By Human Head © 2005
For the first time, he is leaving the city where he grew up.
Sam always hated his birthplace, and remembers thinking of it with derision from the beginning. As the first comprehension of abstract and logical concepts began coming together in his young mind, he knew. I don’t belong here. He didn't know how he knew, but the knowledge was there as certainly as if it he had been born with a birthmark that spelled it out. He was five years old when the thought hit him for the first time. Sam was on his way to the first day of kindergarten.
It was cold and rainy that day, and it sent goose bumps loose on his shoulders the way a cold day always did. Being skinny, he desperately longed for warmer weather, but those days were few and far between. Sam knew he had been dealt a geographically shitty hand and couldn't understand why on earth anyone would willingly subject themselves to such torture. A homemade book bag sat on his lap, and he wondered at the strangeness of disliking the bag but find it comforting at the same time. Mom had worked a long time making the bag, lovingly adorning it with his initials, SJM. Samuel James Montrose. Being conscious of his own age, Sam thought it was odd that he wasn’t proud of his own name, but was eminently thankful that he wasn't named Bill. The only two people he had ever been exposed to with that name came in the form of a television show about a retard named Bill, and his grandpa, who smelled like a mix of body odor and dirt. Why can't Grandpa just take a shower after he gets off of work? I think I would like him more if he would just do that. Even though he had never entered a classroom before, he knew that the other kids he would be stuffed into a room with would never have considered disliking their names.
The bag was navy blue (his Mom's favorite color, the one that she deemed appropriate for all nice young boys), and his bright red initials were sewn on the side, each letter larger than his hand. The handles sewn on were gargantuan, and when he carried the bag normally, the bottom would drag on the ground which meant that he had one of a few choices, all of them unpleasant: carry it with his arm at a 45-degree angle that hurts my shoulder, sling it over his shoulder like a purse I don't want to look like a homo (Thanks to diligent efforts from his parents, he was well-versed on the evils of homosexuality), or just drag it on the ground I'll get in trouble for getting it dirty and tearing it up. Even though they had just started their trip, Sam felt the preemptive pangs of embarrassment that would intensify as he found out with certainty that the other kids had backpacks, just as he thought they would.
He could worry about all of these things later, though.
There were more pressing issues at hand, namely, how to get into the school without his Mom walking in with him. Sam loved his mother, but was embarrassed by her, as well. He didn't need anyone to hold his hand, and it was intensely frustrating that his Mom didn't know him well enough to realize that fact. Traveling through the rain on roads that never undulated and rarely curved, he knew that this was the first day he would have to stand up for something he really wanted, whether it hurt her feelings or not.
The school building was plain, an uninspiring combination of light golden brown brick with dark shit brown trim. It would be pretty funny if there was corn. Yes, the subject of poop was always funny, even though it was strictly forbidden in conversation. Farting was amusing, as well, but was also a subject not suitable in front of closed doors. This was something Sam was reminded of two days earlier as he expelled a particularly forthright statement from in between his cheeks and found it proportionately hilarious. I don't care what they say; I still think it's funny. In the lawn of the school was an imposing cross, with something attached that he could only imagine was intended to represent flames. The fact that it was a private Christian school embarrassed him a bit, as well. The whole thing just seemed a bit artificial, his only benchmark for such things being an internal measurement of how uncomfortable it all made him. Awakening from a movie-like dream sequence (he was fond of imagining things in a cinematic context), Sam noticed that the car had been still for some time and that his mother was looking at him expectantly.
"Are you scared? Do you want me to go up there with you?"
It came out harsher than he meant it to. He had intended to be emphatic in his statement, wanting to convey the seriousness of his need to join the line for class all by himself, but the quickness and tone of his response hid everything he felt about as well as sheet of plastic wrap. His mother knew that he wanted to act independently but she could also hear the embarrassment. The recognition brought a familiar look of pain, similar to when one accidentally steps on a dogs foot, prompting that look that says that they didn’t think such a thing was possible...not in a million lifetimes.
There was an innate knowledge that a line had been crossed; a crossing that came several years ahead of when it is typical to do so. Sam had no idea what exactly that line was, but it was behind him now and he knew that it couldn't have been any other way. He tried making it up to her by expressing his thanks for the book bag, and this seemed to console her somewhat even though she knew it wasn't the genuine truth. She grabbed his hand in an effort to hang on, for one last moment, to the little kid that had inexplicably changed in the space of twenty minutes, from home to the first day of school.
As he ran up to the school, surfing on a wave of expectant adrenaline, he knew that something had changed. It didn't matter that he couldn't articulate what it was. He had escaped the confines of his familiar world and was filled with satisfaction as he rushed headlong into this new frontier of learning. He wasn't afraid of school, thanks to his parents showing him some basic reading and writing mechanics during the previous summer. Sam knew he had a jump on these kids, a fact that was confirmed as he took his place in the line and saw the blank stares coming back at him. Looking back, he now realizes how strange it was for a kid so young to think such things, but that’s the way it was. No, he was not afraid of the academics (such as they are in kindergarten) that lay before him, he was afraid of the people. Already he could feel the stares of superiority from those who already knew one another, and the only thing he knew how to do was grit his teeth and hope they got distracted with themselves.
Sitting in his room full of bags, he tries to remember some of the more tangible details, but there really aren’t very many. It seems as though the only things that he can remember in any detail are those that are part of a separate life lived only in his own head. Pretty soon it will be time to go.
The Human Head is a writer and poker player from Whicita, Kansas.