11:00 AM – 6 – verbal abuse. sick

I enter the first-grade classroom and sit down at a desk in the front row. I have decided I like school. I am here to learn. My friend Lauren sits next to me, and we whisper to each other about our summers.

The teacher enters the room. She is huge, at least 500 pounds. She dwarfs us. Lauren and I stop talking and stare in appalled awe. Within a few days, it becomes clear that she hates us. We are young, mostly happy. She is old, unhappy. One day she writes a math problem on the board, but the answer is wrong. I raise my hand and explain the correct answer. Her face turns red.

Later, I ask a question about something she has said. She glares at me. “Keep quiet! You ask too many questions!” I am scared.

I go home and tell my parents I hate her. I beg them to switch me into the other class, where Miss Ruffo smiles and laughs and cares about her students. Several kids have already switched. My mom calls the principal’s office. The class is full, they tell her, there is no more room in Mrs. Ruffo’s haven. My mom breaks the news to me. I wonder if the principal got her revenge that day.

I dread going to school. I am yelled at almost every week, told to keep silent, that I am annoying, stupid, noisy, too curious. I become silent. I strive to be unspectacular. I wish I had sat at the back of the room instead of the front, but it is too late to switch. Seats are assigned, I am locked in. I watch the clock and count down the minutes until 2:30 every day.

I am sick a lot. I have tonsilitis 15 times. This is great, because I don’t have to go to school. I can sit in my bed and read books and eat ice cream and spend time with my mom, who smiles at me and encourages me to learn new things. The school sends my assignments home, and I complete them in bed, in record time, no time at all really, maybe twenty minutes, and the rest of the day is mine. I don’t even mind that I am sick. I would rather be sick here than healthy there.

I get bronchitis a couple of times, too, with a 106-degree fever. My mom is worried, but I feel fine. I smile at her, and she buys me a crochet kit, and I learn to sew with yarn. I am acing my classes, and I don’t have to see my teacher at all, ever. I am six. I hate school.

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