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Sierra Pearl Drossman

Black Car

       I still remember when my second-grade class exited the show-and-tell circle in the story sanctuary after Dillon’s mom brought his parrot into the classroom for Fun Friday during the first week of class, and it peed all over the alphabet rug, which was only used for special occasions and story time. Ms. Rowan’s rocking chair, covered in plush pillows, sat like a throne above the students on the ground. The primary learning area was to the left of the story sanctuary. There were four horizontal rows, each with six desks that faced the whiteboard, where Ms. Rowan would write the date in the upper left-hand corner at the beginning of class every day. The right-hand side was reserved for the daily schedule: 

          8:00: School Starts

          8:15: Check-in and Daily Plan

          8:30: Math

          9:30: Language Arts

          10:30: Specials (Monday, Friday: Physical Education; Tuesday, Thursday:
                   
Music; Wednesday: Art)

          11:15: Lunch and Recess

          12:00: Story Time

          12:45: Science/Social Studies 

          1:45: Afternoon Recess

          2:15: Debrief and Unwind 

          3:00: School Ends 

      When the parrot peed, we were between the debrief and the end of school. Earlier that day, Ms. Rowan announced we would be placed into reading and writing comprehension groups on Mondays and Wednesdays. My group consisted of three sports bros, including their leader, Josh Johnson. During the meeting, I was looking forward to making fun of them at recess with my best friend Tori Kim because all they did was brag about how they were looking forward to the PACER test.

         Like any school movie, there were four groups of students that hung out at recess: the Girl Scouts who enjoyed braiding each other’s hair while they sang secret cultish chants about friendship, the sports bros who monopolized the field for games of Sharks and Minnows, the rebels who played hidden games of Groundies behind the recess monitor’s back, and the nerds who brought their contraband Nintendo DSs to play Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Tori and I were enigmas who would hang out on the swing set and make fun of the other kids whose friend groups dictated their entire personalities. We would make jokes about how we were the only free thinkers in a society dictated by our social status. 

        In early September, when she sat on her swing, I asked, “What are you learning about in your group?” She was in the most advanced reading and writing comprehension group called the Red Rockets while I was at the bottom of the rainbow in the Violet Vans for kids who needed extra help. Not only was her color at the top of the rainbow, but they got the cooler vehicle. 

          “We are reading a science fiction book about aliens,” Tori responded.

          “That sounds interesting.” 

      “Yeah. I’m also doing supplementary research on the side. Including reading about the velocity of the Earth’s rotation, the chemical makeup of the gas giants, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life—to better understand the book,” Tori said, using it as a chance to brag about how smart she was. 

          “Do you believe in aliens?” 

         “It would be idiotic to believe we are the only sentient planet in space. As a matter of fact, I think we both might be aliens.”

          “That’s crazy.”

         “Think about it. Have you ever noticed how different you are from the other kids in your class?”

         “I guess . . . I don’t really look like any of them. And the teacher is always calling me out for misbehaving in class. I thought it was because she had my brother two years before, and he always gets in trouble.”

         “That is exactly it. I have researched our alien heritage. We are both part of an alien race that secretly impregnates human women so that the babies think they are human.”

          “Is my brother an alien?”

         “No. He was born to your parents. Haven’t you noticed how different you look from the rest of your family?”

          “People have asked me if I was adopted. . . .”

     See, your family doesnt know that you are an alien, but you look different from the rest. We are from the same alien race in the Alpha Galaxy. We have been placed here on Earth as part of an experiment to see if the plant is habitable for alien takeover.”

          “I guess that makes sense.”

        After that conversation, she would bring a notebook filled with evidence she collected to show me during recess. Soon, I started noticing how different I looked from the other kids in class. All the other students besides Tori had lighter features than me. My messy curly hair would spark debates if it was black or dark brown, and chocolate-colored eyes separated me from the others, causing me to question if I was really from this planet. 

         My focus on how the other students looked was soon interrupted by Ms. Rowan announcing we would start our poetry unit. None of us ever wrote poetry before, so she read us some examples of nature poetry and then suggested we sit by different windows and observe what we saw. I sat by the window that faced the alley where a black car was parked and wrote about my observations. I still remember the poem I wrote; it went like this:

          Black car 

          Black car

          Black car

And a final “black car” to give it that deep, emotional sting that you just can’t get with three black cars. I was very proud of this poem. It had symbolism and repetition and rhyme (car with car and black with black). I thought it was the perfect poem and would win awards. And the emotional impact of this poem brought tears to my eyes every time I read it. I mean, try saying:

          Black car 

          Black car

          Black car

          Black car

repeatedly without getting tears in your eyes. 

