On my first day of kindergarten, mom dropped me off at my ugly little elementary school with my backpack and verbal directions to my classroom – something about going up stairs, a second set of doors (or was it through the doors, going up the second set of stairs), a red phone. My mother didn’t want to be caught up in traffic or parking or anything else that might actually be Helpful to me, and drove off. I stood in front of the school. I couldn’t remember mom’s directions to my room.
I watched everyone disappear inside. I stood on the steps, heart pounding. I couldn’t speak or cry, though I wanted to do both. The school was built into a hill, so entering from the front I was walking into a dim, damp hallway. The dramatic lighting change made it difficult to see. Nothing had specific meaning. Painted brick walls, strange smell, squared off metal railing, speckled floor.
Finally, a mom leading her son to class spotted me. She asked me if I needed help. I think I just nodded. She asked me if I knew my teacher’s name. I knew it was Miss H. I didn’t say anything. She spoke in soothing tones and was so nice it almost hurt. My throat locked up. She took me from kindergarten room to kindergarten room. I think I only told her my first name, which was one of the ten most popular girls’ names of 1984.
I was confused by my own muteness. At any time, this slow march of shame would have been over if I could just tell this nice lady that I was in Miss H’s class – which was, of course, the last room we tried.
The youth of my teacher startled me. I think I expected someone like the teacher in Calvin and Hobbes, a large, old-maid type. Instead, it was a teacher who was fresh out of school, with red hair, a face full of freckles, and braces.
I sat in my seat, and Miss H started writing on the chalkboard:
Today is Tuesday, September 5th, 1989. Welcome to school!
As she wrote, a little voice started reading:
“Today is Tuesday, September 5th, 1989. Welcome to school!”
The teacher turned around and asked who was reading. I raised my hand.