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A Touch of White-Out

The smell of white-out calls me to reminisce about the final sweet days of summer before the start of seventh grade, my first foray into life at middle school. As I sit here, late at night, whiting out large sections of the lab report due tomorrow afternoon, the pungent scent wafting upwards brings me back the five years that it has been since then. I set aside the bottle and pick up my purple Sharpie to write, for I would clearly do anything to avoid completing my chemistry homework.
I distinctly remember sitting there behind that brand new white desk: its surfaces freshly painted and sanded, sitting majestically in the corner of my room where my crib of infancy had used to stand until just the beginning of that summer. Its removal was like a beacon of adolescence; suddenly I was mature enough to have a real writing desk to do homework on in the corner of my bedroom, instead of the same old silly crib of my childhood with the ruffled pillows and mountains of stuffed animals that my parents never got around to taking out.
Sitting at that desk, I breathed in deeply the scent of impending middle school life: a mix of the desk’s not-quite-dry paint, pencil shavings, new rubber erasers, and the white-out I was using vigorously on the papers in front of me.
I had a blank sheet of notebook paper lying before me – or at least what had once been one. Now it was thoroughly coated in white-out, after I had methodically painted the entire sheet with the correction fluid out of boredom. Already I was developing my chronic habit of procrastination – I was supposed to be working on my summer reading homework that was due in just a few days. It was the first summer homework I’d ever had; I was to read the book Dovey Coe and write a whole review on it for the first day of English class.
Instead, I distractedly painted the empty sheet of notebook paper with white-out, the fumes consuming my room with an acrid smell. How mature I felt, sitting at my very own writing desk on a sunny afternoon, while the other neighborhood children were outside playing in their yards.
Yes. I was twelve, now, and had real homework to do. I was such a big kid that I even had my very own white-out to use! The finest correction fluid it was, to be used for blotting out mistakes that would otherwise irrevocably taint my work as I charged ahead into unknown territory at my new school. I meticulously swept the spongy brush back and forth across the page until it was entirely coated in the sticky white fluid. I held the damp sheet up to the light of the new desk lamp and gazed through it, amazed by the brownish hue that the paper took on when exposed to the light. More than anything, I felt like a master authenticator, examining an important document for forgery, searching for anything that might be awry. With this, my imagination wandered, the thick, intoxicating scent of the white-out heavy in the air, and the sun began to set outside my bedroom window.
Finally, I set aside my glorious paper and picked up a pen and fresh notebook, and sighed, ready to begin anew. I began to write the heading on my new sheet of paper, only to find that I had spelled my own name wrong! How embarrassing. I picked up my trusty bottle of white-out and unscrewed the cap. When I removed the brush, I was dismayed to find that the sponge at its tip was bone dry as the Sahara. I dipped it back in the bottle again and again, but the sponge remained empty and dry. I frowned at the soggy sheet of paper that sat on the other side of my desk, sopping with wasted fluid.
Suddenly, its wonder was lost on me, and I buried it deep in the desk drawer, feeling scorned by its wastefulness, and most of all, by my own childish stupidity. Why, this was middle school, after all. I was going to have to learn to grow up.
With that settled, I ripped the tainted page I had begun from my notebook, crumpled it sufficiently, and dropped it into the empty metal wastebasket with a thud. I turned to a clean page, sighed, and prepared to begin again.
After a moment, I turned to the window to see that the sun had finally sunk behind the trees. A sudden darkness had fallen over the entire neighborhood, everyone retreating to screen porches to sip lemonade and enjoy what was left of the summer evening. It was finally night time, much the same way that it is night time now, as I force myself to drop this pen and settle back into the confining rut of the homework that, in my life, both begins and ends with a touch of white-out.





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