         After writing my first poem I thought that poetry was easy, and decided, like any great poet, I would embark on a collection. The thing about a collection is that every poem must be related. I did this by using repetition on objects I could see through the window of the classroom. The following poem did require some imagination as it was about the sun, and through trial and error, I realized that looking at the sun was not a great idea. But I finally completed my second masterpiece, which went like this:

          Bright sun

          Bright sun

          Bright sun

          Bright sun

And to make it different from my first poem, I decided to give it an extra “Bright sun.” The addition of this last line was what made it distinct from my first poem. By this time in my poetry career, I thought I could be next the next Robert Frost. I would do this by writing poems about the world that would change how we interpret nature. Also, Robert Frost was the only poet I knew besides Shel Silverstein. And my poetry was obviously too complex to be Shel Silverstein’s, due to its hidden symbolism and dualistic meaning.

        The following morning, I arrived at school ready to write my third poem. Still, I forgot the language-arts unit on Wednesday was our groups, which meant I had to deal with Josh Johnson and his mindless minions. On that day, I was telling him a story Tori’s dad made up on a drive to the apple orchard about an apple tree with square green apples. The apples on that tree were different from all the other apples in the orchard, which were red circular apples that would make fun of the square green apples for being different. The circular red apples were the ones everyone desired, so they were constantly picked by the people. However, they tasted bitter and often had worms, while the square green apples tasted delicious. The issue was no one knew the square green apples tasted better because people were so focused on the appearance of the ordinary-looking circular red apples. 

       Josh Johnson interrupted the story by saying, “That story is stupid. It completely ignores the triangle yellow apples.”

          “There are no triangle yellow apples!” I yelled back at him.

          “Well, I think the superior apples are the triangle yellow apples because square green apples are stupid.” 

       The argument around what type of apples are superior sparked a feud between me and Josh Johnson. Every week during our group, we would constantly get into fights about which kind of apple was superior. All his friends would back him in his belief, while I was alone. The argument over apples turned into a war between the two of us that went beyond the comprehension group into constant classroom interruption. After he stole my notebook and drew a large yellow triangle apple on the cover with the caption, “Square green apples are dumb,” I screamed at him in front of the whole class. Causing Ms. Rowan to take us outside the classroom, where we were banned from talking to each other and moved our desks to opposite sides of the classroom. I started to miss the constant pokes of Josh Johnson’s pencil when he sat behind me in class. 

         The poetry unit continued, and I was about to start my next poem. The idea had come to me in a dream. I was going to write “brown squirrel” ten times. My dream was crushed when Ms. Rowan called us all over to sit in the story sanctuary. She announced that she would read some of the best poetry from her first-grade class. I waited eagerly for her to read my poetry because I knew I was the best poet in the class. While she read the other poems, I imagined my acceptance as President Ms. Rowan named me the next Poet Laureate of the United States. Unfortunately, my poetry was never read, and some crappy poem about how much a girl hated mushrooms on her pizza was read instead. Ms. Rowan then said it was time for her to read what she called the poems that “needed to be improved” so that we would know what not to write. There was only one poem in that pile, and she read it out loud:

          Black car

          Black car

          Black car 

          Black car

         At that moment, I knew that my goal of being a poet was crushed. For the first time since I started writing poetry, I felt sad, which I later found out was a feeling that poets usually feel all the time, and I started binge-drinking juice boxes to numb the pain. I decided, with my failed spelling test and horrible poems, I should just become a veterinarian like everyone else. 

         My friendship with Tori was the only thing that made attending school bearable. I started to enjoy the idea of us both being aliens that did not fit in with the students at school. 

         “I think you are right, and we are both aliens,” I told Tori on the swing set one day in November.

          “What made you figure it out?”

     “I started observing the other kids, and we don’t have anything in common. You and I are both outcasts that will never conform to how the other behaves.”

          “That is why we are friends because no matter what, we have each other backs. The students will never understand us; even if we try to be friends with them, they know we are different. You know that they make fun of us both behind our backs, they think we are crazy for the imaginary world we create, but our creativity is what makes us good friends.”

          “Do you ever wish we were like the other kids?”

       “You mean to have light skin and be devoted to the Catholic Church. That’s boring. Not to mention your hair would be the color of pee.”

          “Yeah. But then you wouldn’t be judged for the soup you bring to lunch. And during Christmas, the teacher wouldn’t make me be the poster child for other religions and have me teach the class about Hannukah.”

