A Day in the Life of Drafts

At the request of a reader, here is an example of what I do all day when I sit at the desk and start a draft of something. My advisor has asked me to write in the past tense, which is challenging for me. And keeping faith in the intangible internet world, no one on earth better steal this. It’s copyrighted because I said so. So there. 🙂

S.W.A.K. (Sealed With A Kiss)

Somehow my first year in public school coincided with my uncontainable interest in boys. I had two favorite t-shirts, which I wore once a week, but never more for fear of the fashion police. The first was solid white and baggy, hanging below my hips and across my rear. Printed on the front in large, hollow, block letters was the word B O Y S. The other shirt was neon magenta and also baggy, though not as long. The front of it was designed to look as though I’d been graffitied by a passing gang of hormonal teeny-boppers. The spray paint letters read at a slant: I’m Fresh. My earlier years in Montessori school had been a blessing in the form of some sacred educational bubble, where the teachers were like family and the learning was real and relevant. But leaving the bubble made my entrance into Stephenson Elementary School almost as momentus as NASA’s Challenger space shuttle, and my attempt to soar a similar failure.

According to Ms. Reid, my homeroom teacher, Roman numerals were the only missing link in my move from private to public school. That and the fact that I didn’t know how to print. In Montessori school, cursive and then italics were taught as honorable, naturally looping lettering that my young hand caught onto quickly. I read print letters in books and on signs, so I knew what they looked like, though I’d never attempted so much as a letter with my own hand. While Ms. Reid was busy planning after school lessons for me to catch up, I sat wondering what else I had missed. There was a group of girls who laughed at my shirts, I knew that much. I called them The Untouchables because that’s what they were – totally off the social charts. I studied graphs and algebraic charts long before any of them and my mind naturally mapped their status over the X-axis, comparing it with the number of kisses or love notes received from a boy along the Y-axis. Of course, my point would have been something like (2,0) compared to a cluster of their, say, (10, 10)’s.

“Can you write the Roman numerals, Katey, one through ten?” Ms. Reid’s voice was quiet and had the effect of making her look smaller than she already was. She combed her thin, brown hair to one side with a free hand. She looked pretty when she did that, her ivory profile like something from the old time movies. In her right hand, she held a red teacher’s pen, the kind you couldn’t even find at the school supply store because they were so exclusive.

“No,” I said. I knew Ms. Reid liked me, but I still hated sitting at her desk, attracting all that attention. Was I going to be held back? I stared at my Keds sneakers and tapped them on the floor.

“Do you know what Roman numerals are?”

I shook my head, no. I was growing my hair out and it hung across my back in a shiny sheath that tapered at my shoulder blades into a gathering of crisp, unhealthy ends. I thought my mane looked especially badass in my graffittied shirt, the natural golden highlights in my hair electrified by the neon shading of the fabric. In public school there were so many “yes” and “no” questions that I had plenty of opportunities to dramatically move my head and show off my hair. My best friend Jennie, from across the street, had even showed me how to scoop it all to one side and let it flow across my flat chest. “That’ll get their attention,” she told me as we both looked into the mirror. “Now just don’t touch it.”

“Well, that’s ok. I can teach numerals to you and you’ll be caught up in no time. Let’s see about social studies and language arts, next.” Ms. Reid leaned forward from her chair and reached into a deep filing drawer at the bottom of her desk. She was petite enough that when she did this, she disappeared completely behind her desk and gave the class ample opportunity to wad and hurl spitballs at will. The drawer made an ancient, resonating creak as she opened it and I tried not to peek at her secret files. “Q, R, S. S. There we go. Schultz!”

Even when Ms. Reid spoke quickly, her voice remained a mousy whisper, like she could fold up and fit into that creaky drawer and watch life happen between the cracks. She pulled my file out and set it on her desk, then moved her foot to the open drawer and gently kicked it shut. I giggled at this maneuver, which seemed so private and out of character for Ms. Reid. What was she like when we were all on the playground? I knew she had lunch with Mrs. Snogdgrass from next door, the two of them gabbing in teacher-code, bobbing their short, curly-haired heads up and down as they rallied and chewed their food. You could fit two of Ms. Reid inside Mrs. Snodgrass, I noticed, but Mrs. Snodgrass was much older so it didn’t seem fair to compare. Maybe they were best friends and felt hyper at lunchtime like Erin Bunday and me did, except they couldn’t run around with us because they had to wear slacks or synthetic nylons that shifted awkwardly beneath their skirts throughout the day.

I never could have guessed Ms. Reid was engaged-to-be-married to a handsome commercial diver, but it was true. Erin’s mom had come home from a PTA meeting one night when I was staying over and let it slip. Our teacher? Engaged-to-be-married? I tried to imagine Ms. Reid talking to a man, let alone a handsome one. Did she look him in the eyes? Did they actually, kiss? Like, a lot? I bet they did, but try as I might, I couldn’t make the scene come to life in my mind’s eye. And still, I convinced myself that Ms. Reid was my truth-keeper; that whatever opinion she held of me must be the way things really were. My sense of self was tied to her opinion of me as tightly as a diver to a hookah rig. To me, her message was a definitive promise: Just as soon as I learned those Roman numerals, she kept saying, my transition from Montessori school would be seamless.

I preferred walking the mile from my house to Stephenson Elementary, but if the rain was bad enough or my pack heavy enough, my 4th grade neighbor Amy and I waited for the bus near the edge of her front yard beneath a cedar tree. Between my rain coat and the cedar tree, I felt protected enough from a downpour, the sweet smell of damp cedar and manicured bark chips wafting around us. Whenever the wind blew, Amy and I shrieked and huddled around the trunk of the tree, hands tugging at the dry bark to pull our bodies inward, away from the raindrops falling beneath shaken branches. Even then I could hardly get enough of the Oregon rains. It was easy to feel alive when everything around you was soaked in perpetual mist, growing green and deeper into the seasons, forests and yards personified by their visible growth, the thought of losing leaves never more than a rumor that blew away to other places that didn’t matter to me and Amy, arms around the cedar trunk, waiting for the bus to come…

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