Silence is such a powerful language. I speak it fluently. Answers to questions do not always need to be expressed verbally. I can answer with my lips in a smile, smirk, frown. The slouch in my back, pace of my walk, body language. But my favorite is my eyes. My eyes answer questions in ways no other part of me can. It is truly unfortunate that my teachers are not as fluent in this language as I am. Their jobs depend on verbal responses from their students. They seek a sense of accomplishment. They need to know they are reaching their pupils. Hearing words is their means of doing so. Such an incorrect analysis.
Starting a day with a math class is supposedly a detriment to a student’s education. I look at it differently. Starting my day with a math class gives me an excuse to not interact with anyone else the rest of the day. I simply blame it on a long recovery time from the painstakingly stagnant, conceptually inept consumption of math concepts that lack practical application.
Oh. And I am stupid amounts of good at it. That’s probably what annoys me the most.
Ms. Williams worries about me. It is even worse on this day. She thinks I am incapable of being in her classroom with my mother no longer on this earth. She would be wrong. For my mother is still here, with me, at all times. Her inability to fathom such a connection is not my worry in this moment.
She waddles to where I sit as I attempt to get the rest that I could not attain the night before. She taps me on my shoulder, her pudgy fingers push down into my skin with each tap.
Tap, tap, tap…
My head raises, such methodical prowess I possess. The class, in my grasp as Ms. Williams comes to the conclusion that awakening me from my slumber is more important than engaging the riff raff she has assembled in chairs befitting the back problems lingering in our not-too-distant futures.
My eyes open to the stares of my peers. They all fear me in their own way. Some for my intelligence, which, let’s face it, dwarfs theirs into such immense darkness that it causes one to question even their completely correct answers. Some for my attire as it sends them nervous energy screaming with unpredictability. What could I do next? The irony of it all is that I do not really do anything at school. That is what scares them. Inactivity to mediocre human beings shrieks of mental frailty for I choose to refrain from joining them on their journey to the eastern shores of nothingness.
“Ms. Williams, please, just say what you need to say so I can get back to counting my sheep. They are frightened without me and I must care for them like they were my own.”
“You count someone else’s sheep when you sleep?”
“I mean, don’t you?”
Have you ever trolled someone in mid-conversation? No? Witness its glory.
“I don’t think so.”
“I do not own sheep so how could I possibly count my own if I do not own them? Would that not defeat the purpose of defining the word ‘own’ within this context?”
Ms. Williams does not know how to handle such a riddle from such an adolescent man. I continue to play.
“Or is the intellect dripping from such a riddle too intricate of an ask for someone who simply deals with numbers all day in order to refrain from critical thinking?”
Ms. Williams is in a permanent state of pause. I should know since I put her there. I take one look at the whiteboard.
5(2x + 6) = -4(-5 – 2x) + 3x … Why does she insist on providing me with literally no challenge?
I rest my head back on the desk where it belongs.
“That is correct.”
I know it is, or else I would not have said it.
I am sorry. I was a bit hard on Ms. Williams. I do not mean to devalue her ability to teach. I have just spent so much time learning on my own that time in classroom settings is almost disrespectful to my relationship with Baldwin.
“The paradox of education is precisely this; that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated” - James Baldwin
And, of course, it takes away from my nap time. I sleep more now without my mother’s bosom to rest my head. Rest and sleep are not the same thing. Sleep now is only an escape from the residual pain of her absence in the flesh.
English. A safe haven, of sorts. Math has already rendered me mute for the remainder of my day but being unable to speak has never prevented the greats from performing at the highest of levels.
Ms. Chasity: “Pen a poem. No parameters. As we begin our poetry unit, I want to see where you stand in relation to your ability to put together a poem using whatever literary devices you may remember from your past classes. Is that ok with you?
Class: “Yes, Ms. Chasity!”
I’m clearly not a part of this chorus but the assignment itself intrigues me. I decide to oblige Ms. Chasity. I guess I can write a little something...