        “What makes us special is that we both come from different cultures than the other students.”

          “Sometimes I wish we didn’t.”

         “That is why we are aliens; everyone sees us as different. When we return someday to our home planet in the Alpha Galaxy, we will be seen as heroes for dealing with the human need for categorization.” Our conversation ended when the recess monitor came to us and told us that playtime was over. We dragged our feet into the sand to stop our swings and dismounted. Ms. Rowan announced the next day that we would have a winter poetry reading where all the parents would come to listen to our work. She could tell I was discouraged, so during our next free writing time, she suggested instead of quitting poetry, I combine the three poems I had already written using more descriptive language and less repetition. I pulled out my writer’s composition notebook, which Ms. Rowan gifted everyone in the class with, and we reviewed my poetry. She pulled out a piece of paper, and together we wrote my next poem: 

          The shiny new Cadillac,

          Glistens in the late autumn sun,

          As auburn squirrels collect the harvest. 

        She was so impressed with my conformity that she wanted me to read this poem at the reading. Now that I had my piece prepared, I could spend the rest of my day focusing on my hatred of Josh Johnson. 

         On Wednesday, Ms. Rowan introduced a new girl named Emma to our group, hoping it would help prevent the constant bickering. When Emma sat down, and I noticed the friendship bracelet on her wrist, I despised her. She had blond waves that cascaded down her cardigan and stopped midway at her floral dress. Her striking blue eyes contrasted perfectly with the pale skin of her face. After my conversation with Tori, I couldn’t help but notice that her hair looked like pee streaming into the toilet water of her blue eyes. Ms. Rowan’s plan worked, and soon Josh Johnson started ignoring me to talk to Emma. Shockingly, they had the same opinions on everything. 

          Emma ignored me because she was so focused on Josh Johnson. But that changed one day when she came up to me after music class and said,

          “I think Josh Johnson is right, and triangle yellow apples are superior.”

      That comment led to our reading and writing comprehension group turning into Josh Johnson and Emma arguing with me about the superior type of apples. It was like old times, except Josh Johnson now had Emma, who believed whatever he told her, backing him up.

         As the holidays approached, Ms. Rowan decided as part of our Victorian history unit, it would be fun for us to write holiday cards to each other because they originated in the mid-1800s when Sir Henry Cole commissioned the first commercial one. At first, I was going to write clichéd messages to everyone about how I hoped they have a nice winter break, but I thought that was boring, so instead, I decided to draw them all as square green apples.

       After the cards were handed out, Josh Johnson approached me, “This whole feud is silly, and it needs to end. At first, it was fun to mess with you, but you have taken it too far. No wonder everyone calls you a freak behind your back. It is bad enough I am forced to interact with you twice a week, so just stop talking to me, weirdo.”

      I walked away from Josh Johnson and lied that I needed to use the bathroom so he couldn’t see me cry. On my walk through the hallway, as I swallowed my tears, I plotted my revenge against him. I would interrupt his game of Sharks and Minnows during recess to challenge him to a duel. All our classmates would watch as spectators as I bludgeoned Josh Johnson to death. But the moment I entered the bathroom and my tears started pouring out, I realized how alone I was: my once-avant-garde poetry had become generic, Tori only wanted to talk about being aliens, and my fake feud with Josh Johnson had turned into actual hatred for each other. The thought of joining the Girl Scouts briefly entered my mind because they promised lifelong friendships with the bracelets that they were constantly mass-producing for each other to show how close they were, but even as a second grader, I knew that their facade of friendship was all part of the Girl Scout Cookie pyramid scene to get more consumers for their product. As I sat on the floor of a stall wiping my puffy, swollen eyes, I decided to let my hatred of Josh Johnson go and focus on presenting my poetry.

      On the day of the reading, Ms. Rowan decorated the classroom with snowflakes we made earlier that day in class and brought in some cookies and lemonade. The parents sat at their children’s desks as we lined up alphabetically by last name, dressed in our holiday clothing to read our poetry. Ms. Rowan projected each of our pieces while we read them because none of us wanted to memorize our poems. As I stood in line, I fidgeted nervously with my velvet dress. I watched as Tori went up before me. She wrote five haikus about the changing of the seasons that were a metaphor for man’s destruction of nature. I waited eagerly to read the poem that Ms. Rowan helped me write. When it was finally my turn, I watched Ms. Rowan project the poem on the screen, but instead, I said:

          Black car

          Black car

          Black car

          Black car

Sierra Pearl Drossman has a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing and sociology. Her previous publications include “Aude the God” and “If These Walls Could Talk”.

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