For some strange reason, I’ve been thinking about the desk I had in third grade, not the desk exactly, but what I used to have in it. Two things have been coming into my mind. The first is my geography book. What I remember about my geography book is that it was bigger than all the other books in my desk, and it had a shiny, purple book cover on it. I suppose the book cover was there because we had to cover all our books in third grade. In fact, we had a deadline to cover our books. Four days. I never thought about what would happen if I didn’t cover the books by the end of the four days. They were always covered by the end of the first day of school. The deadline still bothered me, though. It was probably the first time I demonstrated something resembling compulsive behavior.
Well…that’s not true. The first time was probably around age six. I think I was six. Whenever kids learn how to tie their shoes, that’s how old I was. I had practiced a long time on my white Keds sneakers, the ones that Nicky Wybolt purposely stepped on so that they would look dirty. I think that’s when my first real compulsion began, not around having dirty sneakers, although that never thrilled me either. It had to do with the knot. I had to check every so often to make sure the laces were tied. In fact, they had to be more than just tied. The knot had to be secure. The level of security changed, of course, depending upon my activity or the house I was in or whether I had wet the bed the night before. Sometimes I checked my Keds only once a day. Sometimes, I checked every few minutes.
Back to my desk. The second thing I remember about my desk is that it stored my paste. What I remember about my paste is that it was in a little white cup with a green lid. My teacher would come around and fill our paste cups from a giant paste container. This was 1962. There were two things that worried me about the paste. First, I was always afraid that my paste would dry up. Paste dried up a lot back then. But I was also afraid of running out of paste before the next paste allotment was given. I think we had paste rationing in third grade. I can’t be sure if all the grades had it, or if it was just third grade. I just remember worrying about it and remaining pretty vigilant for fear of it running out or drying up.
I know there were other things in my third grade desk, but I can’t for the life of me remember any of them. It doesn’t surprise me. A lifetime has passed since then. I’ve never had much of a memory anyway.
I’m not sure why I’m talking about my desk. In some ways it’s like closing your eyes and randomly pointing to some place on a map as a way of deciding where you’ll take your next vacation. Then you find out that it’s not where you really want to go. What I really wanted to write about was something entirely different. I wanted to write about deaths, not desks. I wanted to write about how I spend my time these days running alongside it. I wanted to write about how I’ve died more than a few times in my life. I wanted to write about how death has been the greatest teacher to me. I wanted to write about its thorns.
Somehow, geography and paste seemed easier.