Social Studies

Ms. Aredman was the kind of person that made you feel cool to be around. At eleven I could think of very few things that made me feel cool. Instead, I kept focusing on how the new training bra I was wearing felt against my ribs, or that I wanted to melt into the earth every time a boy looked at me. Ms. Aredman was, by total contrast, always so well put together and it seemed she had an inside joke for everything and all the cool kids got it because they’d share a look and giggle after class as if the whole period were spent gossiping and I seemed to only hear a lesson plan. I strained to understand the ways of the cool kids. What was it that made them seem so calm and collected? Addie and ‘Lesca were the Best Friends For Life that would hang with Ms. Aredman after class. The three of them would file their nails and talk about who was going out with whom. I imagined ‘Lesca had probably kissed a dozen guys and Addie was captain of the soccer team. I’d go home and scrutinize my Kmart clothes and lack of any Abercrombie and Fitch logos and wonder what it would take to feel cool like those gals.

Ms. Aredman was my sixth grade Social Studies teacher. She had long straight brown hair, brown eyes, and was barely taller than her eleven year old students. I remember her small hands and long finger nails as she’d adjust her mascara in a small hand mirror before a lesson and the way she’d write endless notes in chalk on the black board at the front of the class.We all sat in singular desks that were lined up in rows facing forward. There were only two left handed desks and the rest were for righties so my close friend Cindy (a lefty) had to walk over to the left handed desk in order to write comfortably which meant we couldn’t pass notes and I was on my own for the duration of the period.

The trouble with the Social Studies class with Ms. Aredman was that I sucked at it. I’d watch as she’d write hundreds of letters in white chalk on the board and I’d copy the notes, by wrote, until my hands cramped. Ms. Aredman would assure us that if we did our homework and “Study all the notes I give you in class” we’d all pass the tests she’d give three times that year with no problems. I wasn’t assured. I wasn’t sure of anything, really. I couldn’t stop concentrating on how uncool I felt. Every movement I made, every article of clothing I wore, the way I breathed, the way I spoke, the way I sat felt wrong to me. I’d watch Addie and ‘Lesca move through their days with a grace and ease that made me feel like a robot made of garbage. Ms. Aredman’s notes filled my notebook pages and I still sucked at Social Studies.

At the first midterm I failed. As I was taking the test I felt helpless with questions like: “Name the three most important historical figures in Europe in the 1770’s that had something, kinda’, to do with the American Revolution and also wore white wigs and also had a lot of friends who really, really liked them.” Huh? Where was that question in my notes!? My brain would seize and I’d imagine Ms. Aredman with ‘Lesca and Addie grading tests with red markers. They’d get to my test and all three would stop to read my name. “This is Natalie’s.” Ms. Aredman would say. “She could be one of us if she does well on this test, right girls?” and the Girls would enthusiastically nod their heads until they’d grade the exam and then solemnly write a big ‘F’ on the cover. “What a shame,” ‘Lesca would say, wagging her head. “Natalie would have been a good addition if she didn’t totally blow at life.” And then they’d toss my test onto the pile of other tests and move on, their finger nails scraping through the white pages of the exams, searching for another cool chick to add to their coven.

Social Studies began to be a nightmare for me. I was always a good student, I always did my homework (sometimes I’d miss a night, but only occasionally) I’d raise my hands and sputter out answers to questions in class, I was quiet, diligent, did what I was told and I failed the next midterm. Ms. Aredman had my parents in for a meeting. “Natalie is doing all her homework and is very cooperative in class, she’s just not passing the tests.” I remember her saying. “She needs to study more for the exams. She’s a good student, she just needs a little extra oomph to prove it.”

“Oomph?” Is that what they call it? Did ‘Lesca and Addie have “Oomph”?

On the final exam I passed. Barely. The next day class was a hang out session. “It’s June.” Ms. Aredman said, filing her nails. “You guys have gotten through the hard part, now we can just relax for summer vacay.” The class fell into the usual social groups: The Nerds, The Anorexics, The Bros, The Bitches, The Jocks, The Goths and the few rag-tag kids like me who grouped together and played card games like “Spit” and “Bullshit”. I sat with my group and prepared to play another game. “Hey, Natalie.” I heard Ms. Aredman say from the front of the room. I looked up and she gestured me toward the big wooden desk at the blackboard. ‘Lesca and Addie were already there chatting about something. I stood up and walked away from the game, the rest of my friends watching me go while reevaluating whether to save my place or not.

I was sweating when I got to her desk, it was a painfully awkward walk to the front while trying to concentrate on looking casual and indifferent and also like a fairy queen, the very picture of beauty and poise. “Yes?” I muttered.

“Who are you going to the end of year dance with?” Ms. Aredman asked, gesturing to an empty chair by her desk with her nail file. I wasn’t even planning on going to the dance. In fact, I had spent weeks loudly proclaiming that I thought dances were stupid, a way for nasty boys to hump girl butts. Plus, I didn’t have any nice dresses or anything to wear anyway.

“Uh. Don’t know.” I stammered, trying to lean on my left hand in a righty desk and slipping off the edge of the table. I felt like a jackass. “Who are you going with?” Crap. That’s a really dumb question.

Ms. Aredman looked up from her nail file and scrutinized my face. I think she was looking for irony, and instead found a confused and red faced girl looking back at her. I couldn’t look into her brown eyes for long, they seared like the sun. “I’m not going to the dance, Natalie.” Ms. Aredman concluded, glancing back to her nails. She looked done with me. ‘Lesca and Addie had stopped chatting and were watching the exchange with large eyes. There was a silence as the rest of the room murmured with their own conversations.

“Yeah. Right. Haha.” I said, looking at the two other girls. I’d failed. “Hopefully someone will ask me?” I said, getting up to go back to my game of “Bullshit” across the room.

“What about Yardley?” Asked Addie, smirking. She looked over at The Nerds to where David, Yardley and Boris were guffawing over something. ‘Lesca barked a laugh and Ms. Aredman smiled.

“I’m sure Yardley already has a date.” Ms. Aredman said. She looked back at me. Her gaze said: “You can leave now.”

I nodded at the coven and turned around to go back to my group, the seat I’d been sitting in was still warm.

We got our report cards a week later as the school year ended. In a line up of A’s and B’s I got one ‘C’ for Social Studies with the note: “Could do better” in black ink next to the grade. I looked at that letter and thought of how useless it was. “Study all the notes I give you in class and you’ll pass the tests with flying colors.” I remember Ms. Aredman saying. Yeah, except I couldn’t understand her notes, some people and situations are just unreadable.

March 10, 2014 at 6:48 pm by Natalie Allen