How many kids in sixth grade do you see, or expect to see, walking to school? If you do see children that young doing so, then what a good Samaritan should do is try to figure out why someone so young is walking to school, especially when the distance may exceed two miles. Well, at least that is what I expected from grownups at the time. Even at such a young age of ten years, I questioned the morality of the superiors placed around me; Principals, Teacher, parents of other children, and even my own flesh and blood, my mother. I even tried to excuse it with deep psychological reasons, reasoning that someone of that age shouldn’t feel the need to conjure up. This essay is written with some reluctance, seeing as how it is really personal, but sometimes the most personal of writings become the best pieces of someone’s written portfolio. The specific event that I will be describing took place the first day of middle school; this event helped me in realizing how my next seven years of school might be played out.
After waking up, by the alarm I had set the night before, on an early morning in August, I began to prepare myself for the first day of middle school. It seemed like a new world, it was going to be very different than my previous six years had been. I would no longer be at the top of the ladder, as a fifth grader might see it but, I would be standing on the bottom rung clenching my pencil tightly and hoping to pass under the bully radar of the eighth graders.
Now standing in the mirror, making sure I was aesthetically ready, even though I felt mentally unprepared, I went to go wake my mother to get up and take me to school. After several minutes of poking and prodding, without much progress, I decided to grab the keys and go warm the car. Secretly hoping it would speed my mother’s progress of taking me to school.
Already running late, I anxiously waited several moments in the car while keeping my eye fixed on a certain vulnerable point in the window to where I could look past the curtain and would be able to notice if my mother was shuffling around getting ready to take me to school. Sitting there with the quiet hum of the engine, I counted down the minutes on the digital clock radio, hoping that within the next ten or fifteen minutes we would be well on our way to the school. Feeling as if my waiting was of no avail, I turned the ignition switch to the off position and hurriedly walked back inside to see if any progress had been made by my mother. After going inside and turning the corner into the hallway, I glimpsed through the half opened doorway, and almost like a crushing blow to the sternum, I saw my mother lying in the same position I had left her, moments earlier, snoring away. After standing there staring for a few seconds, I realized what I must do. I bent over to tighten my shoelaces, rolled up my baggy pants so that the cuff at the bottom of my pant legs wouldn’t sneak under my shoes with each step, pulled the straps tight on my book bag and then I turned around and made my way to the front door and turned the knob. Before I opened it I stopped dead in my tracks and tried to listen as keenly as possible to see if I could hear any sounds from weight being shifted from the bed to the floor. Something made a sound but, just as quickly as I heard it was as quick as I figured out what it was; one of our cats had jumped from the dryer to the floor, right around the corner. That was it, I made up my mind, and I opened the door and visually pictured the road needed to take me where I needed to go.
As my day continued, I soon found out how every day would occur. I would slide into class, find the seat furthest from people and try to remain unnoticed. It happened to be quite ironic; I tried so hard to be so transparent but, ended up being the most talked about among my classmates. I hardly ever interpreted the conversations about me but, when someone is pointing at you and laughing it is hard not to think that they are talking about you. Also, pointing and laughing is not the ideal body language of a good conversation.
I scanned the room for an empty seat, a seat that might keep me with some extra distance from my classroom neighbor, afraid of the foul odor steaming off of me, and headed towards the direction of it. I passed each student in the isle with the sounds of squeaky wet shoes on the linoleum. I reached my seat, still hearing the whispering and chuckles behind me, turned around and slid into my desk chair. Sitting there with my head down and my pants sticking to my legs, I thought, “what a great way to start off my first day of middle school”.
As I walked down the hallway, looking from left to right, searching for my class, I wondered what I would tell my class when they asked, how come I was so sweaty and my feet looked so wet. After finding the correct door, I put my hand on the knob, took a deep breath and then entered. After a couple of steps I reached the teachers desk to hand her the note, she had her head facing down doing some work, while I stood there with my bangs wet and stuck to my forehead, waiting for some acknowledgement of my late arrival, I could hear the chuckles and whispers from my peers behind me. My new teacher made a simple gesture with her hand extended to retrieve my late note. I simply put it in her hand and turned away, without so much of any forward or peripheral eye contact with her, not even a glance in the direction of my silhouette. I asked myself, mustn’t you wonder why I look the way I do, almost as if I had showered in my clothes before I presented myself in front of you? Do you not need to know for yourself why I look the way I do as I enter at the time I did? She just simply read the note and pointed to the empty chairs.
Now that I look back I feel as though we were there subordinates, and not children under their care with the responsibility to learn but, just to be shuffled off to school more like a daycare.
Once I reached the school, I had to show my face in the attendance office to sign in and state a reason for being late. I simply put, “overslept”, and even though I looked sweaty and my feet were wet down to the socks from puddles and wet grass, not one adult further questioned what I had written, they just simply handed me a note to give to my teacher and verbally directed me to my first class. It felt as though the grownups placed above me by the city weren’t observant enough to notice that something wasn’t right with the picture placed in front of them. Or even scary enough, that maybe they didn’t even care. The last thing I needed was to continually seeing grownups without much care for the children under them. With the current situation at hand, my mother not taking me to school like I thought she was supposed to, I had very low trust of adults, and the teachers at school were not helping me in fixing that mental picture at all.
Standing on the porch, looking at the remaining morning due on the grass, I realized that the first day of school had already begun without me. As I took my first couple of steps in the direction of my new school, I began to think of how I would arrive and leave school every day from that point on. I wouldn’t be kissing my mother on the cheek as she came to a rolling stop in front of the school and then hearing her wish me a good day, nor would I be stumbling out of a van after car pooling with my friend’s mother, but I would be looking down, watching one foot step in front of the other, rain or shine, for over two miles, there and back.
I have never forgotten that day. Now, after looking back, I wonder why no one ever questioned me, or looked in on my life for some sort of reasoning. Not only was that my first day but, many days followed suit, much like that one. That event, and even more events similar, made me the strong, independent, and disciplined person that I am today. It feels almost bitter sweet; I wish it wouldn’t have happened but, if I could go back in time, more than likely, I wouldn’t change a thing.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.