Our entire class saw the plane when we were outside, traipsing through the morning grass, a little herd of fourth-grade cows. But our teacher saw it first. She yelled, “Up there! Up there!”
We looked up in fifty different directions at once.
I didn’t see it.
Our teacher was the only honors teacher in the building. She was old to us and not very nice or patient, nor extremely interesting, which led to a few quiet emergencies on my part. I felt stupid in her class and I felt stupid now. I didn’t see the plane, which was apparently what it was, as my classmates began stabbing at the sky.
I wondered what on earth I was missing.
Later, our teacher gave us glossy copies of the picture the plane had taken. I looked for my own face first, my annoying blob of hair and terrible reindeer sweater. I found myself a few days later. A part of my hand, the rest blanketed by other waving students.
I wonder what on earth I was missing.
I worried the alarm showed on my face. I hadn’t heard what she said. What he said. What they said. Everyone speaking suddenly and all at once.
As far as I knew, I didn’t have any hearing problems, and I saw perfectly fine, but people’s words slipped out and flew away before they could reach me.
Before I could panic, I smiled.
I said Okay yeah uh-huh and I smiled again.
The only thing to face now was the silence.
Our orchestra had been imported onto the stage to play fanfare, and as graduation awards rolled out like the red carpet, I was doing well sitting and minding names. When I heard mine, I got hot and cold and quickly stood, made my way past, unsure if I should smile or not.
I didn’t hear that either. My violin made a nosedive to gravity. There was an entire wave through the orchestra before I understood.
Someone put my violin back on my seat and I stood there looking back, wondering where the sound had come from, wondering why people were looking at me, and why I was looking at them.
I had to smile.
Small talk was the last thing I had to learn from high school. So I worked hard and made it much worse. I was too good at killing a conversation after it started. The girl who sat next to me in third period suffered the most, and I tried to talk louder than the words I said, it didn’t work, I heard the music in the hallway rise and the people around me dilate to gross proportions.
I didn’t catch what she said. I couldn’t ask, because she wouldn’t catch me.
The teacher called my name and I stammered through every word, got the answer wrong, felt the universe we were studying compress to the size of a thumb. I couldn’t smile because we were studying white dwarf stars and there was nothing happy about it, so I kept talking, until it became clear I had said nothing at all.
I waited for the world to answer.