Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Matthew C. Ridge
English 201
Essay 1
October 2001

Learning to Fly

I sat there by myself, or at least I felt that I was alone. The kid next to me started drooling over his reading book as he squealed with an unknown pleasure at seeing the ceiling. I felt no resentment toward him nor resentment for being placed in the same reading group as he. I felt nothing. I was calm. Unresponsive. Uncaring to anything that happened to or around me. All I wanted was to get out of class so I could play transformers with my friend on the bus. I don’t even remember his name. I don’t think I ever found out what it was in the first place.

My mind wandered in perfect atrophy. I was content doing nothing. I was content not getting anywhere. This is about the time I remember looking over at the "Blue Jays" group (I think my group was called the "Robins"). They were tearing through the text as if it were below their reading level. It probably was. Something stirred within me then. I felt something. What was it? Envy I think. Why would I be feeling this now? I knew the answer to the question before it even formed the creases in my brow.

It was because I should be sitting there. With the Blue Jays. Tearing through the text along with them. I looked at my companion who seemed to have averted his attention from the ceiling to his book, then to the sleeping person to his right. I was to his left.

I decided then that I would earn my way out of this group. I could read. I was always good at it. So what was I trying to accomplish sitting here? I resolved then and there that I would revive myself from my pit of content nothingness, to another place of self-fulfillment in the world of knowledge. A’s and B’s on report cards. Consumption of books left and right. Advanced classes in school not only in Reading and English, but Math and History as well. All these I would achieve, but not until later. It's pretty much agreed that the path to achieving one’s goals is always a rough one. Mine was no exception. The hardest part was taking that first step. I hated walking. I silently bid my companion goodbye.

Two years later I was tutoring other kids in reading. Kids like me who at one time had a hard time not in reading, but in caring enough about it to actually do it. They all were good readers. I remember sitting in my fourth-grade classroom during my lunchtime with a book in hand. I was in a beanbag chair following along in the book of my pupil’s choice while he struggled with a word. He would look up at me and I would state it, not slowly like one would to a simpleton, or to someone learning a new language, but quickly so that he would move on before he lost what little interest he had in the book. I know he didn’t want to read. I felt the same way at one time. I even remember chasing him down on the playground and dragging him inside, while at the same time scolding him about how I was sacrificing my half-hour lunch recess so he should too. Sometimes I let him run free. But what I remember most about that year was the last Awards assembly of the year. My pupil was called up to the front of the school to receive his award for getting a 3.5 grade point average. He later got another award for being the most improved student in his class. I personally like to think that I played a part in his area of improvement, but I also know that if he didn’t want to learn anything I taught him, he didn’t have to. He earned his reward because he wanted to improve. He just needed someone to be there to help him with his first step. I helped him with that first step just like wanting to be a Blue Jay helped me with my first step.

A year later I was sitting in class. The auction was about to start. I had over two thousands points I could auction away. I had dreamed of the items that I was going to be able to buy. I couldn’t wait for the teacher to pull out the first item. Would I like it? Would I bid on it even if I didn’t? Probably, after all, I had more points than half the class combined. My passion for reading had given the advantage to me. My gaze shifted to the paper on the wall that held everyone’s page amount read for that month on it. It was bar graphed. The teacher had to extend the paper to finish my bar. I had set a personal record that month. Nine hundred and fifty eight pages. I was happy with myself. I already wanted to beat it. That is where all my extra auction points came from. From those pages and all the other extra credit I did. Something caught my attention. What was it? Why is everyone smiling at me? I looked at my teacher and opened my ears just in time to hear her say that she was limiting the amount of things a person can purchase to two. I knew she made this rule to make the odds fair for others to auction against me. It wasn’t anything personal. I could have owned this auction. It didn’t bother me that she changed the rules. It made it more exciting. Should I bid on this? Or shouldn’t I? I was more excited. I still wanted to beat this month’s record.

That same year I was leaning in my chair, just at the right angle so that I could get the perfect view of the clock and still make it look like I was paying attention. My attention, however, was not there. It was at home with my imaginary nose in my imaginary book that I only knew the title to. I already couldn’t wait for the ending. The wondrous feeling of actually completing something, seeing it through to the never-bitter end. My teacher broke through my thoughts. What was it she said? Something about the highest spelling grade she’s ever put on a report card. I was half paying attention now. My gaze drifted from the teacher to the girl across the room. I suspected her to be the best candidate. Had she ever missed a word on the final spelling test? I snorted my doubt. Something caught my attention. I looked at the teacher again. She was staring right at me. Had she asked me a question? I looked around the room to seek help from my peers. They stared at me with useless faces of wonder. Even the smart girl across the room was staring. That face did her no justice. She was no help. None of them were. Well, time to fess up. My response was a confused "Huh?" That’s when I saw what the overhead projector was displaying. I fell back in my chair in surprise. Stupid chair.

I never suspected that I would be that one person to receive the 104% score in spelling. I still dedicate that grade to my obsession with reading, and the whole new world of vocabulary that it opened to me.

Sometimes I dream about going into the past and abducting that past me that was just realizing what it might be like to be school-smart. I would take him throughout our life showing him specific events that seemed to be a turning point of some kind or another. I would take him to the time we first stepped into Michael’s bookstore. I would take him to see us kissing the foundation of Barnes and Nobles bookstore and thanking the gods for allowing a piece of heaven to remain on earth. I would take him to when we argued with our grandma about not wanting to move on to reading novels because we weren’t ready for them. I would take him to the first time we got our grubby hands on one of those novels and realized that no matter what Grammie said, we could still go back to the kid’s books if we found one that struck our fancy. We never found one. I would take him to see us counting our books after every time we came back from the bookstore. I would take him to see the archaic bookstore that my Grandpa and I stumbled upon, and see our excitement over seeing the four Shakespearean volumes that were published over a hundred years ago.

I would then take him to the time of Science Fiction when aliens and mysterious planets were not out of the ordinary; teachers wanted to suck out your brain and use it for experiments; and the only thing that made someone ‘unusual’ was if they acted normal. Or to the time of Fantasy when dragons flew in the sky and princesses ran away not to be captured by them, but to join them in the life of freedom; while at the same time knights in shining armor would face off with entire armies of demons. Or to the time of Horror when slimy creatures slithered out from underneath beds and your own neighbor could be just as slimy. Or to the time of Mystery when murders were frequent and too tricky for the local police to solve them, so another kid and I would; and some famous person would disappear and I would follow a local kid who believed the school janitor was that person. I would take him to the world of Biographies where amazing achievements in a person’s life were real, and some day one of those books in the library might be about me.

But most importantly I would take him to a few seconds before the teacher announced that we were the ones to receive that 104% grade. I want to take him to see that so that he can see our reaction of pure joy and see the smiling classmates that didn’t envy us, but congratulated us instead and applauded our achievement. I would then take us outside and then home so that he could see that excited us running home to share this news with our mom, not to read as we had planned. I would show him this and thank him for this event. I would show him this so that he knew our effort was not wasted. I think that he would be pleased.

 

Copyright 2001
Matthew Ridge

 

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA
1999-2015