The room was bright. Coming back from summer was beginning to be a real pain, but the room was inviting, the smell was familiar, calm and quiet. I found my way to my seat, the formality and routine of assigned seats was comforting. I felt good being arranged and surrounded in one little part of the classroom. Focused on one specific area, the surroundings were always familiar; it felt safe.
Gradually the other seats began to fill. As each student returned, the classroom felt more complete. It was a small tight-knit group, we had known each other for years. It was as if a secret knock was required to enter this classroom, and they all knew it. They knew the customs and traditions that we had formed over the previous 5 years. This camaraderie created a sense of acceptance in each of the students returning from break; however, it was also the knife of alienation that threatened a quiet new girl who burst through the locked door of our secret society and sat tentatively across from me.
There she sat, no one really acknowledged it, but she definitely existed. Checking to make sure she had plenty of school supplies, she buried herself in her bag. Just one seat away, forward and then to the left. She was fascinating and distracting, as the teacher introduced the intricacies of her particular classroom my eyes were always drawn back to this strange decoration. Small and intricate, this ornament forward and to the left just did not fit in with the design of the room.
Chemistry and algebra, research and history, sixth grade made a big shift from the basics of past years. The days of learning fundamentals were over, sixth grade was about more complicated topics. There were a few things that remained constant though; dirt and grass, the smells and textures of the soccer field would always be the same. It was a battlefield and a playground all in one. Chatting on the periphery, or battling for the ball in the heat of the action, soccer was the supreme expression of elementary school athletics.
I passed the ball forward and retreated back to the goalie box. A complex penalty ritual began in the opposing goal box as the other defender turned to me, “so that girl Paige seems nice.” I kept my eyes on the ceremony, “oh yeah, she sits across from me.” We scored, “I kind of like her” responded the right defender.
The ball entered my field of vision and I locked on immediately. Seconds later I was contemplating the grass at eye level. I rose from my unsuccessful slide tackle and raced to join my classmates meandering back towards the classroom, I hadn’t heard the whistle blow.
Days passed and the year quickly drew to a close. The sixth grade curriculum had many large projects, none of which I was adequately prepared for. Due dates came more quickly than I expected and my academic success was fairly poor. My timid interests in “the new girl” were also misguided and ineffective. I read for hours every day, I laughed and smiled more than in any subsequent school year; I was ashamed and engrossed in my failures of the time.
Looking back it is easy to see that my sixth grade self was merely lacking in foresight and perspective. I didn’t analyze my small victories, but they existed in such a multitude that I struggle now to see how my young self could have missed them.