Amber Sea of Children

*This is a guest post written by Morissa Schwartz and she is the author of the new book Notes Never Sent, a collection of inspirational creative non-fiction made up of anecdotes and letters . Check out this amazing sneak peak of her book and check out her publisher’s site to learn more. Thursdays are guest post day. If you would like to be featured email toborroworbuy@gmail.com.*

Hi, I’m Morissa Schwartz. My new book, Notes Never Sent, is being released by VIP Ink Publishing next month. It’s an inspirational creative non-fiction book made up of anecdotes and letters that form a cohesive tale of growing up.

The people I write about have shown me that you never truly know a person until you let yourself get to know them. No one is shallow; they only appear that way when you view them from afar. I like to delve into what makes us each an individual and express that sentiment in letters to those who inspire me to write. I have learned just as much about myself from the stories of those around me than from many of my own experiences. Although, I do have my own story to share.

Amber Sea of Children

A sea of children clad in their amber Catholic school uniforms surrounds me. They all know each other and yammer on about their summers and plans for the school year. They gather around the flagpole in the center of the school entrance, where a Mary Mother of God statue sits, but the statue is hidden behind the uniformed legs of the students.

I look on in horror. I cannot make sense of any of it. It is my first day of Catholic school. There are more students than I have ever seen in one place here. My last school had class sizes that rarely exceeded a dozen.

All these surroundings are so foreign: the students, the building, the crucifix…I have never seen anything like this in my ten years of life. I should take solace in the familiarity of the Pacific blue sky I would gaze at every morning, the leafy trees like I have my backyard, and the hard blacktop similar to the one in the park that I had taken a tumble on, but I cannot. I am too distracted by all these new things to notice the true beauty surrounding me. Particularly, I am sidetracked by the students my own age who I can only hope to fit in with.

Past the students is the school building. An old building, which according to the welcome brochure that my mother picked up from the office, has been around for over seventy-five years. It obviously needs some serious renovations. The bricks no longer appear strong, and the paneling on the gymnasium building looks like it can crumple if hit by a heavy storm, but I’m more afraid of the other students than by the faulty architecture.

In the worn windows, behind the damaged shades, above the elementary part of the building are cardboard cutouts of students in their little yellow uniforms. The faculty made them to welcome the younger students. They didn’t add anything for the older students; we are expected to already know our way.

The entrances are numbered. Entrance 1 is to the gym behind the playground. The other entrance is 2, which is where middle-shoolers enter. The doors are open, but we are not allowed in yet.

The middle school students wear custard yellow shirts, skirts, and shorts, as opposed to the lemon peel jumpers the younger students wear. This is our privilege, and if one has their skirt too short, it is off to the principal’s office and a note home to Mommy. Many girls are testing these rules. I am not. I measured my skirt before coming here against my fingers about five times for fear of being chastised.

The middle school students gathered around the flagpole have segregated themselves: boys on one side, girls on the other. I barely even notice the younger students walking hand-in-hand with their parents; I am too fixated on the students my own age and how different I am from them. Even our shadows look different.   Mine includes long braided strings on my bag, long hair that goes way past my shoulders, and a purse. I’m the only girl carrying a purse. Are purses not allowed here? Or are they just not cool?

I stand farther back from the students, centered with my long hair glowing auburn under the sun, like my defiantly red backpack. Just as I am original, my backpack radiates just how unique I am to this school. While the girls on the right have their magenta and bluebonnet backpacks and the boys on the left have their blue, black, and gray ones, there I stand with my fire-engine red hiking bag, which is bolder than me. I don’t actually feel that confident. I just feel different. The only other bold backpacker is Kayla, who stands to my right in her buttercup bag. It was that moment of sharing distinctive backpacks that spawned our three-year friendship.

Our shoes are also telling of how different the other girls are from me. I am wearing penny-loafers or “old-lady shoes” as the girl next to me in the Pumas calls them, but I simply followed protocol, just as I did with my skirt. The nun on the far left, standing with the middle school boys says, “no heels, no colors, no sneakers.” I follow her commands, because her scowl scares me. But not as much as the unfriendly woman in the turquoise dress on the right, Ms. Endlolf, who does not care for those who are different. It is obvious even on this first day. She is heading to the middle-schoolers, where she will lecture them about the nail polish they are not supposed to wear and the gum they cannot chew. Then, she commands them to proclaim the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Hail Mary, and My Country Tis of Thee. She reprimands those who do not follow along and punishes anyone who talks.

I have no one to talk to, so I do not have to worry about Miss Endolf’s punishments today. All these people are strangers…scary strangers…scary strangers in amber shirts. I am too fixated on the people to notice the air-conditioning units in the windows that signify that for the first time in my life, I will have to sit in a hot classroom. And I definitely do not notice the reflection of the “exit” sign in the window of the middle school entrance, even though that is what I want to do more than anything. I want to exit this scary new land where I surely won’t fit in. If I flip around, you will see the fear on my face. It is a helpless fear like none I have ever felt before, because I have never experienced anything like this before. I have never been to such a large school or seen so many new people and things at ones.

I see the playground on the far left and wish I could just go back and play all day on those slides. I find it funny how no one, not even the little kids, are playing on the playground. If I were just a few years younger, there would be no prying me off those monkey bars, but in this foreign place, the playground is a ghost land. This whole place is like an alternate universe. It is a crowded place of many rules, religious objects, and amber…lots of amber.

Then the nun stands next to me, “I like your shoes,” she says. For the first time that morning, I smile. Those four simple words change my entire frame of mind, as I realize that if that scary nun is actually nice, maybe everyone is. I think this place is going to be okay.

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