Kindergarten

I sat next to him every day on the AM school bus ride. When we got to school, we parted ways; he went off to the classroom with the jelly flowers on the windows, and I to the one that always smelled like tempura paint and orange juice. We enjoyed our morning bus rides together, because it meant that we could talk about our pets and compare freckles (I always had more, no matter how hard he tried to “grow” them).  Then one day, he leaned over and kissed me on the arm. Clearly, I didn’t have time for a boyfriend; I was only interested in his stuffed animals and his light-up sneakers. So the next time he tried to put the moves on me, I slapped those freckles clean off his face.

Nine ears later, he came out of the closet. And I can’t help but feel like I might have had something to do with that.

 

First Grade

We read silently for thirty minutes each day. I sat myself down on the floor in the corner of the classroom, because I didn’t care for the beanbag chairs. I was much smaller than the rest of the children in my class, and sometimes I struggled to climb out of the deep, puffy cushion. The floor was warm anyway, because the classroom was located directly above the boiler room.

I read a story about dogs. It shared a lot of valuable information with me: dogs can be big, dogs can be small, sometimes dogs wear boots and hats and go on adventures and solve mysteries. More of a non-fiction piece, really.

Mrs. Peterson, the principal, joined the class while we read independently. She floated around the room and stopped to listen while students tried to sound out words like “shoes,” and “swimming.” She knelt down next to me. Then she told me that she liked the way that I “stopped when I made a mistake, and started again from the beginning of the sentence.”

 

Second Grade

My parents grew up within walking distance of each other. In Newtown, their
Bronx accents were apparent. In second grade, the other kids began to notice the differences in my speech. When they said “ore-ange,” I said “ahr-ange.” They called me “Hay-nah,” and I said “Hah-nah.” My classmates didn’t know what to make of this. Chris asked me if I was British and I told him, “No. I am from New York.”

For the rest of the school year, kids asked me if I could bring in some tea and scones for them to try.

I practiced saying “ore-ange.”

 

 

Third Grade

Zach and Sarah kissed in the blue slide during recess for ten seconds.

This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to anyone. Ever.

 

Fourth Grade

Sullenly, we filed outside on a misty April morning. We were each given four Popsicle sticks, and each time we passed our teacher we would drop one into his bucket. Once we were out of sticks, we were out of laps and got to sit down. It wasn’t hard for me to run four laps around the football field. I knew that I could do a good job; my usual time had been around eight minutes. My teacher yelled, “Go!” and we all took off around the first corner. Seven minutes later, I was halfway through my final lap. I needed to stop and tie my shoe. I knelt down, and in front of me sat the biggest, reddest, most distracting ladybug that I had ever seen. I sat right in the grass and watched it climb up my arm. I named it Gladys, I remember because I thought that I was very clever for knowing about the name “Gladys.” I looked up when I heard my name. All of my classmates had finished the run, and there I was, in front of everyone, sitting in the field, playing with a ladybug. So I picked Gladys up, and walked toward my class so that she could be safely deposited in the bushes behind the picnic tables.

My time was eleven minutes.

I didn’t care.

 

 

Fifth Grade

A group of girls in my class stood outside of the classroom, looking into Taylor’s locker. She couldn’t tell if her special locker shelf was going to fit. My friend Maddy stood with them. I stood behind her and looked. I knew that I didn’t fit anywhere in that group—they were the first of the girls to discover the flat irons and mascara. I was still brushing sand out of my hair, leftover from the summer. However, I didn’t have any other friends in my cluster, and so I desperately wished for acceptance. I pulled Maddy over to my locker, so that I could show her my books. I had stacked them so ingeniously, they all fit perfectly. I didn’t even need a shelf. She asked me if I thought that maybe I could fit into my locker. I took my books out and crawled in. I was still very small, compared to the other kids in my grade, and I fit. Maddy closed the door. I wasn’t afraid, because I knew that she would let me out in a second. Taylor called her into the classroom, because Mrs. Swanson wanted to show her something. I couldn’t see anything other than the floor through the narrow slits in the door, so I listened to Maddy jogging away from my locker, away from me. I was alone.

