I walk into my Advanced Spanish class. Students are chattering away like monkeys and laughing like hyenas. They’re all standing, facing the rear of the room, so nobody notices me at first. Despite my nervousness, I decide to take a seat in the back of the room because once class starts, the front is where the attention will be.
As I enter their peripherals, their heads turn to gaze upon my awkward personage. I can tell from the look in their eyes that they already hate me. Hell, I hate me, so who can blame them? They notice that I can tell that they hate me, so they hate me even more. One girl in particular looks me up and down, and snarls at me. Her teeth bared for all the world to see, I turn pale. I look down towards my feet and shuffle to a seat that is far away from the rest of the pack. Through the clamour, a hyena laugh sounds that I just know is at my expense. I turn around to find the creatures snarling at each other politely. After a moment, the professor enters the room.
“Hola chicos. How were your hibernations?”
The class howls which brings a snarl to the face of the professor. He takes his coat off and wraps it around a chair at the front of the room.
“So I wanna hear what you chicos did over winter break…”
The students raise their appendages to signal that they wish to be acknowledged by the professor.
The appendages lower as the professor motions for us to split the pack into pairs to talk about our winter breaks… in Spanish.
“Yo fuí a la casa de mis padres”
“Yo dormí hasta doce de la mañana”
I overhear more of the same in all the groups as I pretend to listen to my partner.
“Bien. ¿Y tú?”
My partner asks what I did over winter break.
I read, I respond. Before I can follow up with this, the professor motions for us to listen to him. He begins to call on volunteers to tell what they did over the winter break… in Spanish.
Please God don’t let him call on me, I plead with Him. God doesn’t listen to my prayers, as I hear the sound that indicates my name being called. Instead, I rattle off some Spanish about reading and sleeping a lot over the break. I begin to go into how long I slept, when I am interrupted by just a swell Spanish statement:
What did I read?
I ponder this a moment as students turn in their chairs to look at me. What did I read? Well, I read a lot of Poe and Salinger and Carver and some Fitzgerald…
“¿Que leíste?” the professor repeats.
My legs bounce up and down as my heart races to a finish line that my limbs can’t see. I plan out what I might say:
“I read some Salinger stories.”
No, Salinger is more so known for Catcher in the Rye.
“I read a lot of Carver stories”
No, they wouldn’t know Carver by name. What about Poe? Poe? The Kung Fu Panda? That’s what they would know.
I shift in my seat and begin:
“Yo leí un Fitzgerald…”
Shit. What’s the word for book? Here I sit, in an Advanced Spanish course, and I can’t remember the Spanish word for book.
“I’m sorry, you read a person?”
Of course, he’s testing my Spanish vocab. He understands what I mean, but he has to do his job as an educator and make sure I know what I am doing. Fuck. Why am I so stupid? I can’t even remember the word for book. Day 1 Spanish. So basic. So simple. Just like me. It should be stupid easy. Stupid. Just like me. Why am I so fucking stupid?
I feel the needles of my classmates’ looks piece my hide as they wait for my rebuttal. The echoes of their collective questioning ring in my head at a volume of 11:
“What’s wrong with him?”
“What’s his problem?”
“What kind of freak is he?”
The professor maintains eye contact throughout all of this. He appears sympathetic. Like he wants to give me an out. Please, please. Give me something here. I’m dying. They all stare at me hungrily.
Oh no. I’m going to vomit. Am I having a heart attack? I can’t breathe, my tongue is numb, my chest seriously hurts.
I’m a failure.
Images of my parents, my family, my roommates, my friends, hell, even my dog flash through my head. I’m such a disappointment. I’m letting all of them down.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper.
“What was that?”
I see my reflection in the daggers as they soar in my direction.
“I’m sorry,” I speak up.
Because I’m a sorry piece of shit, I’m a good for nothing, sorry excuse for a human being, I’m… I sit up straight in my seat.
Clayton Nathaniel Grant is a writer and student at Georgia Southern, studying English with minors in writing and in film. He wants to become a screenwriter someday, but he also writes creative nonfiction and short stories.