I wrote the following memoir as an assignment for a literacy conference session. It has received some minor edits (listed at the end) from the original but remains largely unaltered. This was scribbled in my notebook over a period of about twenty minutes in the middle of the night while my roommate snored loudly. This is actually fictional, but it is typical of my early school experiences.
There are twenty-two desks in the classroom, eighty-four ceiling tiles plus or minus a few (based on perspective, light arrangement, and wall irregularities), twenty-five cubbies with coat hangars, and one sink with a step stool in front of it.
Nineteen students (counting the author) occupy twenty-two desks. It takes three hundred eighteen steps to get to the cafeteria, eighty-six steps to accelerated math, twenty-eight to the sink, and fourteen to the right cubby – except a direct fourteen-step route makes for a bad day because “14” (like the letter “N”) is uncomfortable.
Teacher Miss Hiles is five feet, four inches (which equals 64 inches in all or 162.5 centimeters). She has been reading for four minutes or 240 seconds. Thirteen words have already begun with the letter “N.” If one more happens too soon – before the brain loses count – this won’t be a good chapter.
“Robert, are you listening?” Teacher says. That is not part of the story. It makes no sense. Ramona was just trying to convince her father to stop smoking after being caught throwing away his cigarettes. Ramona books are by Beverly Cleary who is a better author than Judy Blume because Fudge is annoying. There are three Ramona books at home, and “Robert” in not a character. Did Teacher mean “Ramona?”
“Robert, what did I just read?” What. When. Where. Why. They all sound the same. They are okay in writing, but they aren’t good out loud. They are okay in a book because the book gives the answer. “Romana, why did you throw my cigarettes away?” And Ramona gives a reason. “Why,” in this context, looks for motivation, but why can also mean different things. “Why, look at that rainbow!” Teacher says to listen for something called “inflection.” She once said sentences using different inflections, but they all sounded the same.
“Robert.” There is no Robert in this chapter! Romaona’s dad is Mr. Quimby. Here sister is Beatrice, but she calls Beatrice “Beezus,” and Beezuz is friends with Henry Huggins. Ramona was first introduced in the Henry Huggins books, and she got her own books later. This is called a “spin-off.” This fits Ramona because she likes to spin. She also likes to make curls go “BOING,” and she likes to make noise with Howie. Maybe Howie will get a spin-off.
“Robert, have you listened to a word I’ve said?” Teacher says louder to … to me. She takes some glasses out of a pair of hands. My hands. She puts the glasses on my face. “Robert, you’re daydreaming again. Can you tell me what we’ve been reading?”
Of course I can. I can tell her all about Ramona and her father, but my voice has gone missing. So I just look at my desk. I don’t expect to find my voice on the desk, but looking at the desk avoids all of the frightening faces looking in my direction.
Teacher shakes her head and says she will have to talk to my parents about my daydreaming again. It will be the fourth conference this school year. This is September. September has thirty-one days. Today is the twentieth. A Friday. Birthday was on August twentieth – number six. Six-years-old means kindergarten for some born in August, but I went to kindergarten at five. Something called an I.Q. (or “intelligence quotient”) is 135. I know that “intelligence” means how smart someone is, but “quotient” is a mystery.
I tried to find out by reading every “K” word in the dictionary (American: of or associated with the western hemisphere; Heritage: background or history) – all 2,180. It took five days to read them all. Anyway, it is likely that a quotient has to do with daydreaming. Dad says it has to do with division. “Division,” “daydream,” and “dad” all start with “D,” and you can use the letters in “daydream” to make “dad” as well as “yard” and “dare” and “made” and “ram” and “mare” and…
I stare harder at the desk. Still no voice.
“Robert, if you are not going to listen, just go sit in the corner.”
I sit in the corner and try to be small. I’m very good at small. You’d be surprised at some of the places I can fit into. When I’m small, my voice comes back, so I count to feel better. Numbers (except for 14) are nice. “1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, …”
The next day we are supposed to write about a favorite book. My paper is about Ramona. I use a pen because pencils give me the bad kind of goose-bumps. So does chalk and velvet.
I write more than anyone in class. My voice was on my desk all along. It was hiding inside my pen.
Alteration from the original:
- The classroom originally had more ceiling tiles, but I felt a smaller number was more accurate. A part of me wants to go back and count.
- I double-checked my Ramona facts. Nothing to fix.
- I changed my teacher’s name to keep her anonymous.
- In the original manuscript, I counted by fives. Though I liked fives, chances are I would have counted by odds if upset. They required more concentration and would have better served to take my mind off things. Primes serve that purpose well nowadays.