First, Second ... When I think about all the years I've been in school, one year makes me pause and think - second grade. The unforgettable, miserable learning experience hit me hard, like a drummer in the band who figured out he was supposed to be playing, on the last note. The late Martin Luther King, Jr. hoped "that children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." That day Mr. King speaks of had surely not come that first day of second grade.
Large barriers of red brick captured the cold wind that only circulated inside the building. When I opened the large metal doors, it hit my face, as if it were mad, blowing back my puffy, kinky ponytails. My brand-new dress of green and white polka dots and ruffles puffed up. The building felt like a freezer. Sounds of crying babies and worried parents filled the air, blocking the mild voice over the intercom that said, "Welcome to Frazier Elementary ..." Off-white walls of rough texture stood beside me, like soldiers ready for command, quiet and still, as I walked in.
The shiny, never-ending cement floors stuck to my new, black, patent-leather shoes, making a sound as if I had stepped on freshly chewed gum. Constant opening and shutting of the thick, wooden doors echoed in the halls, making me jump. After a long, sticky, body-jumping journey, I reached my destination. Dark green, rough textured carpet, with sewn-in little red squares, surrounded the room hiding the cement floor, leaving nothing visible. The classrooms were divided by long, golden-brown tables that stood no taller than my waist.
The teacher stood behind the wooden desk with her long, black hair loosely braided. Her red, apple-pattern dress fit her slim figure, as if the dress was afraid to let go of her body. The shiny, red shoes reminded me of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Her pale face looked perfectly drawn from a cartoon character (Snow White). When she spoke, her dark brown eyes, pointed nose and small lips caught my attention. "Welcome to the second grade. I'm Ms. Hale." The sweet ring of her voice calmed my nerves as I started to feel the uncomfortable tingle in my stomach. The green chairs were neatly tucked under the tables and everything was full of vibrant colors. I sat in my little green seat and looked around the strange place to see what was happening.
Other children started to enter. So far, so good - most of the children were just like me. They all had backpacks, some had short hair, and some long, some were skinny and some fat. Then I finally noticed a difference; my skin was darker, but that wasn't too big a deal to me. I figured no one else would pay too much attention either. An hour later, I started to notice that no one was sitting at my table. Maybe the children just didn't see me.
During recess I sat on the sun-warmed, concrete sidewalk next to the teacher. I looked around and saw the white kids playing on the metal monkey bars and leather seat swings. They laughed together with huge Kool-aid smiles, as if they had known each other all their young lives, while I watched with an upside-down one. Every once in a while, I would bend over and dig my long, skinny fingers in the dirt carving out my name. After I finished, I would erase it with my new shoes, which ended up covered with the sand, and start all over. By the end of recess, I learned my name backward, forward, and every other way.
"Recess is over. Time to go back in," said Ms. Hale's soft voice, as if she was uncertain of what to say. After we got back, Ms. Hale gave the class some fruity candy for our good behavior.
During lunch the girls didn't even try to save me a seat, so I sat on the other side of the world (that is what it felt like) by the boys. My dark brown, almond-shaped eyes filled with tears which flowed silently down my cheek, past my lips and onto the table. I tried hard to hide my face, but the tears kept going. All at once I lost my appetite; the food went untouched. I gently pushed away the green tray and laid my head on the hard lunch table. I began to wish I was wearing Ms. Hale's shiny, red shoes so I could say, "I want to go home" like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
When I got home, my mother caressed me with her warm and gentle love. Even though my words were hard to understand like a foreign languge, I told her why I was crying. Afterward, I ran to my room, the air hitting my face, drying some of my tears.
The next morning, I prepared for school. Well, to be exact, for friends! My small shoulders ached because the plastic, pink and purple backpack that hung on my shoulders had been stuffed with everything from chocolate to fruity candy and toys from Barbies to board games! I was sure to get friends now! The day was excellent; the children played and spoke to me. At the time, I felt like a queen on a royal pedestal. Paying little attention to the quick change or the truth, I was satisfied with the real experience of "friendship," even though unreal.
The next year my mom transferred me to another district, and I attended a school where I found children of different shapes and sizes, with different hair, but also with the same dark chocolate skin. I was not alone!
Things I learned in my past is helping me with my future. I don't have to give all to make a friend. Even though my treatment was harsh, unforgettable and somewhat unforgivable, two wrongs don't make a right. By not acting the way I was treated, I made many friends! c
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.