“To be 14 years old and conscious is to be in a constant presence of inferiority/So ahead of my time I could sedate my tongue and still be the loudest intellect in this lucid dream/They say age is nothing but a number/To me, it’s more like a slip knot dancing with a 12 foot poplar tree/I’m swinging while standing on both feet/My afterthoughts defy gravity/The only asphyxiation that has made my acquaintance comes from a man I’ve known my whole life but never truly met/Looks like the only option I have left is to let my skin breathe ruby raptures/It’s a self-inflicted symphony I have yet to harmonize but every instrument I’ve ever held in my hands has become an essential element/I am alchemist/Bending bass and woodwind to my will/I expect nothing short of samurai when 22-by-43 millimeter stainless steel become the bow to my string instrument flesh…”
Eh. I think it is okay but not my best work. The jaws rendered motionless in my wake would beg to differ but difference is what I live for, strive more, want more. But it was just a poem. You would think Langston Hughes was sitting in this back-problem-inducing chair by my side, whispering poetic excellence in my ears, but no, it was all me. And I will not apologize, though, I am keenly aware that no apology would be necessary anyway. Preemptive strikes are a fave activity of mine.
Ms. Chasity: “Your work never ceases to amaze me, Vinnie. You truly are a special young man.”
If only my father felt the same…
World History. This place elicits my wrath more than any other class. Why? Because it is allergic to the truth. It vomits inaccuracies with drunken precision. It saddens me, sickens me, just how much our Eurocentric education model has warped the minds of teachers into thinking their knowledge base is All-Knowing. So I speak up - often. Get into spats with higher education minions about what they deem to be the truth.
Sometimes, I just enter class early, ask what today’s lesson is about, and if I come to the conclusion that it will be falsified information, I ask to be excused to the library for some independent study. If my “teacher” - she gets no name - thinks I should stay in class to defend my perspective, I either devise a way to get kicked out of class or remain to engage her in psychological warfare. The latter is my usual, the former occurs as residual to a previous night’s shame wrapped around my father’s neck.
“Christopher Columbus discovered America.”
“No, he didn’t.”
“Yes, he did.”
“No, he didn’t. How do you discover land already occupied by a group of people?”
“He is the one -”
“Exactly. You can’t. And he was lost anyway. He called Native Americans, Indians. He was a directionally challenged drunk who probably had a disease.”
“Step outside, Vinnie.”
Now, this is not currently happening. That was just a rehashing of something that may, or may not, have happened already. I will let you come to your own conclusion as to whether I would have said something like that. Should not take you long.
At this moment, I do not have the energy to fight. I do not want to be bothered with this inferior distributor of incorrect information.
Five minutes left in class…
We make eye contact. I do not utilize my vocal chords.
They still do not seem to be working.
“Vinnie? I know you hear me.”
I raise my hand.
“Why are you raising your hand when I am the one calling on you?”
I take my raised hand to my lips, pointer finger touches. My audience - or classmates, depending on your view - gasps. The international symbol for ‘be quiet’ has just been unleashed from the lips of an adolescent to the bruised ego of an improperly educated educator.
It feels so good to hear the orgasmic release of my ‘shhhh…’ I am sexy in this moment, at least, I think so.
Her white privilege sings a song of despair. I know the tune well. This is not her first audition.
“Get out of my classroom!”
The bell rings. I shrug. And, ironically, execute exactly what she has asked of me. Only with a slight change - I head to fourth period. She will tell her husband about this L she just took during their pillow talk on their unfluffed pillows purchased with her paltry teacher salary and his guitar-playing corner boy tips. No, I do not know if she is dating or married to a guitar-playing corner boy. But she just seems like she would be dating or married to a guitar-playing corner boy. So…
Ms. Scott. Far behind my mother, she is my favorite woman. She brings out the best in me. She had a chance by simply being my art teacher, but she took it and ran with it. She supports me in every way. Being here, in her presence, I welcome this.
“I know you have been away for awhile, Vinnie. Again, my condolences. Were you able to procure anything from your immense talent for us to lay our eyes on?”
Ms. Scott lays her eyes on me. I appreciate her for simple things. Like, using words such as ‘procure’ and ‘immense’ when speaking with me. That is a sign of respecting my intelligence instead of running from it like the rest of my uneducated educators.
