Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Nine.
I was eight when I tasted my first bagel with cream cheese. Linda Hoffman brought one to my third grade classroom, and she tore off a small piece at snack-recess and let me try it. We were leaning against the metal bars on which we would fling ourselves forward and backward, tumbling in dizzying summersaults, until our hands and knees were raw and blistered, and I popped the chewy, creamy bite in my mouth. It’s been decades now, and that bite was still one of the best things I have ever eaten.
My teacher was Mrs. Hessenflow, and I still occasionally catch a faint wisp of the perfume she wore when I pass an older woman in a department store. When I was eight, she seemed to be about eighty. But she was kind and gentle, and she had patience with me and my wiggly, pencil-chewing self.
I had my first crush, and it was a monster crush, sitting in her classroom. His name was Erik, and he had blond hair and bright, rosy cheeks. He would make my own cheeks flush and I had no idea what to do with those feelings, so I would run away from him. Then I would sit in class, chewing again on my gnawed pencil, brushing the flakes of Ticonderoga yellow from desk, and wondering why my sneakers were never as white as Renee Steinberg’s shoes. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t keep my shoes white, or even tied. I didn’t know having white shoes should matter, but it somehow made me feel deficient, and I coveted having clean sneakers. Then I would go outside again, and forget that I wanted white shoes, and would jump over puddles, run from boys who gave me the oddest sensation in my tummy, and climb trees on the edges of the playground. They let us do that back them- climb trees, play in the dirt— we even had a wood cart with hammers and nails and scraps of wood we were free to play with. The wood cart always had a crowd of children around it. No one at the wood cart had clean shoes, either.
The whistle would blow, and I would drop from the metal bars to examine the new, broken open blisters dotting my palms, and run towards the drinking fountains, where the tepid California water would sting the raw skin and the smell of metal wouldn’t go away. Sweaty and disheveled, I’d bounce towards the line outside my classroom, my orange dress disheveled and my shoes untied, once again. So much for appearances.