I didn’t know how to open a locker from the inside, and it took ten minutes of banging and yelling for someone on the outside to lift the latch and let me out.

 

Sixth Grade

On the first day of sixth grade, Mrs. Lane paired us up and instructed us to tell our partner one very special thing about ourselves. My partner told me about the day that her work was entered in some sort of special art contest. She said that she was very good at art, probably the best in the class. I told her that I, also, like to make art. I also told her about the time that my art teacher gave me a special class about watercolors. She told me that her mom was an art teacher in Wilton. I told her about the prize I won for a drawing in fifth grade. She told me that she had won the same prize in her class. Her name was Jesse. I decided to hate her.

 

Seventh Grade

My best friend Jesse and I joined our class at the big, white table. Mrs. Spoonfeather appeared in the doorway, holding a bundle of paper towels. She interrupted the circle of timid artists and sat down next to me. She was wearing earrings that looked like skulls, but they were painted a friendly, light green. I liked them. Then, from her bundle, she unwrapped a pomegranate. Jesse was very excited about this, and I didn’t know why. I had never tried a pomegranate before. As Mrs. Spoonfeather told us the story of Hades and Persephone and the pomegranate that sent the latter down to the underworld for six months every year, she cut into the fruit. It was so beautiful and red. It was the perfect first day of the class that would eventually nudge me down a special new path.

 

Eighth Grade

I was late for my first day of eighth grade. Late. Only by five minutes, but I wasn’t okay with that. By the time I made my way down to the purple cluster, all of the kids in my homeroom were already seated.

I stood in the doorway for a second, and a girl in the back waved to me, and pointed to the empty seat next to her. She had pink hair, which I thought was weird. (I would grow to love it). Her name was Mairin—I read it off of her planner. I wondered if she was the Mairin that had been my best friend for two years in preschool. We were inseparable then. But that was pretty far-fetched. There must have been other Mairins in the school… somewhere. And it wasn’t like we were ever going to become best friends again, right? That would’ve been crazy…

 

Ninth Grade

I sat in Madame Battisti’s French II class, where I learned how to speak French with an Italian accent. Or Fritalian. Anyway, I loved it. But I had finished all of my work for the ay, and there were twenty minutes left. I realized that I had forgotten to do my English homework, so I asked the girl in front of me for a piece of paper. She was a year older than me. I took a piece of lined paper, and wrote a page and a half. The page smelled a little weird, but I didn’t think much of it.

After the bell rang, I made my way back to room B237 for English. On the way, I ran into Mairin. She asked about an assignment that we both had to do for our art class. Then she sniffed the air in front of me, and leaned in to sniff my homework. “Why does your work smell like pot?” she asked me. I ran to English. Pot? Like, as in… marijuana? Is that what pot smelled like? Oh no, that couldn’t be true. Unless the girl who gave me the paper had pot in her backpack, and that’s way it smelled… I had to re-write it. I couldn’t hand it in! What if it made my teacher think that I did drugs? No, that couldn’t happen.

Class started, and Ms. Parsons began to collect our work. I pretended like I couldn’t find my paper. Then I spent the rest of the class period furiously re-writing the entire page and a half onto a new, un-scented piece of paper. As the class left the room, I handed it to her. Maybe she thought that I had forgotten my work and decided to do it during class, but I didn’t care. I would never allow anyone to think that I liked… pot.

Why did they call it that, anyway? Pot. Is that what they cooked it in? Do they cook it? How many pots did it take to get high? I would never find out; the pot-scented homework had stressed me out enough for one high school experience.

Tenth Grade

I drove to Michigan with my Odyssey of the mind team, for fourteen hours, in a coach bus. It could’ve been nice. But it wasn’t. Once my team was seated on the bus, every seat was full. We could not trade seats with someone else, because there were teams from other towns, unfamiliar to us. So I wound up sitting between Jake and Zach, in the last row, next to the little closet with the toilet in it.

