I think I peaked in sixth grade. As a writer, that is. Maybe romantically, too, considering that was the year of my epic first kiss with Collin Crosby, the boy who earned “cutest” honors in every yearbook from elementary school through high school. But definitely as a writer. Since that time, I’ve never come close to achieving the accolades I received during the springtime of that year.
Friday afternoons in Mr. Adamson’s sixth-grade class were devoted to Writer’s Workshop, a two-hour period when we hunched over our desks as we wrote and erased and wrote and erased until we had finally come up with the perfect paper. Well, everyone but Ricky Simmons. He usually stared at Jenny Freeman the entire time; Jenny had been the first girl in our class to get boobs.
Writer’s Workshop was also the key to the best thing possible for a sixth-grade girl at Maple Dale Elementary School: a paper adorned with a shiny gold star, displayed on the Spotlight Wall and a Friday trip to Baskin Robbins with Mr. Adamson, probably the cutest teacher in the history of the world. It might have been his closely cropped brown hair or maybe those bright blue eyes. Most likely, though, it was his smile that made girls swoon.
So, I slaved away each Friday, hoping that on Monday I’d see a shiny gold star on my paper and begin to plan out the perfect outfit to wear on my fake-date with Mr. Adamson.
There was always one problem, though: Susie Sloan.
Susie Sloan invariably managed to wedge her stick-thin pencil of a body in between that spotlight and all of us. No matter what we wrote or how hard we tried, every Monday morning Susie’s paper was wearing that shiny gold star. Then on Friday, Susie would arrive back on campus at the end of lunch, smirking and holding her ice cream like a trophy. I swear she ate it slowly just so she’d have some left to taunt us with when she returned.
I just never understood why her papers always beat mine. I was in a higher reading group than she was and even in a higher math class, too. I was totally smarter than she was, as were half the other students in the class. But for some reason, her papers won every week. Even the time when she wrote an entire poem about her “furrie” dog, she still beat Alex Kim who had written what I considered a masterpiece about a chess game he played with his dying grandfather.
Each week I grew more frustrated. One Friday, I was so distraught that I spent the entire period playing detective—recalling all of her writing, trying to figure out a common thread. I was so desperate to find something to make me understand this great injustice that I took a zero for the week, as all I had on my paper were bubbles containing leads such as “dogs?” and “swimming?” and “cheating jerk?”
All I came up with that day was that she decorated her papers with stickers. That must be it, I’d decided. It must be her cutesy decorations that won Mr. Adamson’s attention. And that would surely explain the “furrie” poem that beat my more serious tearful lament about the day I moved from Ohio.
So the next Friday, I arrived at school armed with stickers. I’d spent my entire week’s allowance on packets and packets of the cutest, brightest stickers in the world. All day long I bubbled with excitement, antsy for the beginning of Writer’s Workshop. I was finally going to beat Susie Sloan at her own game. My stickers were way better than anything I’d ever seen on her papers.
When the clock signaled 1:00, I reached into my backpack for the stickers, ready to rip open the plastic covering. But instead of hearing Mr. Adamson announce the beginning of Writer’s Workshop, I heard him say instead, “Today, kids, we’re going to forego Writer’s Workshop in order to work on some last minute preparation for Monday’s state testing.”
Amidst all the chatter about “what’s a for go?” I stared blankly at Mr. Adamson, shaking my head. I have my stickers. My brand-new, bright, shiny stickers. Don’t you understand? my inner-voice pleaded with him. You can’t do this to me, I insisted with my teary eyes. But he must not have seen the desperation in my eyes or heard the pleading of my inner-voice because we spent the next two hours working on our test prep packets. Before I turned in my work, I placed a shiny, new sticker right next to my name. I still had to try.
But it was just another dreary Monday when Mr. Adamson returned our work, and all I saw was a red check mark smeared right over my glittery green balloon sticker.
After that, I pretty much gave up. Each Friday, I continued to write and erase, but I let go of my dreams of beating Susie Sloan, seeing my paper on the Spotlight Wall, and having my dream date with Mr. Adamson. Instead, I decided just to write for myself. Evidently the universe thought this was a great idea and decided to reward me for it. It was only when I stopped trying to beat Susie that I finally did it.