Photo by Tim Reilly / North by Northwestern
Nine is a difficult year. There’s nothing remarkable about being a year away from the double digits, four years away from being a teen. There is also nothing remarkable about being a brunette third-grader who tries hard in school and P.E. class. I wear blue jeans and saddle shoes, not skateboard shoes and surfer t-shirts like the cooler kids who carry trapper-keepers full of colorful cards.
I help out during clean-up time, even if it isn’t my day. The other kids at my desk area never get all the pencil shavings and paper scraps off the ground anyway. The cleanest desk area gets to leave first at the end of the day.
At lunch, I have friends: we sit together with our lunch boxes, made out of that colorful waterproof material that sounds kind of like a sleeping bag when you scratch it with your nails. Our lunch boxes are all standing up in front of us, creating this fortress, which helps a lot when you want to secretly talk about the boys sitting at the table on the other side of the cafeteria.
Sometimes my sandwich gets soggy when my parents use too much jelly, but it is always better than the turkey tetrazzini (that looks and smells like repulsive mush) that come on the white styrofoam lunch trays. Over the wilting crust, I can’t help but see the cooler kids at the other table. Splayed out on the dark laminate tables, the cards make mesmerizing mosaics. I avert my eyes quickly, repeating in my head what I’ve been trying to think since they appeared at school: Pokémon is not for me. I don’t know where this phase came from, but all the sudden, decks upon decks of cards appeared in the backpacks of my fellow students. They are just cooler.
Before and after school, things get tricky. We all sit in line according to our grade, waiting for the doors to open for school. I always get the first circle for third-graders. I’m the first person in my class to get to school, when the morning is still dark. This part is good, I can be alone and get ready for the day ahead. It’s when everyone else starts showing up, and the sun begins to rise, rosy pink behind me, reflecting in the tiny windows of the front doors.
When I’m alone, the cool kids aren’t sitting around me with their colorful trapper-keepers. But they always show up and start spouting references about water and fire, with names like Pikachu and Ninetales. My friends are always late to school, last in line and much too far to talk. I try not to watch them pass shiny cards from one to another, trading and discussing their various powers. I look straight ahead and listen as hard as I can, pretending that I’m perfectly content to sit there, staring at nothing.