Tears of a Grounded Bird

I can still smell that classroom…

RemembeRED

For this week’s RemembeRED prompt, we’re asking you to remember kindergarten. If, after thinking about it for a while, you can’t recall anything, move on to first grade.

Mine your memories and write about the earliest grade you can recall. What was special? What was ordinary? What did you feel? Hear? See? Smell?

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Tears of a Grounded Bird

I was weightless.

The wind blew hair into my face as the plastic swing cradled me – precarious and safe all at once, it was the vehicle that could take me into the sky. Maybe even to the sun. I was sure if I let go, I’d fly away, soaring over the curly, yellow playground slide, over the cinderblock building, over the trees tall as giants.

The other children ran around me, but they were little more than background noise. I wasn’t like them – boring people. I didn’t belong on the ground. I was a bird.

And like a bird, I sang as I flew, with all the enthusiasm of a five-year-old who hadn’t yet let learned about inhibition or shame. At the top of my lungs, I sang out lyrics that told stories too old for my little lips.

They will bury me where you have wandered
Near the hills where the daffodils grow
When you’re gone from the Red River Valley
For I can’t live without you I know

In childhood’s happy ignorance, I sang only because I could. Because when I soared on my swing, I was free.

Until that day.

The teachers sat in a line on the wooden bench in front of the swings. There was the sweet first grade teacher, who rescued me from naptime each day, when I would leave my kindergarten class in the mildew-scented basement room to take advanced reading and math. Beside her, the assistants, and beside them… that’s where she sat.

My teacher, with her blonde hair pulled into a severe ponytail, had none of the sunshine that a kindergarten teacher should. She wielded her power with a little too much joy, denying unscheduled visits to the bathroom and making Tristan cry when she wouldn’t let him bring his stuffed dog outside. Because big boys don’t need stuffed animals, she told him.

I didn’t like her. Not since she told me I’d painted my leaves wrong in art. Of course they were all clumped together at the bottom of the page. They were in piles. Didn’t she know that’s what happened to leaves in the fall, after granddaddy raked them up? Didn’t somebody put the leaves into piles at her house? I knew I hadn’t painted them wrong.

No, I didn’t like her. Not one little bit. But at recess, I knew she wasn’t there for me. She and the other teachers were there for the bad kids. For the ones who tackled each other and got into fights. For scraped knees and bruises and that time that Jessica threw up. When I was swinging, she couldn’t touch me.

“Katie!”

Her voice, calling my name, stopped me mid-song. My name? I hadn’t done anything. I dragged my feet on the ground, kicking up a cloud of white-brown swingset sand, my untied shoes drawing lines in the dirt.

I looked at her, defiant and wary.

“Yes ma’am?” I asked, because daddy told me I always had to say yes ma’am to my teacher.

“Could you give it a rest?” She said.

I didn’t understand. A rest?

“What?”

“Could you stop singing?”

“Oh.” I looked down, hot tears already filling my eyes. “Yes ma’am.”

I left my swing there – my magical vehicle to the sky still swaying back and forth – and became one of the ground people. Running as hard as I could, I dove into the shaded gravel under the curvy yellow slide, where I could cry the tears of a grounded bird until the playground whistle blew.

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Circa 1995

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Thanks for reading! Concrit welcome and appreciated!

*Bobs (Formerly known as Katie. Before she got old enough to start using her first name.)