From Peru to USA, My Teen Years, starting in 1980
Editor's note: This year, Darien Library offered a class on memoir writing taught by Laura Cavers, who recently received an MFA in creative writing from Manhattanville College. Darien News secured four of the memoirs that were produced in the class for publication in the paper. They are not all-encompassing. They are not even, for the most part, finished products. What they are, however, are snippets of the lives of four very different Darien residents. We hope you enjoy them.
Picture yourself at a place where you know no one. Now imagine being surrounded by an army of 12- and 13-year-old middle school teens, their loud, concurrent babble crowding around you, sucking every bit of oxygen from you; their pimply faces aggressively nearing yours, checking you out, their clattering, metal-braced teeth fast approaching, as if ready to attack. It's as if you're watching yourself being in a movie, and feeling unfamiliar contact, although subtle, on your person. Do you feel yourself getting dizzy? Are you suffocating yet?
"Everyone, back to your seats and please don't scare the new student," said the homeroom teacher as she took attendance. "Patricia," she called out, to which I replied "Presente!" in Spanish and then all eyes were on me. Without a doubt, the first day of school proved to be a series of unfortunate events.
I was to shadow another sixth-grade student to help me get around from class to class.
Katie was a petite girl with very fair skin, big curly blonde hair and a huge smile so big that I almost forgot about her intimidating braces. What impressed me the most about that day was the amount of makeup most girls wore in school, including Katie. She had on the brightest red lipstick, green eye shadow, pink blush and the thickest, longest eyelashes covered in mascara that I've only seen in fashion magazines. The dress code was also different; mostly T-shirts and jeans, heels, sneakers or sandals for the girls. In Peru, schools enforce wearing a uniform in all public and private schools, so this was a change for me.
Katie decided to give me a makeover, and due to my language barrier, I wasn't sure what to say so I let her practice her cosmetology on me during gym class. She put makeup on me and let me borrow a pair of her jeans and a T-shirt. I had on more makeup than Boy George, but I knew I would be washing it off before leaving school. My dad did not allow me to wear any makeup.
The next day, she used a curling iron on my long straight brown hair. I couldn't speak much, so I went along with it. I began to understand her a little bit as the days went by. That is how I survived my first week of sixth grade.
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To give us both strength, my older brother, Pancho, in seventh grade, and I, in sixth, developed a "goodbye" ritual, since we didn't see each other until lunch time. I told him I didn't want him to baby me, he just had to make sure he gave me a look before he headed off to his classes; a special nod if you will.