read mine! Read….! Book names and hands go up, then wave in the air. We get louder and louder in fast controlled waves of excitement. Then it gets out of control. No, all of our books aren’t great, mine is the best is all I feel.
It feels suddenly, just like raising my hand to answer mom’s quiz questions at home. Mom finally picks me when I get loud enough to show her I know the answer to the Bible Story quiz for sure. Sometimes it seems like she can’t tell. She picks everyone else first. The more they guess, and don’t know, the more frenzied I get trying to contain it.
Miss Andrason winces. Quiet please!
She looks at me, reproving, when she says it. I’d hopped up off the floor shaking my book as high in the air, above my head as I could like a trophy, while jumping up and down shouting: Mine! Mine! Mine! Because I don’t know the name of my book.
I feel shrunken by her glance. I never want her to glance hurt or something, at me like that ever again.
Jennifer raises her hand politely. Ms Andrason. Why don’t you try eeney meeney miney moe?
I think that is a good idea. Thank you. Let’s do that.
I’m really wishing I would have suggested that good idea. I’m going to be smart and helpful faster next time.
Eenie meenie miney moe
Catch a tiger by the toe
If he hollers let him go
Eenie meenie miney moe.
I know instantly what needs fixing. My hand shoots up.
Marcy’s hand goes up, too.
I can hardly wait to get this straight, but then Ms Andrason calls on her, not me.
Ms Andrason. Why don’t you say nigger?
I almost shout: That is just what I was going to say! Someone beat me to smart again! I almost wail.
This time, though, I was thinking of it. I’m about to chime in, but I can barley wait for Ms Andrason to call on me, I’m not risking her disappointment again for shouting out. I almost do burst out anyway. I would have if she hadn’t looked at me that way just now. But she is going to know that I am smart too, smart too, just like Marcie.
Marcie, go to your seat.
The air freezes my bones. A shock-freeze hits me in the face with poison air or something.
Her face is strange. I don’t recognize her. She is the weather.
The words stick me like lightning in the chest. I can’t breathe.
That was almost me. What just happened to Marcy would have happened to me. I’m saved!
It feels like the gavel banged down on my skull echoing hard smashing my bones. I am sentenced. But it’s Marcie. She looks stunned. She doesn’t swagger to her seat. She trips. She falls into her desk chair. She sits there. She sits alone like a pillar of salt.
The class sits in our circle and hears the story. Something boring about a fake rabbit, that is to long to finish.
Marcy sits there. I’m so glad Ms Andrason didn’t talk like that to me. She didn’t look at me that horrible way. I’m rescued, not in my seat while everyone else is in a circle.
After the story, Ms Andrason takes Marcy to the office. I’m terrified she will know I was just like Marcy. It would be better though once and for all if both of us where going to the office together. Not just her. I need to tell Ms Andrason how I was going to say exactly what Marcie had said. I should have been sent to my seat, too.
Ms Andrason, I was just going to say that, too. So, I’m going to my seat now. Then I go sit down in my seat in the cold poison wilderness, then get sent to the office. I have never been sent there.
My mouth almost opens over and over. My body almost gets up, the way it reached and touched Ms Andrason’s hair, but I force it back.
If she looked at me the way she just looked, I wouldn’t survive. I’d be dead-in my seat-like Marcie. My body keeps springing up. Marcie is there alone. I keep shoving me down. Marcie wouldn’t be alone there if we sat in our seats, together. I’d be there, in the ice with Marcie, not knowing why either, and it would be fair. Everything would feel worse, then everything would get better, much better…
But, I don’t move-ever.