Thursday, March 14, 2013

Another part of the story

At the age of twelve, I’m at school in the cafeteria when our neighbor approaches the table.  I turn to my friend and say, “My father’s dead.  I got to go.  See you tomorrow.”
     I will put this scene into many of the stories I will write, over and over again, until I am only a character.
My mother remarries three years later, we move, and I’m furious.  I’m also flunking everything.  (It will turn out I’m dyslexic, undiagnosed back then, even though I spell words with the last letter first, and vowels are only strange little shapes that make no sense at all.)  One day a teacher gives me an F on a paper and asks me to come to his office.  His office is dark and small and he sits behind the desk as I stand.  “Do you know why I gave you an F?” he asks.  I shrug.  I’m good at shrugging.  “I take off a full grade for every three misspelled words.”
     I haven’t a chance then and merely nod.  But on an impulse I ask, “What did you think about what I wrote?  Is it okay, otherwise?”  It’s about the Civil War.  I did a lot of research.  I’m beginning to get interested in the Civil War.
     “I won’t discuss that until you fix the spelling,” he says.  I look at him.  He’s serious.  I walk out of the office, out of the school.  I go to a public phone and call my mother.  It’s cold out, November, snowing hard.
     “I’m never going back,” I tell her as we drive home.  There’s silence for a while.  She thinks before she speaks, not like me.
     “Fine,” she says.  “It’s your life, but what do you want to do?”
     Oddly, I still want to know more about the Civil War, science, what’s in books, poetry.
     I find a place called Friends Free School.

The school is in a gold dome Temple, three bus rides across town, an hour away.  Tim, my English teacher, is indistinguishable from the students who all wear torn blue-jeans, tie-dyed shirts and long hair.  One day he asks me to read one of my poems.  I do, blushing, trembling, head hung down.  I have been here less than a week and want nothing more than to impress everyone because they are all so cool, even though some don’t show up at school often.  I do.  I come every day. 

This is the poem. 

Laugh at me
      and I will laugh along
for then we’ll all look gay
     to someone passing by

Thirty-three years later Tim–who has moved away and hasn't seen me since that year at Friends–will come back to town, find me, and take me to lunch.  He will have this poem in his wallet.
This is why I write.  It’s how I talk.  It’s how I make friends.