While I’ve never been entirely comfortable with my athletic capacities outside of, say, running madly from scary things and the ability to square dance like a crazy person, I am quite comfortable with my brain.
I like my brain; and while those who have witnessed my efforts to pickle it on occasion may disagree, I persist in believing that I act in its best interest.
It’s a good brain, and despite what you may hear from an unfriendly press – Tiger does too love me! – I have had opportunity to use it several times.
I’ve not always been happy about being smart, though, and at one point in elementary school, whilst moving, once again, from one small town to another, I pretended that I was not.
Raise my hand? Who? Me?
I went from jamming my entire arm into the air every time the teacher asked a question to feigning ignorance to just about everything.
What? Answer a question? Me? Nope. I’m just the new kid.
We stayed at that particular school for a year and then moved again. Tired of pretending that I didn’t know anything, I resumed my question-answering ways.
In my late-20s, I returned to school to become a court reporter; and while there I took several classes I didn’t really need, one of which was shorthand.
The shorthand class was part of the Secretarial Sciences program, a one-year course designed to turn recent high school graduates into employment-worthy receptionists, secretaries, and administrative assistants.
It was, of course, difficult to simultaneously learn two forms of shorthand at once; but I cleverly retained the majority of the manual shorthand for a period of perhaps three years, tops, whereupon I purged it from my brain in favor of more crucial information such as memorizing drink recipes and who played guitar in what band.
The shorthand teacher was a tall, bird-like woman intensely devoted to her students; and the day I walked into class, her bright little eyes positively shone with excitement.
Poor Miz Bird. She was competitive, a Lucille Ball sort of character in her belted dresses and high heels; and it pained her that a court reporting student was taking her class. She very much wanted one of her students to outshine me – not for personal reasons, you understand, as she didn’t know me – but in a we-got-spirit-yes-we-do-we-got-spirit-how-about-YOU? sort of way.
Poor Miz Bird. Her students were, across the board, 18 years old and hung-over on a daily basis. The freedom of leaving home and attending a community college was heady stuff; and they celebrated, nightly.
Me? I had a six-year-old at home and more trouble than I could shake a stick at. I needed this degree.
Miz Bird gave us spelling words every Monday.
It was important that we were well-rounded.
“I know we’re all looking forward to Friday’s test,” she chirped one day. “And I hope that my girls are going to show our little court reporter here how we do it in the Secretarial Sciences!”
Full-time school, child at home, part-time work, I didn’t have a chance to look at the words until Wednesday night; and while I would not say I am psychic, I had a strange feeling about one of the words. I had heard of it, I knew how to spell it, but I didn’t know what it meant. Suspicious and dead tired, I looked the word up and promptly fell asleep on the couch.
In the morning, Miz Bird hopped excitedly on her long slender bird legs from one desk to another. She had a surprise for us.
We weren’t going to have the spelling test Friday. In fact, it wasn’t a spelling test at all! It was a vocabulary test and we were having it today! Surprise!
But judging from the looks on the faces of the other gals in the room – and judging by the way they all turned to look at me – the only one in the class that was to have been surprised was me.
The test was aloud.
Missy, what does “nubile” mean? Patti, what is the meaning of the word “desultory”?
Oddly enough, Missy and Patti, best known for their having lip-synched to Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” at October’s Fall Dance and Cow Patty Bingo Extravaganza, knew both words.
I would’ve bet against it.
I looked up.
“Perhaps you can tell the class the meaning of the word “apogee”?”
It was the word. The word I had looked up last night.
The bright young faces in the class, smiling expectantly, turned to look at me, the Old Lady in the Room. There were only 28 women in the Secretarial Sciences program, and I wasn’t one of them.
“Apogee,” I repeated thoughtfully. “I believe that’s the highest point in an arc, isn’t it? The summit?”
Miz Bird’s face fell, as did the rest of the class’s.
It was a small triumph, but a small one.
And I had really needed a triumph.