Jacksonville, Florida. Kindergarten. First day of school.
We live just a few blocks away so I walk to class. Before I leave the house, my mother makes certain I'm prepared.
"Do you know where to go?" She asks.
I nod, as I do whenever an adult asks something that I think expects a nod. In reality, I know where the school is but expect something miraculous and new will happen once I'm there, like I'm going to learn all about the world without even stepping into a classroom.
The school has one large deciduous tree in the middle of the front lawn. The leaves are still lush and green from the summer. The tree is not the only thing that's massive. The school itself is enormous. My five-year-old mind can't fathom the extreme monstrosity of the building. The elementary school is attached to the side of a high-school. This city block has more kids than I thought existed in the entire world. It's obvious everyone is heading into the double doors that tower over the children like the entrance to a sacred temple, seeming so massive they must have been built thousands of years ago by dinosaurs.
I follow. The second I step inside, I'm lost. All the children of various heights are briskly walking passed me, knowing exactly where they are going.
I stand three feet into the doorway, lower my head to the ground and begin to sob.
Children stare in horror at this sad wretch who's lost his way, all ignoring his plight in favor of a quick exit to their destination points, until three girls walk by and stop.
"Oh, look, he's lost," exclaims a pretty girl in a blue dress. Blue is my favorite color.
"We can help you. Do you know what class you are supposed to go to?"
I shake my head slowly, not giving up the tears. This is awesome! Older girls are talking to me! The girl in the blue dress takes me by the arm and one of her friends in red grabs my other. We skip merrily to the administrative office. Soon, I'm in the hands of a real adult and the three girls are waving goodbye and wishing me luck.
I am the last one in class. In the days that follow, I become exposed to an alien world. Teachers, a frightening Victorian principal, overhead speakers, the pledge of allegiance, sitting in a little desk in a row, staying quiet until spoken to, friends, enemies, girls and boys, toys in class are not allowed, being afraid of using the bathroom stalls that live in the back of the classroom.
Oh, yes, we have bathroom stalls in the classroom. None of the children want to use them and you can see in the faces of all the children toward the end of the day that we have been holding it in for hours. You think that we are jumping around because we are excited about learning? Oh, no, this kid has got to go, bad. Every once in a while, one of us has to go that bad and as he moseys to the back of the class, we all sit, feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed for our unfortunate peer, while the teacher continued speaking as if uninterrupted by the flatulence and plops of child shit.
There's this girl in my class and she is sooo cute. She always wears dresses and I totally dig her but I don't know what to say. I mean, hey, I'm five. WTF? Anyway, I like her so much that one day I whip her in the mouth with a necklace chain.
Here's how it goes down:
On the playground, I play alone. I have this fascination with chains. The longer, the thinner, the stronger, the better. Somewhere, I found this necklace chain made of steel. The links are tiny, even to my eyes and it feels much too heavy for what it is. But it's unbreakable and it's long. It's so long, I can tie up one of my hands to the metal bars on one of the playground pieces and still have enough to carry it over and wrap it around my free hand, providing the illusion that I'm trapped in a dungeon, chained to metal bars, unable to escape. At least, unable to escape until my bad-ass powers erupt forth and rip free, swinging the chain like a battle axe, in furious vengeance. I froth at the mouth when chained down and emerge a gallant and suave hero when I am free.
I've already learned from movies that the best way to get a girl to go crazy for you is to be in danger and through force of your own will, escape with only minor bruises, which she will fawn over and swoon. I construct countless scenes to capture the unrealistic effect on girls that I see in movies to no avail. I trip and fall, watching peripherally for a girl to gasp in fear that I might be endangered. She would come running over and kiss me as if I could die tomorrow and she should get me while the getting is good. The getting never gets good. I will not realize the foolishness of movie logic until many years later, after having made a fool of myself countless times.
One day, I'm doing my prisoner scene and the girl I have a crush on walks in front of me just as I'm doing the break-free routine. WHIP! The chain stings her lip, which immediately quivers as tears fill her eyes. I'm immediately apologetic but it's too late. That's it, I think, I've ruined my chances with her. She hates me now, I know it.
I heave the chain as far as possible into the bushes.
A few weeks later, in class, all the children are drawing. It's quiet, peaceful, everyone consumed with their own art.
The room is filled suddenly with the sound of gushing liquid like a Quick Stop™ Big Gulp® dumped upside down on the classroom floor. We all look up and the smell of urine and shame reeks from the cute girl's desk. She begins to cry, her dress ruined, her life ruined. It's over. She will never have friends again. She thinks this. I know. And yet, I know and I can see in the eyes of all my classmates that not one of us thinks this is funny or shameful. We feel embarrassed for her but only because we know it could happen to us. We share her sadness, looking back down at our art, pretending not to notice as the teacher makes a scene. A janitor comes to clean up the mess and the girl's mom comes early to get her. The whole while waiting, she sits in a puddle of pee, a dripping faucet of tears.
The next day, on the playground, she sits alone and I bring her a daisy. She smiles. I smile. Together we smile.