I was excited for fourth grade. I had been assigned the teacher I wanted, Mrs. Domaracki. I had new school clothes. I had all my school supplies in order—folders for math and reading and science and social studies and spelling. Some had covers with graded coloring going from almost white on top to a deep fuchsia pink on the bottom. Others were black with hot pink and yellow squiggles scattered about. They were all packed in my backpack, ready for the new school year. There was only one thing left to do.
The day before school started, Mom and I walked the few blocks to Smallwood Elementary. I dawdled as we walked through the narrow field speckled with trees and then onto the bright white redone sidewalk that meant we were close to school. We didn’t get to stop at the magical playground and its wooden towers and tunnels, castles with creaky wooden bridges between them. We went straight into the school and up the stairs and into the hallway for fourth grade. Mrs. Domaracki, with her short blond hair that frizzed out a bit at the sides, was attaching construction paper letters to a bulletin board outside her classroom. I tucked myself behind Mom, wishing that by dragging behind her, I could hold her back too.
“Stop that,” Mom hissed.
Mrs. Domaracki looked up. “You must be Maureen,’ she said, stepping towards us and shaking my mom’s hand. I still stood a bit behind her but not completely, outside the penumbra of her shadow. My mom had made the appointment, and she grabbed my arm, her nails long, urging me forward.
“Hello Emilia,” Mrs. Domaracki said in a friendly voice. I stepped up and said hi.
“My daughter is legally blind, “ Mom told Mrs. Domaracki. She nodded. It was obvious they had already talked about this. Even though she was too far away—as everyone always is—for me to see her eyes, I could feel her looking at me, seeing my eyes, which everyone said moved all the time even though I didn’t feel like they did. Mom rushed on, “She uses a monocular sometimes, a handheld black telescope thing to see the board. And she uses large print or regular print books.”
“I just hold the books real close,” I said, hoping to be helpful.
Mrs. Domaracki nodded again.
“And,” Mom said, turning to me, “Emilia has something else to tell you.” She looked at me and I looked at her. We had argued about this all summer, and Mom had told me that I needed to tell Mrs. Domaracki about this, but did she really want me to say it? They both were looking at me. I could feel it.
I shuffled my feet, looked down at my new, perfectly white back-to-school sneakers. “I…ummm…”
“Tell her,” Mom said, her voice hard, clearly annoyed at my hesitance.
I didn’t want to say it, didn’t know if it was true. I wanted to run. To the playground where I could hide in a tower or burrow into a tunnel, or to the park where I could lay in the grass, climb a tree. But as often as I’d walked to and from school, and to the playground, I didn’t know if I really knew the way. I didn’t trust my eyes.
Mom sighed in my direction, angry, maybe approaching the shrill of death if she spoke. So I did instead. I said it. “Sometimes I pretend not to see things?” I said. “I try to, umm, get people to do things for me and stuff.”
Mom sighed again. “What she’s saying is she uses her visual impairment in order to get away with things. Right Emilia?”
“Yeah,” I said, then corrected myself in time. “Yes.”
Mom went on, “It’s been an issue at home. She tries to get away with doing a bad job on her chores, or not doing them at all. And she’s done it in school too.”
Mrs. Domaracki was still looking at me. I felt like a dot. I wanted to be a dot. My new shoes were way too white. “Well,” she said, her voice different now too, no longer as cheerful and friendly. “We will make sure that it’s not an issue in my class.”
“Good,” Mom said. “That’s why we wanted to tell you up front, so you can help Emilia work on this.”
“I’ll certainly do that,” Mrs. Domaracki said. “And we won’t have any problems, will we?”
“No,” I said, not looking down. I can never really make eye contact but now it was purposeful.
“Then fourth grade will be a great year.” Mrs. Domaracki went back to the construction paper letters and the bulletin board.
As we walked back through the park, Mom rattled off how good it was for me that Mrs. Domaracki knew my bad habits up front. If Mom said it enough times, did that make it true? I still couldn’t figure it out. If I couldn’t see the dirt I swept up and Mom thought my sweeping was a bad job did it mean I was using my bad eyesight to get away with things? What about when I half-assed chores on purpose because I wanted to watch Batman or play with my best friend Maya or my favorite doll Jenny or read a million books, then what? Sometimes it was on purpose, like for real. I’d told Mrs. Domaracki “the truth about me” because Mom made me but I didn’t know what was the real truth.
“I think this’ll be a fresh start,” Mom went on. “And you could make more effort to make friends this year.”
“Sure,” I said, unsure, as we turned onto our street. “A fresh start,” I said, taking a cue from the hope in her voice. “Maybe I can be really good this year.”
“That would be great,” Mom said. And her hope was infectious.
So this is an excerpt from a chapter from a project I’m working on called Eclipses of Jupiter. It’s in its infancy still, but it’s about growing up with albinism and being legally blind in my crazy family, and all the school and social implications. It’ll also focus on blind camp and related programs when I get into teenage years. This chapter, which will be broken up into installments and posted over the next few weeks, is all about fourth grade, which was a bit of an epic school year.
Check out the Samples Page, as well as Published and Early Work, to read more of my writing!
Next segment of this piece: Instrument Analysis
Bullying you into putting her words about you into your own mouth — how awful!
Yeah not fun. I think she really thought she was helping somehow. Probably didn’t know what to do with me. As you’ll see in later installments, I was a bit of a trouble child.
It sounds like an interesting book. I always enjoy reading your story posts. They’re very well written :) Elementary school can be a brutal place.
Thanks so much for reading, and for your words, Mia! Elementary school definitely can be brutal, in a few different ways. Sometimes I’m just so glad I’m an adult.
It reminds me of when David Copperfield’s stepdad forced him to wear the sign to school that said “Mind him — he bites.”
Oh wow Kevin, I never read David Copperfield but I can definitely see the parallel. I should probably read it one of these days. I think I read a LOT but I always feel so lacking in the classics.
I enjoyed David Copperfield in large part for all the inadvertent double entendres. Like, there’s a major character named Mr. Dick. And at one point somebody’s elderly mother (speaking of playing bridge) says, “Why, you could put me in a room with ten men and a rubber and I should never want to come out.”
This story makes me want to know what happens next, in fourth grade and beyond.
Awesome! That’s great to hear. There’s lots more to come. In fact, I’ll be posting more tidbits from this rough draft of the fourth grade chapter over the next several weeks.
Makes me want to meet you AND your 4th grade self! you are Amazing, Emilia!