Whole Life Magazine

October / November 2015

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42 wholelifetimes.com I n October 1994 I sat at my third-grade desk wearing a frilly pink sundress my mother had wrestled me into that morning. We had a substitute teacher that day named Mrs. Eleanor, and I was excited to learn about Christopher Columbus. Elementary School was diffi cult for me. I wasn't popular, or socially aware enough to understand why. I had a bushy unibrow and a last name that rhymes with "booby"—two darling traits that damned me from cool-kid status. But I was creative and had a big imagination. Mrs. Eleanor was the kind of teacher who wore chunky glasses and jumpsuits printed with farm animals. Her yellowing poodle perm curled above her ears, and she smelled like a musty Halloween costume. Our assignment was to color in a picture of Christopher Columbus. "Make sure you color inside the lines," cautioned Mrs. Eleanor, "this isn't kindergarten." Katie Hooper, the belle of the third-grade ball, sat three desks from me in her perfect denim jumper and jelly sandals. She had a tiny Tinker Bell nose and delicate blond eyebrows I envied. I'm Italian and my mother always told me, "Italian girls have big, beautiful eyebrows and all those girls are just jealous of you." It took me 10 years to forgive my mother for this lie. Katie was the best in our class at coloring, of course. Her pictures were hung with sticky tack over the teacher's desk. I pulled out a fresh pack of Crayolas, studied my crayons and used Robin's Egg Blue for Columbus' hat, and for his vest, Rusty Red. If Mrs. Eleanor were a crayon, I imagined, her color would be Moldy Apricot Orange or Pea Casserole Green. Katie Hooper would be Strawberry Cupcake. How should I color the sky? I thought. Would it be a bright blue sky with a happy yellow sun, like Katie Hooper color? Would it be a dark, stormy sky with rain clouds? I turned toward Edward Russo, the quiet kid at the desk behind me who told me once at recess that his uncle was a murderer, and I saw he had already colored his sky dark blue with rain clouds. I pulled out Carnation Pink and started to color a sunset above the Pinta, Nina and Santa Maria, then swirled in Royal Purple. A purple and pink sunset—Mr. Columbus would like that, I thought. Mrs. Eleanor picked up our pictures and told us to read while she graded our work. I was certain I'd be complimented for my creative effort. "Jamie, please come here," Mrs. Eleanor called out. "Look out that window. What color is the sky?" "Blue," I answered. "Yes, blue, now why did you color your sky pink and purple? How can you learn about Christopher Columbus when you can't color a sky correctly?" "It's a sunset," I said. "No, Jamie, sunsets are orange. You'll get one checkmark instead of two. Go sit down." I shuffl ed back to my desk—a humiliating third-grade walk of shame. Just before the bell, Mrs. Eleanor tacked Katie Hooper's picture up over her desk. Katie got two checkmarks. She blushed as if this were the fi rst time. Something shifted in me that day. I had experienced someone with no capacity for a pink and purple sunset, someone who attempted to crush the wild bud of creativity in an eight-year old. In my naive world where bumblebees sang and crickets talked, I didn't know anyone like that existed. My ego was bruised but my resolve not to change my colors— no matter who thought I should—has remained. The Strawberry Cupcake Katie Hoopers of the world will test you, in art and in life. You can choose to be just like her, with a spotless blue sky and smiley golden sun. Or you can be true to your pink and purple sunsets and shine in your difference. This, my friends, is where you will fi nd you, somewhere in your childhood, as I found me that day in third grade. And I have Mr. Columbus to thank for it. backwords THANK YOU, MR. COLUMBUS By Jaime Berube Hero or villain, he changed my life

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