I am in the middle of preparing sweet potatoes and recalling why I stopped eating them. They are hella hard to slice and dice. Seriously, you need an electric drill to cut one up – or could it be that all my knives are dull?
With the sweet potatoes in the oven and the smell of the bell peppers that I mixed in with the potatoes infusing the air, I thought back to Laura’s words. “Finding your voice.” How lucky that children get to hear that phrase for a writing class. Even though I am an adult, may I attend? You see, no one told me as a child that I should find my voice, well no one even told me that I had one to start with. Here’s what I did have:
I sit at a desk, the kind very like the ones in the Peanuts cartoon. The wooden seat is connected to the desk and the top of the desk opens so you can sneak all kinds of non-school stuff into the space beneath. There is a little cradle for my yellow pencil and a crisp, white sheet of binder paper is in front of me. The teacher is talking. I hear his voice, but I don’t know enough English to know what exactly he is saying.
He’s old, white tufts of hair poke out of his head. His large, thick glasses give him the appearance of an owl, but they don’t hide his eyes that often glare at me. He’s wearing what he always seems to wear: plaid shirt in boring colors of brown, red, black and brown slacks with brown shoes that have little laces. Because I’m lost in examining this aged man and looking over the details of his clothing, trying to imagine what he is like outside of the classroom, I miss the directions. It wouldn’t have helped me to pay attention anyway. The words would have just floated over my head. Without any images, I grasped nothing. Without having the chance to talk to a classmate, I understood nothing.
As I move my eyes away from the brown shoes with the little laces tied neatly, I see that all the students are furiously writing on their sheets of paper. I can almost hear the soft scratching of the lead on the page. I see Emily, the girl with the longest blond hair in class, scrawling on her paper, her face intense, her skinny legs crossed in the way that she always did when she was in absolute concentration. Or maybe she just really had to use the bathroom.
Panic! I see everyone writing, but about what? In a useless attempt that I know won’t work, I try to peer over Sam’s hunched back to get a glimpse of his paper, to see what he is doing. His back is too big and I can’t even see his arms. More panic. I want to be a good student, I try to follow directions, I want to please the teacher and make him smile the way I see he smiles when Emily talks. My efforts have only gifted me glares and snickers so far.
I focus back on my sheet of paper. I have to write something. I start by slowing etching out the letters in my name. Then I take three minutes to lay out the letters of my last name. Five more minutes to write the date as neat as I have ever written it. I glance around, hoping that something has changed, but the room is still silent with all the students hunkered over their papers, their hands flying over the page. I look at everyone, all in the same position. I notice the obvious that I noticed on the first day I walked into the room: everyone has a backpack tucked into the bowl that is beneath the wooden seat. Backpacks of beautiful colors, yellow, bright red, sky blue, pink. I look under my seat. It is empty. My family can’t afford a backpack for me.
The beeping oven brings me to the present. Aaahhh, the smell of bell peppers. I take the tray out of the oven and poke the sweet potatoes. Perfectly soft. I know they are violently hot, but I can’t resist. I stab one with a fork and bring it to my mouth. Yup super hell hot. But even through the heat, I savor the mix of the sweet with the tang of the bell pepper. So good.