I take a rolled up piece of paper out of my backpack. I take off the rubberband and unroll it. I spread it out across the table, unveiling my piece.
Ms. Scott gasps.
In front of her lies an HB pencil sketch of a black man in his late 20s being lynched in rural Mississippi and the heavens opening up as he takes his last breaths. Hence, the gasp.
“The detail… I don’t know what to say.”
I don’t have anything to say either. Art speaks its own language. Why draw if you’re going to need to explain yourself?
And I drew it when I was 11 years old. Birthday present to an elderly black man who went to my church - he died of a heart attack before I could give it to him.
And I cried under the weight of that realization.
And its vibrancy almost killed Ms. Scott.
Sign language. I like this class. I get a grade for saying the least, while communicating the most. Needless to say, I have an A.
Physical Education. I do not play a sport. I do have physical education with all of the athletes, however. This scheduling quirk has to do with my playground legend.
Yes, I am a playground legend. I know. All my gifts are becoming annoying. Think of it this way: How can a child with seemingly so many gifts and abilities still not have the ability to make his father see him? Yeah. Now, who’s annoyed?
Mr. Curtis wants all of the boys to prove their manhood by racing one another for 100 yards. My hands can’t seem to leave my pockets. My care level is slightly above non-existent.
We line up. My pockets still house my hands.
“Ready! Set! Go!”
My peers take off.
My peers are upset. I might know why.
“Man, Vinnie. Just race, dude. That’s all Coach Curtis wants.”
I make eye contact with Mr. Curtis. He looks sad. This is a new look for him. As the school year has progressed he has gone from anger to sadness in my lack of participation. I have my reasons. The main one being - wait - I will get to that soon. I have decided to line up properly.
“Ready! Set! Go!”
My peers and I take off running. My peers collectively decide to run slower than me, or, at least, that is what it seems like as I, in my usual all black ensemble, create space 10 yards long between myself and their dreams.
Oh. Now I remember the main reason why I don’t participate - I embarrass easily. Oh no, not me. I don’t embarrass easily. Let me rephrase. I embarrass my peers easily. Sorry. I misspoke. The trail of egos trailing behind me at the end of this race is about 12 students long.
Mr. Curtis: “We need you!”
I need my mother. And Walter. And a version of my father I can love. No one else.
My hands return to my pockets as we transition to flag football. One of the girls puts my flag around my waist. I smirk, which is taken as some form of ‘thank you’.
I am considered a neighborhood wild card. Here, I am in the mood to provide an example.
I stand at one end of the field. We are the receiving team. I was picked last. I am accidentally on this team. I am not wanted.
The ball gets kicked off. It bounces on the ground, over the head of our team captain and heads in my direction. I stare at the ball at it careens wildly towards me, my hands never leave my pockets.
That’s a lie.
My hands leave my pockets, to catch this crazy football as it flies towards my face. I catch it. Mr. Curtis’ interest grows. I smile.
First victim gets the Reggie Bush.
Second victim gets some Gale Sayers.
Third victim gets some Dante Hall.
Fourth victim gets some LeSean McCoy.
Fifth victim gets some Barry Sanders.
For those of you not following, I have buckled the knees of five of my classmates as they attempt to snatch my flag from my waist. No one has touched me. And no one touches me. I just touch down. Touchdown.
I drop the ball. Metaphorically, drop the mic. Girls bite their lips in my direction. I am attractive to them. This angers my peers. But they can’t do anything about it, with, you know, their knees being in shambles and whatnot.
I am the best football player at my school and I do not play on the team. I think this might be the best thing about me.
School is out…
I walk home. I walk home faster. I run home. I run home faster. Backpack bounces up and down on my back. The tears start to flow before I reach my door, fly from my face like suicide raindrops.
I sprint through my front door, enter my room, toss my backpack on my bed.
Cry. Laugh. Cry. Laugh.
Scream. Scream. Scream.
My peers do not deserve this. My teachers do not deserve this. Their slights towards me are stories I have told myself. Nothing they have done requires me to respond to them in the manner in which I do. But…
I am allowed to say whatever I want until someone explains to me why my mother is not here anymore! Explain this to me! Someone! Please?! Please… please… please… explain this to me…