The smell of coffee drifts down the hallway to the back of the house, into my bedroom. It is a familiar smell and signals that morning is nigh. I burrow beneath the warmth of my covers, not wanting to get up. It is a cold, wet winter in Louisiana. Daddy’s alarm went off some minutes ago. What dreadful song woke me this morning? Sneaky Snake goes dancing wiggling and a-hissing…Ahh. That stupid Sneaky Snake song. Oh, how I hate that song and KRMD country radio. Daddy likes waking up to music rather than beeping. In the distance, the rev of B-52s pierces the air. Now that is a more tolerable sound. Barksdale Air Force base is just miles from our home, right down Barksdale Boulevard. Sometimes the engines sound like a loud crack, whipping across the sky, but mostly, it’s like a slow, steady growl. Daddy once flew B-52s. That was before the aneurysm. There are big pictures of them framed and hanging down our hallway. He was a pilot in the Air Force. I don’t know much about that, except I like looking at the giant missile that greets you as you enter the air base and shopping with Mom at the BX. Occasionally, the echoing horn of a train passes through the morning. These are the sounds I’ve grown accustomed to.
Mom peeks into my bedroom, dressed and ready for work. “Time to get up,” she chimes. This occurs a few more times until I begrudgingly slide out of bed. I dread school. At least this morning, a neighbor will drive me and her daughter to Sun City Elementary, and I won’t have to walk. I hate walking to school in the cold. Occasionally, my parents remind me how easy I have it because, apparently, they walked 20 miles to school everyday in the ice and snow. Humph.
I crunch on Frosty Flakes for breakfast. Sometimes when Daddy is getting me ready for school, he lets me eat ice cream. When it comes time to leave, Mom zips up my bulky, winter jacket. Her breath smells like cigarettes and coffee, but I hold perfectly still as she ties the strings of my winter beanie tightly beneath my chin. I feel like a rollie pollie. I’m sure I look like one, too. Finally, I put on my woolly mittens and trudge down the street to our neighbor’s. The cold air tears at my face, and I watch the misty vapor of my breath curl slowly upward.
The neighbor’s home is warm. I sit on the couch in the dimly lit living room as the family flurries about. I feel tired and eek out a yawn. The Frosty Flakes are starting to sour in my tummy. I wish I could just stay home. Finally, we pile into the neighbor’s car. Sun City Elementary is just a few blocks away. It is a small, pinkish-red brick building with a big playground right next to Parkway High School. An American flag is hoisted up a tall metal pole and waves in the wind. Upon entering the building, it is hard not to miss Mr. Varnell’s big, wooden paddle displayed on the wall for all to see, just beyond the glass panes of the front office window. Mr. Varnell is the school principal. He always wears a tie.
I walk to home room in Ms. Dent’s class. My stomach doesn’t feel good. I feel as though I might get sick. Fear presses down on me, and I ask Ms. Dent if she can have the office call my mom to come get me. She looks at me, brows furrowed. She is very pretty, but her eyes say “not again.” She wonders if I’m faking it. “Go back to your seat, and let’s see if you feel better in a little while.” She pushes me gently towards my desk. I comply, but feel my stomach turn flips, and my head is spinning. I sit at my desk, my eyes filling with tears. I do my best to hide them.
It’s time to change classes. I guess Mom will not be coming to get me today. I feel heavy and invisible at the same time. I walk to Mrs. Earp’s Math class. There is nothing more I hate about school than math class besides feeling like I’m different from everyone else. Learning five’s and ten’s using those stupid popsicle sticks never makes any sense, and equations are confusing, far beyond my understanding. Mrs. Earp’s marker squeaks across the screen of the overhead projector as she draws numbers and symbols. The sound always fills me with anxiety. I drift in and out, afraid to raise my hand to ask Mrs. Earp to explain the equations. I cannot wait for class to be over.
Down the hall to Language Arts. I like reading and writing and very quickly learn that I excel at similes and metaphors. After finishing my handwriting assignment, I ask my teacher to work on similes and metaphors for extra credit. There is a table set off in the front of the classroom. Atop it is a box filled with cardboard activity cards. I pull one out and start working. “My dog is as smelly as dirty socks.” Simile. Completing these activities is like a game, and I always score perfectly. I don’t see many other kids ask to work on similes and metaphors.
It is now time for Music class. I wish that Music class met everyday. Ms. McConnell, the music teacher, is nice to me, but she sure does get mad at students who misbehave. What a lovely singing voice she has. “Sing, sing a song. Sing out loud, sing out strong...” We all sing in unison with Ms. McConnell as she strums her guitar. Singing is the only time I raise my voice voluntarily in class. In Reading earlier in the day, I stumbled while reading out loud, “Run, Jane…r-r-r-u-n. S-e-e-e J-a-ne r-r-un.” I felt embarrassed. I know that I can read perfectly fine. My teacher did not utter a word when I was done. She called on Tony and praised him for reading with such inflection. Why can’t I get it right? I am different. I am not as smart. I am the quiet one who gets sick to her stomach everyday. I am a ghost existing in world when no one understands me.
At the end of the school day, I walk home, rather unhappily and numb. It is still cold, but slightly warmer than the chilly morning. The sky is a stormy gray, but the sidewalks are dry now. I walk straight home, anticipating a cozy fire to warm up to. Mom is home, still dressed in her white nursing uniform. I am home at last, unbothered by people, sights and sounds. Mom makes me a Natchitoches meat pie before I start in on homework. The smell of hot oil and fried things makes my tummy growl. I am happy to be home. I sit quietly at the table, relishing my savory meat pie. It is the best thing that has happened all day.