A girl whose name I do not recall—
nor anything else about her
except that she sat behind me
in first grade
at Fairgrounds school—
handed her paper over my shoulder
to be passed forward with my paper
and presented to Miss (or Mrs.) Craven.
I don’t remember anything about my teacher either
except her name and her dark hair.
And I don’t trust my memory of her hair.
But of this I am sure:
the girl had written on her paper the date.
Let’s say September 12.
It was followed by the numbers 1-9-6-8.
This was new to me.
Coming, as they did, after the September and the 12,
I inferred—very reasonably—that they were part of the date.
I wanted to use this new number thing myself.
And so the next day, let’s call it September 13, I wrote
“September 13 1969.”
The girl must have peeked over my shoulder.
“That’s wrong,” she said
or may have said, “it’s 1968.”
“No,” I, now the authority, proudly replied,
“yesterday was 1968, so today is 1969.”
“Mrs. Craven," she called out, as though she wanted to show off
or to embarrass me,
"isn’t this the year 1968?”
I remember that sentence very well.
“Oh,” I said to myself.
Miss or Mrs. Craven affirmed the statement
and the girl probably said something profound like
“See, I told you so,” with a tone that suggested,
“You and I will never get married.
I would never marry anyone so stupid he didn’t even know what year it was.”
And that hurt. But
I had new knowledge to compensate me for my pain.
(At this point I’m making everything up from such faint
and fading ghosts of memory you should not allow yourself
any strictly historical assent to any of it.)
Everything made sense. I knew she was right
even before the teacher confirmed it.
Whereas before that moment the redundancy
of changing both the 12 and 1968 every day
had not bothered nor even occurred to me, now
in a Joycean epiphany I saw
how useless that would be,
how I should already have been more curious
or been less certain in my inference.
How elegant and proper this numbering of the year was.
I wondered how this girl could be so smart.
How had she come to know of this numbering of years
when no one had ever shown the trick to me?
I felt the same thing yesterday when I read in a treatise on miracles
how miracles did not break with the any idea of the natural
before the age of science.
(Let's say 1580.)
And I have felt it
many times in the decades between
when I have been apprised of simple things I should have known.
But as for first grade,
there’s not a single moment in that whole year I recall
other than this and the one in which
I was told that we would line up for lunch
in alphabetical order
and being “Alan,”
I was sure I would be first.
And my consternation
when I ended up stuck
in the absolute middle of the line.