Don’t Look at Me
Everyone has those moments in their life that they can point to and say “that’s why I am the way I am”. For most of my childhood I was very fortunate. I had two parents that loved me and later a younger brother to playfully pick on. We lived on the collection of islands in the South China Sea called the Philippines and still had access to Cartoon Network.
I was friends with the Powerpuff Girls and Captain Planet. We saved the world a few times with my main lamb, Lambchop. I still have that cotton puppet and it brings back fond memories. Courage the Cowardly Dog and I would cower in bed when the closet would start making frightening noises. My brother and I spend hours learning how to raise our eyebrow just like Johnny Bravo. And I would conduct experiments alongside Dexter as my brother, playing the role of Dee Dee, would constantly disturb me.
I enjoyed heat waves and downpours in equal measure, never experiencing the bitter bite of winter. The other kids at school were nice. I made several visible friends as well. We scrapped our knees together and sang at the top of our lungs. Everything was very idyllic at that time in my life. As I think back it’s very hard to find a bad moment.
It changed when my dad died of lung cancer and it wasn’t finished yet. And as they say, when it rains, it pours.
I was nine and we had already moved to America for medical treatment. My little nine-year-old self was still figuring it out and so was my mother. She had been trying to homeschool us but ended up registering us for public school. It was half way through the school year, an awkward place to be plopped into third grade.
I remember everything being brighter on my first day. The colors were more vibrant then they would ever be again and the sounds were crisp and clear. The warm sun beat down on us kids stood outside by the flagpole as the flag snapped in the wind. There were so many butterflies in my stomach I felt like I would float and fly away. Soon the bell rang and we were led, single file, to our classrooms.
Coming from the bright outside, the inside of the building was almost black. The only hope I had was to closely follow the person in front of me. I’m pretty sure I bumped into him several times.
Once my eyes had adjusted and the class had settled Mrs. Drives, the best third grade teacher on the planet, had me stand in the center of the class. It was a typical third grade classroom. I noticed several containers in the back of the room with strange looking caterpillars in them. Pictures hung on the thumb boards and there was a small library filled with books in the corner. The chairs and desks were perfectly organized in a square around a cobalt blue carpet.
“This is Janine and she’ll be joining our class,” Mrs. Drives introduced me. I simply stood there like an idiot. When I didn’t say anything Mrs. Drives decided to help me out, “Why don’t you tell everyone a little about yourself?”
“Hel-lo,” I dew out the word in an attempt to come up with something to say. “I’m from the Philippines and my favorite color is purple.” What the two things had in common at the time was beyond me. I just needed to say something so I did.
Like the start of an AA meeting, they greeted me, “Hi, Janine.”
“Why don’t you take a seat over there?” Mrs. Drives motioned to an empty seat on the right side of the square.
I don’t remember who the other person I sat beside was but to my left was Natalie. As she smiled at me, with blue braces on her teeth, little did I know that we would end up being some of the best of friends. Her hair was blond, a kind of dirty kind of golden blond. She had it up in a ponytail because what girl didn’t. I didn’t mind her glasses. I always thought glasses looked amazing but naturally she disagreed having worn them most of her life.
We were thick as thieves through the morning. Anytime there was an activity requiring partners she was my right hand girl. She was incredibly patient with me when I asked questions about how things worked in American schools. Especially with cursive. Those cursed loops and squiggles that I had never seen before in my life suddenly made themselves center stage. Natalie let me watch how she delicately wrote her name as I struggled to catch on quick.
“You’ll need to learn this for Middle School,” Mrs. Drives said. “If you don’t write your papers in cursive, they’ll just throw them out.”
A lie, I later found out, just to get us to learn our curly-cues. Along with teachers ripping your papers for misspellings and tearing up math tests and quizzes for using a calculator. I was not looking forward to Middle School. The teachers sounded incredibly violent.
Suffering from a little culture shock it was time for lunch. Again, Natalie showed me the rope, leading the new girl in the line to the lunch room. She pointed to a woman sitting in front of a computer just before the lunch window.
“You see her?” Natalie whispered. I nodded. “That’s Pam. Just stay away from her. She’s super mean.” Might I add that this was the time where everyone put super in front of everything.
I took another look. Pam didn’t seem so bad. Sure, she was a little on the heavy side and her hair looked like a red bowl and curled at the end but she didn’t seem so horrible. She smiled as the kids walked by and marked their names on her screen with her glasses perched on her nose. I would say she was in her mid-forties. Her clothing style showed her age. I think she wore a salmon blouse with a white scarf, one of those decorative ones, and a white pair of jeans or capris. All in all, she looked like a harmless lunch lady.
I got my food and followed Natalie to one of the available tables. They were the large folding kind that had a gap halfway through the table. I remember thinking that it was strange. We had regular tables in my other school. Tables that didn’t feel like they were going to suddenly collapse sending you sliding to one end.
Natalie and I were able to get to know each other better and some of the other students in my class. I remember Cooper. He was a brown haired know-it-all and there was Jessica, another black girl that said I “spoke perfect English”. I had no idea what that meant. How else was I supposed to speak English if not perfectly? If people who speak English can understand you, isn’t that already ‘perfect English’?
Anyway, as lunch ended Pam got onto the microphone to make a few announcement. I have no clue what they were because they didn’t involve me. All I knew was that recess was around the corner and I could further my socializing with my new found friends.
As she finished and started to excuse various tables, I turned to my friend Natalie. I wanted to ask where the playground was and what we were going to do when she brought a finger up to her lips. The universal sign for ‘shut up’.
Three letters and the harpy descended from the sky to carry off its prey. Pam appeared out of nowhere, her innocent appearance gone. The scowl on her face looked as if it were etched in stone. Her left hand was propped on her hip and her right finger pointed at me.
“You! No talking! Under the blue window!”
I followed her gaze. Across the lunchroom was the lunch window, a blue frame surrounded it. Naturally, I assumed this was the blue window she was referring too. I looked back at her hopping to plead my case. It was my first day. I didn’t know the rules. Who had ever heard about not talking while being dismissed to recess? It was a foreign concept. I wanted to explain that back at home, recess and lunch were one thing. That you had forty-five minutes and you left the lunchroom whenever you were finished eating and went outside. I didn’t get a word edgewise before she pointed again.
“I don’t want to hear it! Go!”
Reluctantly, I got up and made my way across the cafeteria. I sat there as table after table, including my new friends, walked passed me. Tears flowed down my face, the heat of embarrassment only made it worse. I can still see their eyes looking at me and to this day I can’t stand being the center of attention. I wanted to go home, disappear and fade into the background. Never again did I want to put that much of myself out for people to see.
Since then, I don’t think I’ve ever been the same outgoing person I once was.
This is just a memory I wrote and felt like I needed to write. It was also an assignment in class but it was also a great to be able to write this down. Still hate–no–strongly dislike this woman. I’ve seen her a few times since and had to contain myself from punching her in the face. Still love Mrs. Drives though. Hope she’s doing well. Anyway, hope you have a good day!
Enjoyed the happy parts of this story just as much the second time around. And felt so pained for you just as much this time as last! I’m praying that God will continue the healing process in your heart. (I know from my own experience that sometimes the healing takes a very long time, but know this: God is always faithful! Sometimes complete healing needs to be slow for the healing to be the most effective.)