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A Pencil

I bet you don’t remember the first time you picked up a pencil. I do.

First day of first grade, my friend’s older brother was nice enough to walk us down the hall, left at the gym, right at the nurse’s office, down another hall to classroom 1E. He left us at the door, as someone tall said thank you, you can go to class now, while you two over here put your coats in your cubbies. And so I did. The tall person said her name was Ms. Armstrong. Ms. Armstrong told us to go into the classrooms and find the seats with our names on them.

I suppose if I went back into the class now, it all would be completely different from what I remember. A reading nook in the corner, with a big comfy couch and a little bookshelf. A giant empty blackboard, taking over the whole wall, with fresh chalk in a little baggy on the side. The linoleum squeaked cheerily under my feet. The room smelled like wood shavings. Pencil shavings. I couldn’t wait to use a pencil. Four wooden tables waited in the center of the room, each with a small basket in the center.

I picked a pencil out of the basket, and almost immediately it rolled out of my grab. Slippery little thing. I bent down and picked it up, the angular yet round edges fitting right in the spaces between my fingers. I tapped it on the side of the desk. It made a sort of soft thwocking sound, like a crayon, but more definitive. I held it in my hand, turning it over and over again in my fingers. The tip was sharpened, that bright, blazing, first-day-of-school sharp that hurts when you press it too hard, but never appears again after that first writing assignment. It didn’t have an eraser. Just a flat wooden end, perfect for standing it up straight on the table, maybe balancing it on your finger. Then, the fire-engine red that it was painted took center stage.

There are a near-infinite number of things you can create with a pencil. You can write a story about a princess and a prince and how they met each other in a dragon’s cave. You can draw the way the snow falls on Christmas morning. You can solve equations, write peace treaties. You can draw a map of the world. You can write the formula of compounds that will cure the common cold. None of that occurred to me at the time, though. I played with it: long, skinny, slippery, brand-new between my fingers. I rolled it on the desk like a clay snake, feeling the way the wooden ridges moved under my tender little palm. I might have giggled. I’m not sure. I didn’t even think I realized it then—how great a pencil was, really.



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