“Yo! YO! LADY! I CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU’RE SAYING! SO STOP TALKING TO ME!” I thought about yelling this. Right in the face of my new “homeroom” teachers, as she slowly blabbered at me in Italian. Instead I just stood there in the front of my new classmates and stared at her. She tried to help me understand what she said with frequent hand motions, but I was lost.
I’m leaning against the blackboard, with my head raised high to symbolize “my cool attitude”. Earlier this morning, rolled up my jeans before school to show off my new Jordans. I even had a new green polo shirt on and I sported my old New York Knicks flat hat backwards. I mean, to be honest, I was looking pretty fly. You know, had to show off the new American fashions for the ladies. I heard they like that fashion stuff down here.
But when she had called me to the front of the class, to introduce me, everything changed. I had walked up slowly, taking my time, with that NYC strut that the cool kids at my old school [strut to front of class]. I had to show them that I wasn’t to be messed with. She talked to me slowly in Italian, but all I heard was “Blah. Blah. Blah. And… blah.” When she finally stopped talking, she looked at me. I looked back. [5 seconds of awkward]. She must be asking a question. The kids had already been giggling quietly, pointing at my outfit. They were just jealous, I told myself. I took an educated guess at her question in my broken and terrible Italian.
“Uh. Oh uh sorry. I mean oh wait. Il mio nome Russell e mi è piaciute il basket.” I told her choppily in Italian. I told her my name was Russell and I like basketball, one of the only phrases I knew in Italian. In America, I had taken Spanish, not Italian. I had done a little studying on a few phrases a couple days ago, but obviously not enough. Why can’t everybody just speak English? The class was now laughing as they heard me speak. One kid even fell out of his chair. Keep your head up high Russ, keep it up. I kept holding my head high, and gave a shrug to the teacher as to say ”whatever”. Yeah, way to play it cool. People laughed even more. But now it felt more like teasing.
[I looked down at my Jordans] I had specifically cleaned these off for the first day of school today. The dirt marks, grass stains; I had taken forty five minutes last night to polish them off. This was supposed to be a new place. A new start. But as I stood in front of this class full of kids laughing at me, I noticed it wasn’t. It was like I was back in America.
My dad came home three weeks before April 1st and said we were moving to Italy. We lived in Manhattan and he worked for the New York Times. He had always wanted to be a field reporter in a different country, and now he was finally getting that opportunity. There was no hesitation. We were packing our bags. Two weeks later, I was in Italy.
I was happy. I had never fit in at my old high school. I was dorky. Nerdy. Weird. Fat. Ugly. Never good enough at sports, or smart enough to compete with top of the class. I was stuck in the middle. Italy represented a chance to rebuild my image, but as I stood in the front of the classroom, I felt like I was back in America.
Before the day, the office had handed me a schedule of my classes, but told me I would have to wait till tomorrow for the translator to come. They apologized, but I told them “it was chill”. But now “it wasn’t so chill”.
The teacher now told the kids to quiet down and she asked me slowly in her troubled English, “Where I was from?”. I began blushing and told her in English that I was from New York. She nodded and pointed me back to my seat. I leisurely strolled back to my seat. The guys looked at me and kept laughing. The girls giggled. [Give head nod]. I was trying to keep in my sadness and maintain my cool, but it only caused more laughter. Amidst the laughter, another guy pointed my way and the girl I had nodded to, while he said something in Italian, resulting in more laughter. [sit in chair, roll down jeans, and take hat off.] I keep my head down. My “cool” was all gone. Why was it, that everyone always found a way to laugh at me, in America or Italy?
I sulked down in my chair while looking down at my clean, red J’s. The black Jordan sign glistened in the light as I got up to leave. As I left the classroom I saw America. The America I had happily left behind. Maybe I just couldn’t fit in anywhere. Maybe I was just a clutz. A loser. An idiot. Maybe I just wasn’t built for this world. Maybe it was time to give up.