As I think I may have already mentioned, when I was in Elementary School, my teachers always gave me a list of the assignments that I was going to miss while I was away (so that I wouldn’t fall too far behind on my schoolwork). At the bottom of this list, they’d always tack on an extra writing assignment: “Write an essay describing your trip.” Or, “keep a journal highlighting your favorite experiences.” Or, “tell a story about something interesting that happened while you were away,” for example. I think that it was their way of punishing me for frolicking through sunny Florida in the middle of winter when I was supposed to be at school. At least, that’s how I always looked at it.
It was totally dumb.
“I went to Disney World. I went on all the rides. I saw Minnie Mouse and Goofy. I went to the beach, too. I swam in the ocean. I collected sea shells along the shores. I did twenty laps in the hotel pool. I stubbed my toe on the sidewalk. I ate sugar-coated cereal for breakfast every morning. It was warm and sunny most of the time, but sometimes it rained.”
Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah!
Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy our yearly trip to Florida. It’s just that the experiences that I’ve had over the years in the Sunshine State aren’t exactly bursting with literary merit. It’s not as if my family goes gallivanting around the world visiting foreign countries, or exotic islands, or anything like that. Florida is pretty much the “same old, same old,” year after year, and that is probably the most exciting thing about the trip. The fact that, as random and messy as life is, there is still a place where everything stays the same and time seems to stand still.
However, while this routine-filled yearly vacation continues to make me extremely happy, it doesn’t make for a very good story. As a result, my annual vacation assignment has always ended up sounding awfully boring (and terribly unimaginative).
Maybe that’s why I did what I did.
A couple of years ago, at the very beginning of the school year, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Gold, gave the class a writing assignment asking us to describe a recent family trip. But, even though I am lucky enough to have been to Disney World almost as many times as I am years old, I did not write about any of my Florida vacations. Instead, I described a family trip to Puerto Rico. I wrote very “eloquently” (Mrs. Gold’s word, not mine) about the beauty of the beach, the sparkle of the sea, and the warmth of the sun. There was just one teeny tiny little problem – I had never been to Puerto Rico.
My parents had gone to Puerto Rico on vacation once, but they left me and my brother at home with my grandparents while they were away (it was the only time I can remember them ever going away alone together). When they got back, my mother told me all about the hot sun, and the glistening water, and she showed me photos of the beautiful beach. So, when Mrs. Gold gave us the assignment, I just used my imagination and described the trip as if I had actually been to Puerto Rico, myself.
It wouldn’t have been such a big deal (or, rather, no one would have ever known what I’d done) if it hadn’t been for the fact that Mrs. Gold decided to have us re-write our essays onto good quality paper so that she could display them on the wall for Back-To-School Night.
I couldn’t do anything but re-write my essay onto the fancy lined paper that Mrs. Gold distributed and hope that my parents didn’t get a chance to look at the bulletin board. But, just in case they did, in a somewhat desperate attempt to avoid discovery, I wrote my name vertically, in small letters, in the upper-left-hand corner of the page. That way, when Mrs. Gold hung my essay on the bulletin board with the rest of them, one of the staples that she used at the top covered my name almost entirely. As a result, my essay appeared to have been written anonymously. Yes, I know, I thought it was pretty ingenious myself.
The big day finally arrived. And, even though my mother was so sick that she had less than a month to live, both of my parents went to Back-To-School Night. And, of course, they looked at the bulletin board. But, they couldn’t find my essay. So, they asked Mrs. Gold where it was, and she proceeded to show them the “wonderfully vivid” description of my family’s trip to Puerto Rico.
My parents came home from Back-To-School Night, and my mother somehow managed to climb the steps (or was she carried?) up to my room, where she found me lying, wide awake, in bed. She recounted the story, and I listened, but I didn’t say anything. And, then, after she finished, she didn’t say anything either. She just sat at the edge of my bed, lost in thought for a while. Then, she absentmindedly patted me on the arm, and she got up (with great difficulty), and she s-l-o-w-l-y made her way out of the room. And, after what seemed like a very, very long time, I fell asleep.