are a dork. Your hair is greasy at the roots and frizzy at the ends,
and you don't wash it every day. Your thick glasses have pink plastic
frames. You wear the same outfit daily -- a plaid jumper, army-green
knee socks, a white cardigan, and noisy click-clack shoes that give
your steps the sound of a teacher's. Everyone knows that your mother
still picks out your clothes and says you can't wear any black until
you're a teenager. Everyone knows that you actually like taking
recorder lessons and aren't just enduring them because your parents
make you. They know that your mother is crazy; they see her red
wide-brimmed hat covered in ribbons and flowers (you always beg
her not to wear it for Parent-Teacher night and she always refuses,
arguing that she needs to protect her ears from the cold, or the
sun, or glare from the fluorescent lights in the school, or whatever
lame excuse she can come up with to guarantee your humiliation).
And they know that your father used to be a rancher in Montana,
or a lumberjack (what else could he be with those thick flannel
shirts?) and that he teaches high school science and once swallowed
a live goldfish in front of his class.
You are a dork. Being equally inept at throwing, catching, hitting,
and kicking, you are always the last to be picked for the team.
Your knees are covered with scabs and bruises from all the times
you didn't watch where you were going, you didn't see the bottom
stair, you didn't notice the hole in the sidewalk. You spill things.
In art class you once managed to get a whole bottle of orange paint
on your new forest green and yellow striped pullover sweater, and
then got reprimanded by both Mrs. Higgins (because you wasted a
good bottle of paint) and your mother (because you destroyed your
beautiful new sweater).
You are a geek, a nerd, and a dork. One can argue ad nauseum
over whether such creatures are born or made, nature or nurture.
But looking at your mother (who wears a ridiculous wide-brimmed
hat) and your father (the infamous goldfish-swallower) it's clear
that some of the oddball-genes have indeed made their way down to
you. And in your case these accidents of nature first manifest themselves
in perfect clarity at the tender age of five, when two important
Firstly, you are forced to acknowledge the existence of other people.
Unlike many children, who soon find that they must protect their
Legos and stuffed animals from the horde of rapacious barbarians
otherwise known as siblings, you have received no indication that
the world contains people other than yourself. Oh sure, there were
always your parents, and a few doting aunties who pinched your cheeks
and gave you chocolate-covered caramels. But these are not actual
people. They are adults -- authority figures who are there to help
you and harm you, to buy you a bicycle and then forbid you from
riding it any further than around the block, to give you candy and
then tell you that you can't eat it before supper.
like the school lunch monitors -- parents who volunteer to stand
guard in that cesspool otherwise known as the school cafeteria and
are supposed to keep the children from killing each other as well
as to help them open their Fruit Roll-ups and canned peaches. However,
while most of these guardians are content to chat and gossip while
students get killed and cans remain unopened, one dedicated monitor,
who works every other Tuesday, is no such shirker. And so, one fine
Tuesday afternoon while you're sitting and trying to enjoy your
peanut butter and Fluff sandwich in peace, you suddenly find yourself
face to face with that devoted public servant, her eyebrows raised
why are you sitting all by yourself?" your mother demands.
Glancing from side to side, you suddenly notice that yes, you indeed
have the entire table to yourself, while the other children are
one table over, sitting together -- Josh Kramer with his blubbery
cheeks, Nicholas Hoffman with his freckles, Alice O'Keefe with her
long, golden braids.
You frown. These are the children you see every day; they are in
the room whenever you enter; they sing the songs and color the pictures.
Once you got in a fight with Kaley Kwong over a doll; another time
you got yelled at for stealing the balloon that Mrs. Caruthers gave
Mike Kozak on his birthday. But while you have seen and interacted
with these children each day since kindergarten began, you have
not been able to figure out just why they are here. And now, suddenly,
you understand. You feel your chest constricting in the horror of
your first existential crisis, as you are left to wonder why it
should be this way, why you should be here in this group of people
who, even though they sit together, may as well be sitting alone.
Your mother is still standing over you, waiting for an answer. Without
a word you pick up your red plastic lunch box and move over to the
girls´ end of the next table, where Katie DeSimone is deeply
engaged in a conversation with Katie O'Connell. You do not hear
them, they do not see you, and you, perfectly content with this
arrangement, continue to eat in silence.
But the next thing that happens is even more traumatic. Now that
you have begun to notice people, these same people begin to notice
First, Mrs. Caruthers notices that you are bumping into things a
bit too much, even for a klutz. Then, she observes that you are
squinting when you try to look at the board. She sends you to the
school nurse, who makes you look at a screen and read some letters,
then gives you a note to take home. Your parents take you to a bald
doctor in a white coat, who makes you read some more letters on
a screen and puts a strange telescope up to your eye. "Nearsightedness
and astigmatism,' he announces. You do not know what either of those
words are, and of course you're too scared to ask. You are led into
a room with hundreds of pairs of glasses like the ones your parents
and aunties and Mrs. Caruthers wear, and little five-year-olds like
you do not wear. A thin lady with long gray hair begins handing
you pair after pair. You try them on as your parents gape at you,
their faces blank. Finally you don the one with pink plastic frames,
and both faces break into grins. "They're adorable," your
mother gushes, and you shiver. "She's going to be an intellectual,"
your father asserts, and while you don't know what "intellectual"
signifies, you have a sinking feeling that it has something to do
with eating live goldfish.
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