I had trouble with my anxiety that year, and I didn’t sleep much during the night. We finished watching Disney’s Tangled on the televisions above the seats, and Zach fell asleep with his head on my shoulder and his legs in my lap. The bus was dark, and I watched the other cars pass us outside. As we grew closer to our destination, the roads became less crowded. I looked at Jake, who was sleeping next me, his head on the window with a bandana covering his eyes. I watched him for a moment, until I reached down to take out my water bottle. I took a sip and looked toward the window again. Suddenly, Jake sat upright, looking at me, with his bandana in his lap. I jumped, startled, and dropped the bottle. It spilled all over my blanket, and Zach. I told him that he startled me, because I thought that he was asleep. He leaned in, and put his mouth uncomfortably close to my ear: “I never sleep.” Then he reminded me of the pocket knives that he kept on his person at all times, one in each pocket, just in case. I nodded, and leaned back against the toilet-closet. As he slept, Zach began to mutter a song from Tangled in a lilting falsetto.

Eight hours to go.

 

Eleventh Grade

It was June, and we had just completed our final day of ECA. We were all sprawled out on the floor of Mairin’s room, making shadow puppets on the ceiling.

We had a big sleepover every year, on the last day of school. Because we spent so much time together on the bus, and because of our mutual passion for the arts, our group grew to be very tight. But it was a bittersweet moment, lying on Mairin’s pink rug, because we all knew that it would probably be the last time we would spend the night with Lindsay, and Ellie, and Ashley.

We stayed up all night. At five o’clock in the morning, we noticed the sun beginning to rise. We took our blankets and sleeping bags out to the deck of Mairin’s pool, and sat in a circle. Most of us sat in plastic chairs, but Jesse crawled under a blanket next to the diving board. We stayed there for two hours. At seven o’clock, we all trudged inside, and finally fell asleep in a heap in Mairin’s living room. I woke up at noon, after having a very strange, realistic dream about someone banging repeatedly on a big drum, producing a steady rhythm of bangs. I yawned, and stretched my legs. Suddenly, a knocking sound came from the kitchen. It was the same noise that came from the drum in my dream. I stood up, and cautiously peered around the corner, into the other room. There, standing outside on Mairin’s porch and rapping on the locked sliding door, was Jesse. She was holding her sleeping bag, and she appeared to be slightly wet.

We had forgotten about her when we all came inside after watching the sunrise. She had slept for eight hours under a bush. And it had rained on her.

We gave her extra pancakes.

 

Twelfth Grade

In September of 2014, I realized that in less than a year, I would be in college. I was terrified. I had been having problems with my anxiety since fifth grade, and for a while I couldn’t sleep over at friends’ houses or even stay in school all day, because I was afraid of having panic attacks. I wondered about how I’d be able to survive in an art school, so far away from home. I decided not to think about it. I wanted to focus on school and my artwork instead.

I was in the senior figure drawing class at ECA. This meant that I would spend three hours a day drawing a nude model, who sat on a futon in the center of the classroom. It wasn’t uncomfortable, though, because things were different at ECA. At ECA, theatre students crawled out of the elevators, wearing masks and mumbling in alien dialects. Music students played saxophones while dancers battled in the courtyard. Students made short action films in the parking garage across the street. Artists plastered each other’s full bodies to make casts. So the model wasn’t the weirdest thing that I had ever encountered. But I was worried about how I was doing in the class. I didn’t think that I was working hard enough; I always seemed to use the same shades and scales. And I was upset, because my drawing teacher was my favorite and I couldn’t bear to disappoint him. So I picked new colors. I chose a toned paper, instead of my usual plain white, and I stood and worked on a large scale. My teacher, Zach, walked around the room and stood behind each student, and delivered some sort of suggestion. Then he passed me, tapped on my board and said, “That’s a kick-ass drawing you got there.” This made me want to work harder.

At the end of the quarter, Zach wrote me a note in my report card. He said that I displayed remarkable focus, and that I drew what I saw, and not what I knew. He said that this was a rare quality, and that I had one of the sharpest eyes of any student that he had met at ECA. I couldn’t believe it.

I decided that no matter how nervous I felt, I would go to the best art school that I could get into. Because I made kick-ass drawings, and I couldn’t let my anxiety stop me.

Hannah Fitzgerald’s personal essay, “Thirteen Years,” won second prize in the Fourth Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Hannah is a Fine Arts major who has just completed her freshman year. She hopes to pursue a career in production design.