But as challenges go, it was relatively okay for the first chapter. A lot of work, yes. Lots of stitching together, inserting, deleting, writing new material, actually getting clearer on memories of the time that I’d forgotten and writing those in, shifting focus, bringing in more background. It took a lot of time and energy but it was fairly pleasant.
Then I got to Chapter Two, and that was more like…well, a clusterfuck.
One night in early September, there’s a crab feast in the cafeteria for dinner. Everyone’s so excited, especially the students from Maryland. I’ve never had crab before. John, sitting next to me, demonstrates for all of us. He whacks his crab a few times with a mallot, and then pulls the crab apart. I watch closely but can’t see how he knows what’s the meat and what’s pieces of bone or innards. It looks like brain surgery.
This is another installment of a rough draft of a memoir chapter that covers fourth grade. This is final episode, I mean installment for this chapter (which is way too long and needs some epic editing sessions). This story comes to a close.
Late in the school year we took another musical instrument test. I didn’t even look at my grade, just filed the paper deep in one of my black folders with the neon pink and yellow squiggles. The folder was so full now that it was starting to tear at the crease. Mom would have to look through a lot of dittos to find it. I would find this folder years later in the basement of our new house in New Jersey. I’d gotten a D. Mom had never found it, or never said anything.
In the last week of class, we had a lot of fire drills, to meet some regulation. One time, Matt Peer was behind me in line as the class filed in and used the water fountain on our way back inside. Matt Peer, my 107 true love. I drank some water then swirled away in what I imagined was a supremely flirty move.
A girl named Holly invited me to a sleepover. She had come over my house a few times before. It was a household dinner table joke that she’d once asked my mom if she could use the bathroom. As a joke, because the question was so silly, my mom had said no.
At Holly’s there was a punching bag in her big living room. I beat the shit out of it. All of the girls stayed in Holly’s room. We did girl things like tell the boys we liked. Matt Peer, I confessed. He was quiet, mysterious, and seemed nice. A few of the girls were doing some complex algorithms with names. “You guys are a 107!” One of them shrieked. “Oh my god, you guys are like true love!” I was so excited I couldn’t sleep.
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.
On my birthday, I was reading a book at the lunch table. I think it was The Long Secret, the sequel to Harriet The Spy. I was sitting by myself. My mom had let me buy lunch in the cafeteria for my birthday. I ate some chicken nuggets and tater tots and a pack of saltines that were supposed to be for people who got soup but the lunch lady gave them to anyone. I unwrapped them and started nibbling while I turned the page, devouring the words faster than my food. When lunch was over, I was almost at the end of a chapter and I kept reading, finally closing the book and running to catch up to my class.
“Emilia,” Mrs. Domaracki’s voice. I stopped and turned around. “Were you just going to leave this here?”
I couldn’t see what she meant from this far away so I went back to the table. It was the clear plastic wrapper for the soup Saltines. “I’m sorry,” I said, closing the plastic in my fist. “I didn’t see it.”
Early that winter, I went on my first overnight Girl Scout camping trip. My mom was working more at the newspaper, so for once, she wasn’t one of the troop leaders. We arrived at a big cabin called Hammond House. The walls were the color of wood and little cots lined the walls. The cabin was a long rectangle. One of the girls had recently learned the “Light as a Feather” game and we played it incessantly. One girl would lie in the middle and we would all surround her, purring two fingers from each hand under her. The person at the head gave a fake eulogy and then we all intoned, “Dead as a doornail, stiff as a board, light as a feather” over and over slowly lifting the scout in the middle up off the floor and up, up, over our heads. There were a lot of us, girls and girls and girls lifting, and it felt magic. We even did it on our troop leaders. I only got to be in the middle once.
To start this piece from the beginning, click here.
And at first, I tried to be good. All my dittos from class were filled out and filed neatly in my folders. I swept the floor even though I couldn’t see the dirt, going around the kitchen systematically until a dark pile formed in the epicenter. I scrubbed the bathroom sink and only complained silently to my favorite doll Jenny and my Care Bears in my room. I went to the Centerstream after school program with my seven-year-old brother Randy and didn’t cause any trouble.
One day early in the school year, my music class had a test. It wasn’t a real test, our teacher assured us. She just wanted to see what we already knew coming in. Up front she had about twenty-five big glossy photos of instruments lined up side by side, all seated in that little tray that’s supposed to hold chalk and erasers, and leaning back against the blackboard. The teacher told us to get out a piece of paper and number it one to twenty-six. Next to each number, we were supposed to write the name of the instrument in the matching picture.
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.
On the Sunday that marked the midway point of the camp session, the routine changed. We got to sleep in an extra hour, and after breakfast, we had Sunday Morning Program. Phil opened the program with a new song, a slower song than the whale song or “Great Balls of Fire” or the aorta song.
“Welcome to my morning
Welcome to my day
I’m the one responsible
I made it just this way
I made myself some pictures
To see what they might bring
I think I made it perfectly
I wouldn’t change a thing