I have a fairly good memory, as far as I can tell.
When I was 5, I spoke Mandarin. The little English I knew was from television and phrases my parents taught me. I was emotionally attached to my mom, and I followed her around everywhere. Dad worked. Mom helped me prepare for school with important English words and phrases to remember. She began early, and when the start date drew near, she gave me lots of praise. She could tell I was nervous. I struggled with figuring out how to be comfortable around other kids, and I was scared of most adults.
“It’s only a half day, okay?”
“Will you try not to cry? Do you think you will cry tomorrow?”
“Will you try not to cry?”
In the morning, I felt sick, probably anxious, but I don’t know. We went outside, and I stood on the grass by the curb. I don’t remember that part, but there’s a photo of me standing there. Mom had me go out early so she could take pictures.
“Aiyah, you look like you’re choking, unbutton your top button.”
I shook my head, “I like it.”
This always buttoning the top button and my pulled up tube socks to the knees were fashion preferences that did me no social favors. For some reason I stuck with my guns on those issues. I wonder if I had actually tried being more friendly at school whether life would have been easier. Oh well, fuck it, who likes the feeling of all that crumpled sock around the ankle anyway.
Mom went back into the house and before the screen door finished shutting, she came out with a pair of scissors and piece of paper. She went into her flower garden and fussed over which of the marigolds would be the best before cutting a small bouquet’s worth. She snapped a rubber band that had been around her wrist around the red and orange marigolds and slipped the paper note inside.
“When you see your teacher, remember… ‘Good morning… Good…’,”
“Good morning Mrs. Robbins.”
I said, staring at my mom’s face.
She smiled back the whole time. Putting the small bouquet in my hand, she said,
“Good, and give Mrs. Robbins this, okay? Okay?”
I nodded. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to think about the note. I’m guessing mom was letting her know that my English wasn’t very good. I was staring at the flowers instead.
“Are you going to be guay [obedient/well behaved]?”
“You will ting hua [follow instructions? Literally “hear words”]?
“Your teacher is an important person, okay?” She smiles at me.
I nodded and smiled back. I already knew she was important. My dad only got flowers for my mom once, and here she was giving flowers to my teacher from the start. Of course, she’s important. By the time the bus came around, she must have been beaming. She transformed her little nervous wreck of a boy and prepared him for months, and he’s all ready.
I don’t really recall the bus ride, but I do remember standing on the blacktop walkways that went out to expansion trailer classrooms that were probably just “a temporary fix” at some point…. years ago. The teachers were occupied making sure everyone was accounted for before heading back to the classrooms.
There were other kids nearby. I remember wanting to try out “Hi, I’m —-,” but the whole thing just sounded funny to my ears and I got embarrassed right away, so I just looked around quietly. One girl said hi to me, and I stared at her with huge eyes and smiled as big as I could. No words came to mind, so I just kept smiling at her. She looked around, confused, and turned away. I tried to remember any English words, and I kept drawing blanks. Uh oh. This is not going well at all.
(Part one is done, but Part two is due!)