Growing Roots: Fragments of a Dislocated Schoolgirl
My husband and I had just dug up and discarded the hideous Charlie-Brown-looking Christmas tree evergreen that was slowly turning brown. Most of its needles lay on the dusty earth around the small hole it left. “Dug up” is a relative term: my husband had lifted it out of the ground with one hand. It had never sprouted roots, hadn’t been holding onto anything. The tall, flowering tree on the side of the house in the back would look beautiful in its place. It would be tall enough to cover the front window, and its splashes of pink, purple, and white flowers would really bring some life to our destitute, little front yard. Rose of Sharon trees spread like wildfire, and the smaller ones should be relatively easy to uproot. They could go on the other side of the front steps, in place of another hideous evergreen we had just pulled up. I prepared the soil with my shovel, mixing and loosening the dirt so the roots would be able to spread out and grow once we transplanted the tree. But the late August afternoon was proving to be brutal; the soil was already drying out from the hot sun as it waited for me to bring its newest occupant.
On the side of the house, I started to dig around the smaller trees and found that the roots were already well-established for such a small saplings, spreading several inches in each direction. If I wanted to move the trees, I’d have to cut the roots. My husband assured me that the small trees would be fine, that their roots would adjust. We just needed to be quick about it, and give them a good drink once they were in their new spot. I plunged the spade into the dirt and stood on its edge, feeling the roots snap under my foot. I tugged forcefully on the trunk, which was no bigger than my thumb, and felt the roots let go of the earth as the tree came away in my hand. I hurried across the yard to get it buried again in its new home, hoping that I hadn’t wasted too much time digging it up. The roots and branches seemed so young and fragile. Tiny green leaves sprinkled the yard as they fell.
* * *
I am standing on the front porch of my house at 8821 Quinault Drive, Olympia, Washington. I am wearing a white t-shirt with red lettering that says Jeans… Jeans… Jeans… across the front. In my hands is a colorful cardboard pencil box that I hold off to one side, resting it on my hip as if it were a toddler. A white knit cape rests on my shoulders. My mom aims the Polaroid camera at me and it spits out a picture. It is my very first day of school.
Cash is a boy in my class who looks a little like Howdy-Doody with his thick red hair and face mottled with freckles. I am not sure how I know him, but we always sit next to each other during story time and at other times when we sit in groups. I notice one day that he isn’t there. Nor is he there the next day, or the day after that. I never see him again. When I ask my mom where Cash went, she explains that Cash hadn’t gone anywhere. It was me who had moved when she put me into the afternoon kindergarten class. I hadn’t noticed the other unfamiliar faces around me.
Swiss Philosopher and Cognitive Theorist, Jean Piaget, would say that I was in the second stage of my cognitive development when I had switched classes.[i] Meaning, I had absolutely no concept of time, but I had already learned that even if an object (or person) was out of sight, I knew that it still existed. This is probably why I couldn’t understand why Cash wasn’t in my class anymore, even though it was me who had moved. Pre-Operational thought starts around age two and lasts until about the time a child enters the first grade. He has already learned “object permanence,” in the Sensori-motor stage – that an object still exists even if he cannot see it. But in the Pre-Operational stage, he becomes very egocentric. He does not understand anyone else’s perspective, and assumes others see things only as he does.
It’s morning when we board the jumbo-jet plane headed for New York from Olympia, Washington. I see puzzle pieces below from the sky. The bright sun shines through the small oval windows while we’re in the air, but it is nighttime all of a sudden when we land. I don’t remember it getting dark. Had the world sped up when I wasn’t looking?
Bayside, New York, is a subdivision of Queens, and where I’ll be living for a while. In my Aunt’s house with my sister, brother, and father, along with my aunt, uncle and three cousins. Mom has to stay back in Washington to sell the house, so we won’t see her for a while. Aunt Maureen and Uncle Timmy only live on one side of their house with my three cousins. Strangers live in the other side. I will never meet them. They call this kind of house a duplex, but I don’t understand. Why is the house attached to another house? All of the shops and buildings are attached to each other, too. Cramped, crowded, so close to one another. No yards or trees. And everything smells funny. Like rotten eggs and dirty pavement.
Anne-Marie’s favorite crayon is Magenta. Muh- JEN-tuh! she says, and it crash-lands on the floor like it’s attached to a fifty pound weight. She has two middle names for a first name, and she pulls her frizzy, brown curls into a small ponytail on the top of her head. She sounds funny, too, when she talks. Like the other kids in class, she makes her mouth big and doesn’t pronounce her Rs.