Writing WILD GIRL
I’ve been thinking about the subjects I choose to write about, and the connections they have to my life. I’m reminded of writing WILD GIRL. I remember…
The new student’s name was Rosalee. She wore a thin chain around her neck, and she sucked on the heart that dangled from it. I wanted to take it out of her mouth, but I didn’t dare. Her face was unfriendly, her eyes fierce. Outside it was beautiful. I wished I could take her hand and skitter out to the schoolyard. But I was the reading teacher, and four boys waited for us in my room.
Those boys who labored over primers thought there was something wrong with her. “Whoo-ee, dumb,” Edward whispered.
“Can’t even spell cat,” Mitchael said.
We began on that September day, Rosalie, four boys and I. I showed her letters; she looked at me with distain. She grabbed the alphabet sheet out of my hand and read quickly, the letters garbled on her tongue. The boys punched each other under the table. “Told you,” Edward said.
I looked through the books on my shelf. What did she need? Words to get her through these first weeks. Words that were similar to her own. Words she would recognize, bringing her world closer to this new world.I thought about what it must be like for Rosalie, for all immigrants. It was like walking into a party where you knew no one, where everyone was talking, arms on each other’s shoulders. To be there at the door, mouth dry—
Rosalee threw the book I had chosen back on the table. I could see her thoughts: a baby book, whoo-ee, dumb. She chose the heaviest book on the shelf, and turned the pages as if the densely written words were talking to her.
Edward read haltingly. I looked up at the clock with hands that hardly moved, and Rosalee glanced at me, the corner of her mouth curved up for the barest second.
A day later, as Mitchell read, she leaned over, “Whoo-ee,” she said, jabbing his page with her finger, and corrected his word. He repeated it exactly, thick with accent. And they grinned at each other, all of them.
Rosalee read within weeks; she began to jump rope with the others in the school yard, the dented heart swinging on her chest.
She’d be grown now. And if she were to read my book, she probably wouldn’t know how affected I was by her struggle. I could see her on the pages I wrote: her grief, her defiance, her intelligence, and the hard times experienced by all children who are immigrants.
I hope Rosalee would say, “Whoo-ie, that’s the way it was.”