“This week we would like you to write about how the show of affection has played a part in your memory.
Choose a time when either the abundance or lack of affection (either by you or someone else) stands out, and show us. Bring us to that time. Help us feel what you felt.”
Of course, being a word nerd, I turned to my beat-up college dictionary (Webster’s New World) before starting:
1. A mental or emotional state or tendency; disposition or feeling
2. Fond or tender feelings, warm liking
3. A disease; ailment
4. An attribute or property of a thing
5. An affecting or being affected
I think I’ve got definition two covered. Possibly number five. Maybe a tinge of three if you look up the word on line.
Anyway, I was really going for a kid’s POV here, as something else I’m writing is written from the perspective of a youngster.
I was in the third grade. I wore new baby blue corduroy pants with an elastic waistband and a matching jacket sewn by my mother at the dining room table. One by one, the teacher called the students to her desk to retrieve their math tests. Perhaps the tests were in order by grade. Or alphabetically. Or maybe they were arranged by row because he passed me on his way to get his paper.
He looked at his test.
His face crumbled in upon itself like a half-eaten apple left to dry in the sun. He was close to tears. But in a split second, anger replaced despair. He snatched the paper from the teacher’s hand and stormed back down the row. His paper was in his right hand, his pencil in his left.
It was a long pencil. A just-sharpened pencil. He approached my desk.
He gripped that pencil. He brought his hand up. Up to his waist. Up to his to his shoulder. He snarled something. His lip wore a sneer.
He drove his hand down. Down between the cords of my baby blue pants with the elastic waistband made by my mother at the dining room table. Down into my thigh.
I stared at his hand. He snapped off the pencil tip and continued walking to his seat.
My eyes filled with tears. I examined my pants. There was a little pencil mark; there was a tiny hole where the fabric had parted to accommodate the sharp pencil tip.
I said nothing. He was the cool kid. He was the liked kid. He had everyone’s affection in the palm of his hand.
When a sufficient time had passed, I asked to go to the restroom. I pulled down my baby blue corduroy pants and sat on the black toilet seat to study my leg. It was white. It was angry. It throbbed.
I pulled up my pants and returned to math class. With an eraser, I rubbed at the pencil mark on my pants. With a fingernail, I coaxed the fibers of the fabric together.
After school, I changed out of my pants and again studied my leg. The skin was gray and hard and tender. In the center, I could see a tiny speck of pencil lead. I worried at my leg until it bled: Nail scissors wouldn’t extract that lead. Nor would tweezers or needles sterilized in alcohol.
In time, a clear piece of skin grew over that pencil lead, entombing it permanently in my thigh.
We got older. He became a star athlete. He was popular. Handsome. Loved by all. I suppose even I shared my classmates’ affection for him, admiring his talent, his athleticism, that easy, confident smile.
Any time I want, I can look through the window of skin in my thigh, see the lead embedded there and be reminded of him.
When he reaches for a pencil, I wonder: Does he remember me?