by Edernis Adames
The lopsided desk wobbled as I took a seat. My legs barely fit under it. I moved my arm to reveal the etchings that covered the wooden top of the desk, one specifically being a heart with initials in it, the remnants of a forgotten middle school romance. The rows of desks urged us to sit up straight and silent. It was at that moment that we stopped being students and became terracotta statues in catholic school uniforms. Behind me were tall bookcases full of decade old textbooks and bibles. I pulled at my neckline, the faultless tie choking me as I turned my head. Thinking back on it, the tie was probably some sadistic way our school stopped us from turning our attention away from the dark green chalkboard that stretched across the front of the classroom. In the top corner, right above the teacher’s desk, was the teacher’s name and the date. Both were written in a delicate cursive. The calculated swoops of the o’s and the mesmerizing tails that grew out of the ends of words were almost hypnotic. At that point of my life, I loved rules and order. Doing things the very way others expect them to be done now seems overrated.
“Can I erase this?” asked the teacher. Without waiting for a response, Mrs. Ferreira put the battered eraser to use. My pencil moved across the composition notebook with an incomparable fervor. I would write at the speed of light if I could to avoid the shame of admitting I needed more time. Mrs. Ferreira would do popcorn reading every other day. We were reading Night by Elie Weisel. I was always a bookworm. To this day I always carry a book whenever I can (currently I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and Warriors Never Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals). “Matthew, you can read after this next paragraph,” Mrs. Ferriera said as she conducted her symphony of voice cracks and pubescent voices. Annoyance plagued the room, but nothing could be done. “The… Miss what is the next word,” Matthew asked embarrassed. “The word is ‘ghetto’, Matthew,” a classmate from the back said, irked. I gripped my copy of the book. That new book smell painted the inside of my nose. I began to tune out Matthew’s stolid reading. The words on the pages enticed me and teleported me to the past. I could almost touch the sadness and desperation on the narrator’s face. I turned page after page and before I knew it I was eleven pages ahead of my classmates. Belkis turned around from the desk in front of mine, “It’s your turn,” her thick Dominican accent undid the enchantment the book had put on me and transported me back to Brooklyn. “Where are we?” I asked sheepishly. “Were you reading ahead again?” Mrs. Ferreira asked. A note was sent home to my parents that I was not being cooperative in class. She underestimated my savvy though. “Que dice,” Mami asked about the note. “That I’m doing a good job during reading time,” I said as I slyly slipped the note in the trash. This was my first real act of defiance. Unimpressive, I know, but I started to question my goodie-two-shoes attitude, a name I grew up hearing a lot about myself. If they could just see me now.
As the snow crunched under my feet, I couldn’t help but think about how much I had changed since then. Now a college freshman, my priorities had shifted from being a certified book worm to partying. I shook my head back into my reality as contagious giggles, indistinct chatter, and lighter flicks echoed through the open stretch of forest. I looked out beyond, past my friends’ heads, in awe at the vastness of Lake Ontario. I’d been there a million times, it was really the only thing to do that late at SUNY Oswego, besides crashing a random frat open where enjoyment comes solely from being inebriated. There was something so freeing about watching the icey waves crash onto the rocks with terrifying force. The wind sang, trying to upstage the folksy music (“This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads) that played. An anonymous voice shouted from the crowd, “Who’s playing this white people shit?” Frozen fingers fumbled to put on something else (“Tweakin Together” by Bktherula). This was my safe haven away from acknowledging how broken that book-loving, rule-following girl became. I blew into my cupped hands and pulled out my phone. 3:33 AM. 27 missed calls from Mami. My heart jumped out of my chest, flopping into my hands like slippery soap. She knew that I hadn’t been to class in weeks. I threw my headphones on (“It Gets Better (With Time)” by The Internet). I walked back, passed the singing drunk girls, the food delivery drivers, the RAs standing where someone threw up. This was college for me. None of the work, all of the play. The work was doable, I just didn’t feel motivated enough to care. I stirred in my empty room, laid on my back, and put my music all the way up (“Solo” by Frank Ocean) to avoid the intense guilt I felt. Cracked and chipped under the pressure of perfection. Missing weeks of class at a time and not turning in any assignments isn’t the best way to get a degree.
After coming home to the city that raised me, I decided to stay, even if that meant hour long MTA commutes. My feet were iron anchors, but I still felt my body sway with the 7 train. I held on to the cold metal pole, as I hid my smile. ”The next stop is 33rd Street,” announced the monotonous pre-recorded message. I raised my headphones to an alarming volume (“Great Day” by MADVILLAIN). The unsmiling faces of the people on the train blurred into the background as I looked past them at Queens Boulevard. The brick buildings rushed past me, but for a second, life moved slow. I could feel the smooth pole cooling down my fingers as I held on. I could hear the drums and melodic piano of the song vibrating in my ear. I could smell the still air of the full train cart. I could taste the melody I hummed while I listened to the music. Most of all though, I could see myself as I stepped off the train taking long steps towards a new beginning. A chance at change.
I’ve come a long way. Everything that has happened to me up to this point were lessons. I had to grow up being a rule follower. I had to break the mold. It was never very stable anyways. It was made out of kissass clay, coated in a glaze of expectations and fired in a kiln for unfulfilled things. I’ve decided to ditch the mold all together. I’m sculpting by hand now, freestyling. Taking my time with each and every inch of my sculpture. Everyone’s artistic process is different. I’m sure I’ll end up with a masterpiece, but I’m not even close to being done.
Edernis Adames is a first-year student at LaGuardia Community College. They are currently studying Adolescent Education with a concentration in Spanish. They previously transferred from SUNY College at Oswego. They take inspiration from authors like Junot Diaz and Isabel Allende. Born in the Dominican Republic, Edernis Adames was raised in both Cypress Hills, Brooklyn and South Jamaica, Queens. They have a general interest in educational justice, books, and music. Their hobbies include reading, watching random YouTube videos about information they will never need, and playing the guitar not very well.
Image credit: “The Potter 2,” Martine Roch. Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.