When I was six and a half years old, I woke up at 7:15 on a hot, humid August morning. That might have been almost twelve years ago, but I know it was hot and humid because every August day down South is hot and humid. As I was the only one of the kids Mama had to wake up, she didn’t employee her favorite tactic (blasting Jump by Van Halen as loud as the speakers would go). Instead, I was quietly and kindly awoken by a sudden blinding light as the lamps were turned on and the blinds thrown open. The smells of pancakes, coffee, and grits and eggs wafted through the open doorway, and she couldn’t have forced me to stay in my little twin sized bed any longer if she’d wanted to. Even now, food and Van Halen are two of the very few things that will get me out of bed quickly, but as Beau and Mama rarely stumble out of bed before 10, I’m left to my own devices. None of which include food or Van Halen, unfortunately. I’m 18 years old and not allowed to use the kitchen unless I’m being supervised, but that’s another story entirely.
Anyways, as I was saying: 7:15 AM, hot and humid morning, pancakes. Daddy, Mama, and I ate breakfast together that morning, which was totally exciting. I’m the oldest of three kids (6, if you count the four-legged babies), and finding time to spend with just Mama and Daddy can be a challenge. But that morning was all about me, because it was the first day of elementary school.
Other than a brief, disastrous run at Pre-K (once again, another story), I had no formal schooling before that day. Mama liked us at home where she could keep her hands on us at all times-or at least try to-and make sure we weren’t participating in any activities that would turn our brains into “marshmallows.” I basically spent the first six and a half years of my life without ever leaving Mama’s side, which was alright with me. My Mama was my best friend. She still is. So not only was that first day exciting, it was nerve-wracking. I didn’t know how to make friends. I didn’t do well with socializing, either. Ever since I’d mistakenly told some kid at the Burger King playground my middle name was Humdinger, making new friends had lost its appeal. And I only got to eat once the entire time I was at school? I don’t know about you, but this girl did not do well without a snack after breakfast, before lunch, while I was coloring, after I got done coloring, after I pretended to take a nap, and complimentary hors d'oeuvres. A post meal snack was sometimes in order, depending on how I felt.
Let’s just say it was usually in order. And I was an, erm, pleasantly plump kid.
After making sure Mama packed my lunch just like I wanted it, I followed her into my bedroom. We’d spent hours the day before picking out my outfit, and, my goodness, it was perfect. I looked like I’d walked straight off the elementary school runway when I was finished. It was a fabulous outfit, from the white patent leather Mary Jane’s to the big chiffon bow in my hair. It was what would forever be known as The Pink Bunny Outfit.
This divine look du jour consisted of a crocheted skort and vest in the delicate, palest shade of Pepto-Bismal pink ever made. The yarn was woven from cotton candy sheep and embroidered with a family of white bunnies with blue eyes and a basket of Easter eggs in hand. There were flowers, too. And just when it couldn’t get any better, there was a matching white shirt AND purse! I was prepared to be the Queen of the 1st Grade. I couldn’t wear a crown between the bow and my curled, teased, hairsprayed 80’s-esque bangs, but, you know, you can’t have everything. But I was pretty darn close, standing on the cusp of greatness and glory and bunnies.
I was finally ready to go to this new world called elementary school, where apparently I had to sit in my chair for seven hours a day and listen to someone teach me to read. I was totally down with that. I knew how to read already, anyway. I’d show them. I was ready! I was rockin’ and rollin’ even back then. Well, my bangs were, at least. I gathered my backpack with the pride of a gladiator taking up his weapons. I strapped that bunny purse over my shoulder, I buttoned my bunny vest, and I clicked the heels of my white patent leather Mary Jane’s three times. I don’t know why. I was a weird kid.
I loaded into the car with my mom, my two imaginary dogs, Cone-Cone and Mist, and three of my six imaginary siblings: John Wayne, George Bush, and Susie Q (Elvis, Ginger, and Mary Ann were too lazy to get up so early). Susie Q was trouble, but I allowed her to come with me just in case I needed someone to blame things on. She’d already gotten me kicked out of Pre-K, so I was hoping she would do a better job behaving in elementary school. On the way to school, Mama gave me, John Wayne, George Bush, and Susie Q a talk about being nice, raising my hand before I spoke, and saying yes ma’am and no ma’am. I was to behave myself or I’d have to face my Daddy. That alone was enough to make me toe the line, but Susie Q was less intimidated. She liked to push it. I still have to keep a close eye on her these days.
