“I’m not writing, I’m drawing!”
I looked at the round, black and white clock of that classroom many more times than I could even count. I was sitting in the same desk I sat in last week and the week before last — the very last one in the row against the wall, very close to the corner, and very far from the door. Inside my book bag there was paper, of that I’m sure, but for some reason, this time, I choose the desk as my canvas.
I knew that Mrs. Jones, the science teacher, was talking about plant cells. This I know, because it was impossible not to notice the over-sized picture of a plant cell she had on her projector, which was under the clock I had looked at so many times. However, what was she saying about plant cells? I have no idea. I was much more interested in the finishing details of the pencil landscape I was drawing on my desk. I was not convinced if I should add clouds or not, debating to myself whether to draw one bird or two, and actually contemplating adding some color to it.
It was then I heard Mrs. Jones screaming. She raised her voice to tell the class something, yet went right back to her normal voice to keep talking about the cell. I saw the girl sitting in front of me, all excited, taking notes and coloring her drawings of the plant cell. She made me think about my last science class as a student in Colombia before I immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 14. In Colombia, the only day more exciting than the first day of school was the day I had to shop for all my school supplies. Back there, I was not only a good student, I was the dance team’s captain, a cheerleader, and an active member of the drama club. For me, school did not end after the last bell of the day rang. Now, here in the U.S., I felt invisible. I realized how much I used to like it, and I felt disappointed in myself at the recognition that my relationship with school had undergone such a dramatic transformation. I thought I should give it a try again. Why not draw the cell myself? But, when I looked up, the projection had changed. It wasn’t the picture of the cell anymore; it was a page with words — words in English that took so much effort to read and understand. So, I looked away and kept on drawing.
I took a minute to contemplate my design, and I noticed that my tree had no apples. What kind of a tree would that be without apples? So, I started to work on that. As I was filling the inside of the second apple with a darker shade, I heard Mrs. Jones raising her voice again. However, this time she didn’t go back to her normal voice right away. The class was now quieter than ever. Wow! Someone must have done something terribly bad. Although I had no idea why she was so upset, I didn’t care to look up, to try to figure it out. I was too tired of that already. Every time something like this happened in that classroom and I looked up to see what the fuss was about, I was always left even more confused and frustrated to decipher conflict in a language I couldn’t yet understand.
It was then, in the middle of her screaming, while I was finishing my third apple, that I felt Mrs. Jones’ marker tapping on my desk. She tapped twice on my desk really hard!
I dropped my mechanical pencil. My mind went blank. I felt my heart beating as if I had run up and down the stairs five times in a row without stopping. I was petrified. All of a sudden, I was in an airplane ready to take off. The sounds coming out her mouth were the piercing noise of the turbines; my eyes were watery, my ears muffled, and a hole the size of my head was in my stomach. Yet, somehow, I put myself together and finally looked up at her.
“Stop writing on the desk!” is what I think she said. Fear deadened my senses, and I wasn’t totally convinced that was what she said. But the girl writing notes to her boyfriend sitting beside me made it clear. She wanted to make sure I understood what the teacher had said; afraid her own method of killing class would be found out. She actually repeated the sentence with some hand movements and face expressions that made me understand. Clearly she did not want Mrs. Jones walking to the back of the room again.
In that moment, when it was all clear, I felt humiliated and ashamed. I felt the urge to get up and answer back to Mrs. Jones, “I am not writing! I am drawing!” But it was too late for that; she was already in the front of the room, pointing at her projection.
Even if I had found the courage to answer back, I couldn’t. I did not know yet how to say the words in English.
That was when I decided. If I was going to be the screamed at, it might as well be for a good reason. It would have to be a good enough reason to send me to the office, or to have my parents called, or to at least get kicked out of this class! It must be something radical and permanent. So, I picked up my book bag from the floor, put it on my lap, reached inside, and took out my pen.