testing, one-two

{by Sharone of zizzivivizz}

(photo credit)

The hum and whoosh of an industrial-strength air conditioner have accompanied every exam I can remember taking. They have laid their strains in an insistent ritornello with infinitely subtle variations, little waves and vagaries of sound that can only be detected in a room dedicated to silence, such as this one. Thirty-one heads bow over laminate desks that gleam dully under the unwavering fluorescence of the overhead lights. A deep breath and, with it, the eternal aroma of the classroom: the blue book, which smells, somehow, like other blue books and like nothing else, mingled with the dry, slightly acrid scent of a photocopied essay prompt.

I am sixteen, and the woman at the front of the room is from the University of California, administering a practice placement exam as part of the college preparatory program. At the back of the room sits Mrs. Juhasz, the steely, sharp-eyed Language Arts teacher known for demanding excellence. She is always willing to help me untangle the perplexities I find in the works of Dostoevsky, Dreiser, and the other companions of my extracurricular hours, and yet she has no doubt puzzled over the general indifference with which I greet her actual assignments. In spite of my stubborn determination to work through a daunting personal reading list, in class I am often undisciplined, uninterested, too self-assured and only occasionally earnest, usually preoccupied with boys and friends and the things I will do in two short hours when the final bell rings. But today the prospect of college, of the first plunge into the waiting world, glimmers before me. My stomach will not stop writhing. My fingers are cold, my ears hot. We are told to begin.

I read swiftly, an excerpt from a Jamaica Kincaid essay about the estrangement of growing up as a black Antiguan under British rule. A story about alienation, set in an unfamiliar world and spoken in an unfamiliar voice. I imagine hot sun on my skin, picture Britons trying to coax shrubs and prim English gardens from the Antiguan earth, remember, through Kincaid’s vivid words, a life I have never experienced.

My fingers crease the flimsy cover of the blue book. The pen feels deceptively light and insignificant. Without knowing what to write, I write anyway. My first words are tentative, my first sentences laborious, my first paragraph a rash of scribbles and hesitant half-words. But soon enough, thoughts are streaming onto the paper and I am following them. The snicks and scrapes and slashes of my pen and the tiny creaks of the paper as it is reshaped by the violence of my outpouring–to my ears, filled with the roar of silence, these sounds are like the leaping voice of the violin. I swim in a sea of words. I gather them in baskets and spread them on the shore to dry. I pause to admire them, triumphantly.

But my triumph is foredoomed. Halfway through the exam, I recognize the hot, shrinking feeling behind my eyes telling me that one of the terrible nosebleeds that have plagued me since childhood is imminent. In helpless disbelief, I leave my exam, leave my words, leave my belongings, and consent to be led to the nurse’s office. My chance to meet with the college evaluator is gone. My own body has somehow betrayed and embarrassed me.

The following week, when the tests are returned and the scores analyzed, I sit sullenly. When Mrs. Juhasz calls me to her desk after class, I slump into the chair, unwilling to meet her eyes. Your exam couldn’t be scored like the others, she tells me, because it was incomplete. I nod dumbly, sure nothing she can say will mean anything to me. But I asked the professor to evaluate it as if it were, she continues, and he gave it the highest mark. You were one of two students in the class to earn this score. You’re a remarkable writer, and he asked me to tell you so. I think you are, too.She looks at me intently, with concern, as if there is more she wants to say, more she wants me to understand. I thank her, gather my belongings, and leave to meet my friends.

I could not absorb her words in that moment. And yet, when I look back from the space of more than twelve years, I can see the powerful influence they’ve wielded over me. I wish I could say that they shook me from my foolishness and indecision, and inspired me to work harder, but their influence was far subtler than that. At a time when I felt muddled and aimless and unsure, Mrs. Juhasz told me I was good at something, and it was a little, tiny thing I could treasure and hold onto.

It has stayed with me, all these years, and that little tiny thing has turned into a career. I remember it, every time I hear the hum and whoosh of an industrial-strength air conditioner, laying its strains in an insistent ritornello with infinitely subtle variations, little waves and vagaries of sound that can only be detected in a room dedicated to silence.

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Story Editor: Heather King ::: @heatheroftheeo

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14 Comments to “testing, one-two”

  1. Don't miss this enormously good post by @zizzivivizz on @StoryBleed today – http://t.co/MRZweiam

  2. Maegan says:

    Hi Sharone,

    Thanks for re-posting this story. to tell you frankly I don’t really have time to read a long (for me) story like this. But the title itself caught my attention. And when I read this, it’s very inspiring. I truly love the story.
    Maegan recently posted..Burn Fat Build Muscle and Get Ripped

  3. The hum and whoosh of testing, of careers, insistent ritornello via @zizzivivizz; featured by Editor @heatheroftheeo http://t.co/kiOcDzAX

  4. The hum and whoosh of testing, of careers, insistent ritornello via @zizzivivizz; featured by Editor @heatheroftheeo http://t.co/kiOcDzAX

  5. RT @storybleed: The hum and whoosh of testing, of careers, insistent ritornello via @zizzivivizz ; http://t.co/72XtKAvU

  6. Galit Breen says:

    testing, one-two http://t.co/Nhvmi7x8 by @zizzivivizz on @storybleed <–Stunning

  7. Divina says:

    This story is something that you can learn from. Never under estimate yourself, who knows, this talent of yours can bring you the peak of success.
    Thanks for sharing again this story.
    Divina recently posted..Happy New Year To All Of You And Hope You Like The Aquarium Fish Photos Here …

  8. Charitzie says:

    I love the photo you have here for us..This is so cute too!
    Charitzie recently posted..Condo in Parc Rosewood Singapore

  9. Allison says:

    Exploring one self in different kinds of condition is more probably great than let your side in a one side doing useless things, For me, trying is a condition in which provides a knowledge to become more intelligent.
    Allison recently posted..Chinese New Year

  10. Ann says:

    There’s nothing wrong in trying unfamiliar things from you, curiosity comes first but ideas and great thoughts will flow on it…
    Ann recently posted..washing machine repairs Melbourne

  11. Renz says:

    Testing one and two is the effect method to used in order to have the best among better things…
    Renz recently posted..Conference calling on skype

  12. Eric Breeze

    Great story and love that photo with the empty chairs.
    Eric Breeze recently posted..MegaPath Collaboration services – Hosted Exchange and Hosted SharePoint

  13. rose says:

    seeing that armed chair brought back some childhood memories :(