The elementary school was much less awesome than I’d originally thought. I imagined some prestigious manor with columns on the front. This school was a low, sprawling brick building with a green roof. I was too nervous to be disappointed, though, and I clung to Mama’s hand like a lifeline when we walked through the front doors.
There were more kids than I could have imagined in the hallways, some of them crying like they were about to face their doom, others darting here and there, running from their mothers and getting yelled at by their new teachers. Some of them were very tall, and I realized with a sinking feeling that I would be going to school with fifth graders. I grew less and less sure of myself, thinking that I’d settle for Princess of the 1st Grade. Or even just an honorary participant. I wanted to hide behind Mama, run back to the car, and go home to my brother and sister and Elvis, Ginger, and Mary Ann. Susie Q was more than willing to take my place. She was smarter than I was. But I knew, deep down, that I had to do this. I had come too far to quit, and no matter how terrified I was, I would walk through the doors of my classroom pretending I had it all together and that I could handle whatever was thrown at me.
And finally, I saw it: The Door. It was wide open, towards the end of the hall, with a great view of the playground and the soccer fields (where I would suffer through one of the most embarrassing moments of my childhood). Mama asked me if I wanted her to go to my desk with me. I said no. What kind of loser brought her mom into her first grade classroom? Not this one. She kissed me goodbye, and I realized that she wasn’t leaving until I was safely in the classroom. There would be no chance to run out the glass doors at the end of the hall and hide in the playground for a few hours. I had to leave Mama and everything I’d ever been comfortable with and take a massive step into the rest of my life. It was terrifying. And then I was in that doorway, and there were twenty-four other kids sitting in their desks, staring at me. Some were still crying, others had that devilish look about them that teachers dreaded, and there were even a few who were wearing clothes almost as fabulous as mine. But they all looked at me, and I felt frozen under the weight of their gazes. They were waiting, watching, expecting. Would I freeze up? Would I choke under the pressure and cry? Or would I walk with grim determination to the empty desk with my name on it, taking my rightful place as the Queen of the First Grade?
I cried. But so did like ten other kids, so I wasn’t the only one whose mom had to hug and comfort them until there was nothing but hiccups and red eyes that begged to be brought home. And for some reason, that day has stayed with me. I never understood it. It was just the first day of first grade. Who cares? Not many other people, or so it seems. Why would I remember that crocheted bunny outfit with the matching purse and white patent leather Mary Jane’s? For a long time, I didn’t know. It was just there, in the back of my mind, with a few other significant, irrelevant memories that are just waiting for me to understand. But then, a few months ago, I started to get it.
There I was, six and a half years old, completely new and fresh, unaware of the bad in the world. I believed in fairy tales, magic, and the Tooth Fairy. I believed that the Easter Bunny brought eggs. I didn’t know where they came from or why that particular pairing was made, but I believed in him. I thought my Daddy could lift up houses and cars and that my Mama was the most beautiful woman in the world. And I was completely unprepared for the new world I’d been thrust into.
And now, here I am, eighteen years old, not quite as new and fresh, a little more aware of the bad in the world. I still believe in fairy tales and magic, but the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny started creeping me out so I crossed them off the list. I still think my Daddy is a superhero and my Mama is the most beautiful woman in the world. I am hovering on the edge of a potentially life changing path, completely unprepared. Every step of the way, I have been at an absolute loss, scrambling to cover my mistakes for fear someone would see them and realize just how average I truly am. There is nothing spectacular about me, my writing abilities, my voice. I’m just this kid whose biggest fear is growing up and who, four and a half years ago, announced to my parents that I wanted to be a singer. I didn’t know what would happen, or if anything would happen at all. I’ve been in a battle to the death with a dreadfully optimistic hope that our time would come and a deep seated fear that it never will. But more than anything, there is a thirst in me for the music. It’s like everything else I do in life is routine. Boring. But when I hear that music, I’m suddenly alive. Every bit of my heart and soul and brain is on fire, and I feel so much that I can’t help but open my lips and let it fly out. Nothing on Earth will ever compare to that moment when you close your eyes and feel the music rather than hear it. When the chills run down your spine and you smile and you understand what the words are saying. And then, when you open your eyes to find your sister looking back at you with the same expression on her face, you realize that maybe, just maybe, you’ve actually got a shot, and you feel sick to your stomach with the combination of terror and ecstasy, and there is an all-consuming desire for it to be you. Maybe, just maybe, it will be.