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The Eagle Tree(11)
Ned Hayes

My mother and I stayed in Olympia after my father moved to Arizona because my mother said it was best. But I also read an e-mail that she sent to my father that explained that the Olympia Regional Learning Academy provides a “consistent and supportive environment” for me and for who I am, and that she would not be moving to Arizona to be with my father.

In Arizona, they don’t provide this in the public schools, because the Republican governor there is killing education. That is what my mother wrote in the e-mail to my father. I do not think my father ever wrote back to her.

I do not know what a Republican is, or how you can kill education. Education is not a living thing; it is an action that you perform to someone else to give them knowledge. And most of what I learn at ORLA is not knowledge. I have learned all about trees on my own, for example, and most of the time at school Mr. Gatek and other people seem to be telling me to stop learning so much about trees and stop talking so much about trees, and instead to do things that have no relationship in my mind to knowledge. They have me do art, even though I am not good at art. And they teach me the history of human beings, for which I cannot see an applicable purpose.

Also, we read books that have very few facts in them, but instead have stories about things that could not happen. People try to explain the stories to me, but most of what they say sounds like how Pastor Ilsa explains the Bible to me, when she says it is “true” even though it is not factual. This is confusing.

Mr. Gatek also teaches me things that are only tangentially related to knowledge. He wants me to learn people’s names and learn special ways of talking, like not raising my voice and modulating my tone as I talk, and even how to make my face move so it appears I am smiling even when I do not feel like smiling.

At school, they also want me to be able to stand in lines in the cafeteria instead of just going straight to get food, and they want me to clean up the place where I sit after I eat and also clean my desk, and sometimes I even have to use a broom or a vacuum cleaner in the classroom. This is very irritating, because both the broom and the vacuum cleaner must be held at unnatural angles for my hands, and I dislike the sound of the vacuum cleaner intensely, and sometimes I must cover my ears.

In the background of the vacuum sucking, there is a high whine, which sounds to me like how I imagine a tsetse fly sounds. Tsetse flies live in midcontinental Africa, and they transmit trypanosomes, which cause sleeping sickness in human beings. Sometimes when I am vacuuming and I hear the buzzing in the background, I imagine that a tsetse fly has landed on me and bitten me and that I am falling asleep. I stand still until someone comes to wake me. Once this made Mr. Gatek very angry. He was very loud that day. I was asleep with the vacuum in my hands for only eighteen minutes and forty seconds.

But most of the time Mr. Gatek is not loud at all, even when I say my certain words over and over again. He usually has a quiet voice, and I like the way he says words and sounds.

When I was five and six and seven years old, before Mr. Gatek, there was a certain book in our classroom at Lincoln Options Elementary School. It was my first introduction to real information about trees. It was A Child’s Guide to Trees, and it was my favorite book. I would use my finger to trace the pictures of the trees in the book, and I would memorize the images and match the images to the trees I saw outside.

When it was reading time, and I wanted the tree book, I would point at the bookshelf and say words to Mrs. Hawkins. I would say, “Donut, coconut, coffee and cream.” Or sometimes I would say, “Cadillac Seville,” which was another phrase that I used at the time. On other days I would say, “Water, water, water.” This is a phrase that continues to intrigue me. And every single time, Mrs. Hawkins would know that I wanted the tree book, and she would bring me the book when she passed out books to everyone to read.

Once we had a substitute teacher, though, and someone else asked for the tree book, and I said, “Orange Julius,” and the substitute teacher gave me a book about oranges and orange things, and I threw the orange book across the room, and it hit another child in the head, and then I had to go home for the rest of the day.

The sounds of certain words used to fascinate me. And the change in tone as people say them. My mother and I went to a coffee shop once, and there was a waitress who helped us, and she called back to the kitchen, “Donut, coconut, coffee and cream.” She said this phrase in a peculiarly musical way, and I repeated this phrase very loudly every day, over and over, for many days. I am too old now to use the same phrase every day, but sometimes I find other phrases pleasing.

Other people in my class at ORLA say things now too. One boy said, “I have a note, I have a note” over and over again. He said it every time he had to go to the bathroom, or when it was time for recess or the end of school: “I have a note, I have a note.”

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