Thud. Tap. Tap.
A bumblebee would hit the window, waking me from my daydream. I spent a lot of time that year in second grade lost in thought, staring out the window. The windows faced west and that would make the room uncomfortably hot in the afternoon, but closing the blinds made it too dark, so someone had come up with the clever idea of letting the children paint the windows once a month. My friend Robbie Blake was one of the artists - he spent his daydreaming time drawing pictures of Woody Woodpecker skiing (combining two of his favorite things) - but I never touched a brush. One couldn't see much through the paint, but through the gaps, from my seat, I could see the playground and that was the center of my day. There was the morning spent looking forward to recess, recess, afternoon spent thinking back to recess.
Recess was when I learned how to interact with other kids; the classroom was for being quiet and sitting in one place - to the extent that was possible for a 7 year-old. One of the recurring themes was Robbie challenging me to races across the playground. He'd shout Go! and he'd suddenly be four steps ahead of me, arms pumping manically, windbreaker billowing behind him; he was unbelievably fast. Over weeks and weeks, I finally discovered how I could beat him: the playground ended abruptly, no matter which direction one went, so he'd slow down before reaching the end; as long as I was willing to risk injury, flying into a brick wall or a ditch or a fence, I could pass him in the final steps. Eventually, he discovered this too, and we'd both run full-tilt into walls on occasion, giving fright to the adults supervising and getting laughs or shaking heads from the other kids.
In May that year, we had a school-wide Olympics. There was a 100 yard dash (we had not gone metric) and dozens of kids of all ages raring to go; I left Robbie to battle it out with the older kids and looked to the longer races: 220 yards and 440 yards, which only a few others tried. I was at a 3-5 year disadvantage over my competition. In the 220, I took off just as hard as in every day's practice and ended up winning my first-ever race (I still have the ribbon). In the longer run, I was way ahead at the turn-around - the grass field being maybe 250 yards long, diagonally - got passed on the way back and then tried to win at the end like I had every time against Robbie, only to come up just a bit short and coming in second to a 6th grader.
The other major facet of playground life for me was the three "cool" girls, the ones you knew were popular and whose popularity would somehow rub off if you got to know them. April was the blonde, the outgoing leader, who every day had some treasure to show her friends, usually somehow horse-related (she had that schoolgirl pony mania). Emily was the shy quiet pretty brunette, who may have had untold depths to her, but trying to talk to her was like pulling teeth. Jodie was the redhead; before her, everyone was either mad, sad or glad, but Jodie was at turns mercurial, sardonic, insouciant, blithe... you needed a new vocabulary for her. Jodie also knew I liked her several weeks before I decided I did. Just before my triumphs in the Olympics, Jodie had disappeared. The first couple of days I thought she was just ill, but after a week, I had to ask April and Emily; they said her parents had taken her out of school early, before the summer break in a couple of weeks. The dynamics had changed. April wasn't so bright and cheery any more and asked me to just leave her alone. Emily spent her recess indoors, for reasons I never discovered.
That summer, the neighbor kids started getting bikes. I was able to keep up with them on foot, my bare feet callousing on the hot asphalt. I could even stay with them when they went downhill. Robbie didn't stand a chance against me in 3rd grade! I spent a lot of time that summer, too, with Lois, who spent her summer sunbathing in a bikini in her backyard, reading novels - she was also a redhead, you can paint the picture like it was a 2nd grade window yourself here - and, while I was practicing spending time with girls with her, I knew my loyalty wouldn't stray from Jodie. After all, I was turning 8... and Lois was 20.
I couldn't wait for the new school year to start.
When September finally came, I discovered that Robbie had moved. So had Jodie. I'd never see either of them ever again. I tried to scrounge up others to race against at recess, but no one was really into it. They never had the school Olympics again, either.
3rd grade sucked.
Thud. Tap. Tap.
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