Age six. Crunchy fragments of yellowed, parched Phoenix grass dusted the black tires of my bike, and stuck to my elbows and knees as I rode–wobbly-wheeled–towards some unknown destination. My life has always, in large part, been defined by a continuous state of coming and going. I learned to ride my bike in the months preceding a move back home to a then-unknown California. My earliest memories are not of Southern California radiance but of Phoenix heat. My second-earliest memories however, take place a few months later, on one of the rare, fog-drenched, wannabe-spring mornings that the Pacific Ocean sometimes exhales onto Los Angeles County. The grass at the bus stop on those mornings was always slick with dew.
I was six years old, going on seven. Perhaps I was already seven. I do not know if the move was pre- or post-March. I imagine that this is the age where my anxiety about the certainty of the world around me began to seep into the folds of my brain, and push its way to my fingertips whenever I became nervous about something. There was not a single day that I did not ask the same bus driver if I was on the correct school bus. Forest Street. I was always on the correct school bus.
I don’t suppose there were a lot of things that I actually thought that I knew at seven. Understanding was less about conviction, and more about the simple acceptance of that which was. Learning, for a first grader, is not yet developed into the practice of questioning, but of simply memorizing the world around her. There was so much that I did not know. Things just were, and I wanted nothing more than to know those things.
If you have never lived somewhere with a climate as temperate as Southern California, you may not know that schools are not a single building, as they are elsewhere in the country. For the longest time I thought the “indoor schools” were a figment of the televison’s imagination. No one really went to school in buildings like that. I digress.
Schools in California are much more akin to miniature college campuses, with quads, blacktop, and grass scattered across some expanse of property-tax-funded land. At my new elementary school, I was led past a small, graying building with frosted windows and its own enclosed yard, and towards a row of “regular” brick-and-mortar classrooms: three, if I remember correctly. The aforementioned playlot was a cement track populated by tricycles; when the bell rang, children ran out from behind the frosted windows into their enclosed track, hopped onto their bikes, and pedaled large, looping circles away from the building, and back to it. Away again, and back.
Weeks ago, I had learned how to ride a bike, and I craved another chance. I asked a towering teacher when we would get to ride around the track, proving our ability to both come and go at once.
“The bikes are for kindergartners.”
For the first time, with heart-wrenching clarity, I understood what time was: “And you’re a first-grader.”