Thursday, March 17, 2016



Year of Requirement Part 2

We moved into that house two days before my first day of school. My grandmother had taken me to the department store near her house the week before to buy a navy blue skirt and white blouse to wear to school, but we managed to make it to the store in Pumpkin City that sold the school uniform the day before I started school and got the full uniform.

The uniform consisted of a navy blue blazer, vest, and skirt with white blouse, white socks, and low-cut white sneakers. The blazer, vest, and skirt were, I found out later, not machine washable, and were sent to the dry cleaners only once a trimester. The white blouse was a cotton-poly no-iron blend with a plain round white collar that was hot and sticky in summer and cold in winter. The socks had to be white, without any stripes or polo players or alligators, and the shoes were white too. They could be any brand, as long as they were all white. Most people wore Nikes or Mizunos. You were allowed to wear a white, gray or black sweater or hoodless sweatshirt over the blouse and under the jacket in winter, and there was also a regulation windbreaker, which was just that, an unlined nylon windbreaker that stopped wicking water at around the third washing. If you wanted to wear tights, they were supposed to be flesh-toned. I was thinking whiskey, tango, foxtrot because what self-respecting woman younger than 70 wears flesh-toned tights? I missed my Lee jeans.

I also had the regulation school bag, which was a sturdy nylon bag that could be converted to a crossbody or a backpack. I later found out about an unwritten rule that said only 3rd year (most senior) students could wear the bag as a crossbody. Offenders would be shamed emotionally or physically by senior students. Like I said, whiskey, tang, foxtrot.

I’d left the Chicago suburbs halfway through the second (spring) semester in my freshman year of high school. I arrived on the second day of the last year of junior high school. So what did I do my first day of school? This was nearly 30 years ago, but if my memory serves me correctly, I took a standardized test. I was shocked at how poorly I did. In the science exam, I answered half the questions with any confidence. I'd taken a biology class in my suburban high school, so I didn't have a clue about electrical circuits or winter constellations. In social studies, the proportion was more like a third, since I did not know which prefecture was the biggest producer of rice and who was the seventh shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate. I figured out the language arts exam as best I could. I did the math OK. Of course, I finished the English exam about five minutes after we started (and spent the rest of the time staring out the window wondering what kind of evil I’d done in a previous life to deserve this happening to me).

I found out later that the teachers freaked out at how WELL I’d done on that test (other than English. They’d kind of expected that one.). They’d braced themselves for someone functionally illiterate, and here I was reading Japanese at a reasonable level of comprehension and doing well above average in math, and and writing legible answers in the rest of the subjects (even though many of the answers were wrong).

I wasn’t quite what my fellow students expected either. I got a lot of “you don’t look like you’re from America.” Um, what is a Japanese person from America supposed to look like? Based on what television and manga told them, apparently, I was supposed to be tall and slender and pretty and athletic and have long hair and an attitude.

Short, check. Dumpy, check. Plain, with acne and coke bottle glasses, check. Can't play ball sports to save her life, check. Short hair, check.

What an utter disappointment I must have been to them.

Well, except for the attitude part.


Annie Crow said...

Your last comment made me snort.

I remember (and photos bear me out), that I looked much the same as you at that time, only a bit taller and a fair bit heavier. Also no good at ball sports. (And no good at gymnastics, which you were. Do you remember I managed to break a toe doing a handstand in gym class? It meant the next quarter I got to write a paper on weight-lifting instead of taking part in it - which now I find funny because I do like weight-lifting - the only time I ever got an A in gym.)

pumpkinmommy said...

The writing about weight-lifting is funny...was this in Suburbia? I don't remember you breaking your toe, I'm afraid...

I didn't write this in the actual post, but while we were moving I gained 2 kilos in something like two weeks from inactivity and stress eating. I got stretch marks on my thighs. You can still see them if you look very very closely. I was really meticulous about moisturizing during my pregnancy, so I have more stretch mark on my thighs than on my torso.