I was having dinner last night with the Lovely Louise and my cousin, Chris. We were discussing this very blog when my cousin said to me that I would never be a real writer until I could write honestly about my inner self, both good things and bad. I sort of laughed and said “Oh yeah? Like what?” All she said was one word, “slippers,” and with a jolt, I was back in first grade in Saddle River, New Jersey.
Life's most traumatic moments are not always monumental events. Sometimes, it's a very small thing that can affect you for the rest of your life. The type of thing that most people would just laugh at and then move on. I can't do that.
We just moved to Saddle River, NJ and today is my first day of school. I'm in the first grade and it's a completely new experience. I don't know anyone or even where the school is. I'm five years old and I can get dressed by myself. Blue jeans, my new shirt, socks . . . wait . . . where are my shoes? Anxiously, I search my room. My shoes are nowhere to be found. All I can find for my feet are my fuzzy animal slippers. No choice. I put on my slippers and head downstairs for breakfast.
“Mom, I can't find my shoes”.
“Let me look while you eat your breakfast. we're late”.
Surrounded by boxes that had yet to be unpacked, I pour a bowl of Cheerios and spill the milk trying to pour it in the bowl. My mother doesn't notice, she’s looking for my shoes. I eat my breakfast but I'm worried about my shoes. Finally, I finish my cereal and tell her I'm done.
“Okay, let's get in the car”.
“I can't mom, I don't have any shoes. We have to find my shoes.”
“I’m sorry, honey, they must still be in a box somewhere. You'll just have to wear your slippers. Now get in the car.”
I grab my lunchbox and head to the family station wagon. I don't feel good about this. This is wrong and I'm scared. I can't go to school in my slippers but I'm already in the car. I'm trapped. I don't want to go to school because everyone will make fun of me in my stupid slippers. I don't even like my slippers. In fact, I hate my slippers.
Arriving at the Saddle River Elementary School, my mom stops the car, gives me a kiss and tells me she'll pick me up after school. I stand in the driveway and watch the station wagon pull away. I'm on my own. If I knew how to get home, I'd go but I don't know where I am. Other kids are arriving and I watch them. They all have shoes, not a single kid in slippers – except me. Please, oh please, let there be just one other kid who can't find his shoes. No such luck.
As I walk up to the entry doors I notice there are two large swinging doors that form the main entrance. One of them is propped open and there is just enough room to slip behind it and hide. Maybe I can stay there all day and no one will see that I don't have any shoes on.
As I scoot down in my hiding spot, I place the lunchbox in front of my slippers so no one can see them. I don't know how long I hide there but eventually a teach discovers me trying to remove myself from the world. She asks my name and I tell her.
“Come along then, let's find your room”.
“I can't, I don't have any shoes on.”
“Never mind that, we have to get you to class.”
She figures out which class I'm in and leads me by the hand to my new room. I try to walk as slowly as possible because I don't want anyone to see me. Even though there's no one in the corridor, I can feel people staring at my feet.
Class has already started as I'm led in and introduced to my teacher, Mrs. Lily. Standing at her desk while she completes her paperwork, I can hear the giggles starting behind me. I stare at my fuzzy animal slippers and the giggling grows in volume until it seems to be roaring in my ears. My new teacher is speaking to me but I can't hear her. Glancing over my shoulder I see kids pointing at my feet and laughing. I have nowhere to go, there is no escape.
Mrs. Lily shows me to my new desk but I don't care. I can't even look up. I just stare down at my desk and I'm afraid. I really, really don’t want to be here. I want my mom to come get me but she's not here and I know she's not coming. Maybe if I don't say anything and don't look at anyone they'll stop staring at me. I glance up. All of the kids are staring at me and snickering. Don't look at them, just don't look at them. But I can’t help myself. As I glance up, there’s one kid who isn’t laughing. It’s a girl and she’s just staring at me. Not my feet, but directly at me. I don’t know this pony tailed girl who is staring at me but I look in her eyes and hold them for just a moment. She doesn’t nod or smile or actually do anything, but I can tell she knows what I'm feeling. Later, I find out that her name is Rebecca.
I sit here silently staring at my desk until 11:30 when it's time for lunch. All of the kids head to the lunchroom but I can't move. There are even more kids in the lunchroom and I can't let them see me. Mrs. Lily seems to understand and she lets me sit there and each my lunch without having to move. I can’t taste a thing because I know that, at some point, they’re all going to come back.
The other kids are all back from lunch now. I still can't look up but class is moving on and I'm being ignored. That's fine with me, I don't want to be here anyway. For the rest of the afternoon, I barely move.
Finally, the bell rings to end the day and I rush out of the school. My mom is there waiting and I run to the car. When I get in she asks me how my first day went. I don't answer, I just stare at the floor. She continues to question me but I refuse to say anything.
Life's most traumatic moments are not always monumental events.
Even now, almost sixty years later, my heart is beating faster in my chest and I'm starting to get choked up as I finish typing this. I'm not sure I want to be a writer anymore.
And that was the first brick in my own personal wall.