My brain’s been doing this really neat thing every night between the time I shut off the light and fall asleep. I can’t recall specifically when it started, but for several weeks, now, before it begins its nightly delivery of nightmares and stress dreams, it opens up this box of memories labeled THINGS YOU FEEL BAD ABOUT, MAKE YOU SAD, OR OTHERWISE UPSET YOU AT SOME POINT that it recently found, pulls one out, and then spends as much time as it can doing a fucking power point presentation about it.
Most of the things in this memory box aren’t even recent. Most of the things in this memory box are from years, or even decades, ago, when I was still a little kid. None of them are particularly traumatic; most are things like “remember when this kid was a dick to you?” and “remember that time dad laughed at a thing you cared about?” and “you know, when you were 12, you could have been nicer to that guy…”
Last night, my brain was too tired to be a dick to me, and all I can recall from the few moments between turning off the light and going to sleep is listening to the white noise machine do its thing. My asshole brain didn’t dump a bunch of shitty dreams on me (that I can remember, anyway) and it even let me stay asleep for close to 8 hours before it woke me up.
And then, while I was reading the paper, it was all OH HEY I FORGOT TO BE A DICK TO YOU LAST NIGHT and it unloaded this memory on me.
I was eleven, in sixth grade. Our little private school (which was more about religious indoctrination that education, the way I remember it) gave us kids a chance to take one elective course per semester. We got a list of classes that were offered, accompanied by a slip of paper with places to write our name, grade, and then our first and second choices.
In the first semester, I had put drama as my second choice, even though it was really my first, because I had convinced myself that I wouldn’t get my first choice for some reason related to teacher vindictiveness (which, at least in this instance, wasn’t really a thing, but I was a little too smart for my own good back then). I ended up struggling through Spanish, which was awful, instead of doing improv games and putting on a show. For the second semester, I put my first choice first: Weather Science.
I was and am a weather nerd. The complexity of weather systems, how they are affected by climate, and the ability to understand weather enough to predict it has always interested me. Long before it was a thing I knew other people did, I kept a notebook journal of the weather, so I could compare whatever was happening on any given day to years before. It was fun. It made me feel smart, and even though I knew I was smart back then, I rarely felt smart.
So I put Weather Science first. When my friend, Brian, asked me why I wanted to take that class, which he thought was stupid, I told him, “Because we can be the future Doctor Georges,” referencing a legendary weather reporter from Los Angeles named Doctor George Fishbeck. This did not satisfy Brian, who was taking some kind of religious history (because we didn’t get enough of that in school, apparently).
I got the elective that I wanted, and the first day we went to our elective classes — the first time in my entire academic life that I’d gone to a different classroom for studies — I was beside myself. The writer in me wants to say that I put on a tie for the occasion, but I was probably just in the school uniform. The writer also wants to say that I was surrounded by other misfits and nerds in that class, and tell a story about how being there brought us all together … but not only did that not happen, the only memory I have — specific, or otherwise — from this elective is the one I’m about to relate.
We met in the classroom of a teacher who primarily taught the seventh graders. I remember that he was a little pudgy, wore a giant mustache, tinted eyeglasses, and acted like he was really cool and clever, even though all of us thought he was in a spectrum that ran from corny on one end to a total dick on the other. Now the writer in me wants to go back and give Brian dialog that shows us the way we all felt about this teacher, instead of telling it, now. But I’m trying to stay true to what actually happened, so here we are.
We met in the classroom, and got handouts with things on them like weather symbols on maps (which I already knew) and the Beaufort Scale (which I did not). He showed off a handheld device that in my memory is similar in size and shape to the weird little pop guns they used in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and told us that it could register wind speed and direction. Each of us would be allowed the opportunity, at least once, during the semester to hold this incredible device and record its data for the rest of the class. “Every morning, you will go outside and record the weather,” he said, “you will write down the temperature from a thermometer at your house, you will write down the air pressure if you have a barometer, and you will record the basic conditions, from Cloudy to Partly Cloudy, to Partly Sunny, to Sunny.” We did not own a barometer — as far as I knew, they were expensive bits of hardware that only people like my rich grandparents had in their sitting rooms — but we had a large thermometer outside the kitchen window, and I had already been writing down the weather in my notebook for years! I was extremely excited to be part of this class, and felt like my existing enthusiasm for weather would make me a successful student of Weather Science.
The next day, I went outside before school, and looked up into a cloudy sky. It was late in spring, and the gloomy marine layer of fog and smog hung thick over our house. It was damp and a little drizzly. In my notebook, I wrote down “Cloudy, with fog and drizzle. Calm winds. 56°” I recorded the same information on my school-issued weather homework sheet, and added that the wind was a one on the Beaufort Scale.
My mother took me to school, and my father took my sister to school, because the six year difference between us put us at different campuses, now. I went to my classes and had an uneventful day, that the writer in me wants to invent to provide contrast, and then after lunch I went into my Weather Science elective. We were only in our seats for a few moments when the teacher took us all outside. Because it was our first day outside the classroom, he would hold the mystical weather recording device for the rest of the class. I’m remembering now that we were a relatively small group of only ten or so students, so we easily clustered around him and saw that there was a very light breeze out of the southeast.
“What’s the Beaufort Scale?” He asked us.
“It’s between one and two,” said this girl named Nicole, who I remember moving effortlessly among the various cliques on campus, fitting into all of them but never really belonging to any of them.
“That’s correct,” he said.
“We are going to talk about our weather observations,” he told us, “who would like to begin?”
My arm shot up before I knew I was doing it. I was primed for this. I was ready for this. I’d been preparing for this moment, this opportunity to be smart and impressive, for years.
“Yes, Mister Wheaton,” he said, “what are your observations?”
I was in a phase that made me think Trapper Keepers were slick and futuristic, perfect for the upwardly mobile and mature student, while Pee Chee folders were outdated and better suited to elementary school, so I opened my green Trapper Keeper and pulled out the pale blue ditto sheet inside. “Cloudy, with fog and drizzle. Calm winds. 56°. Beaufort Scale: 1.”
He looked at me like I had just said it was raining unicorns.
“Really?” He said, sarcastically. The other kids laughed nervously, but I was confused.
“Yes,” I replied, earnestly.
He jabbed a stubby finger toward the sky, which was now mostly clear with just a few lingering high clouds. “Does that look cloudy to you?” Before I could answer, he added, “or is there a new definition of ‘cloudy’ that I am not aware of?”
I felt my face flush. My hair got prickly. “Well, um,” I began.
“Um. Um. Um,” he said, mocking.
“That is clear, Mister Wheaton,” he said. “That is not cloudy. That is not even partly cloudy.”
Of course it was clear. It was the afternoon, and in Los Angeles we have microclimates everywhere in the county. Right now, less than a quarter of a mile away from me, on the other side of a mountain range, it’s at least ten degrees cooler than it is here. That’s how our weather works.
“We have clear skies,” he said. “Did you even do your homework?”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to respond to an authority figure who was picking on me. My dad had done it my whole life, but I still hadn’t figured it out. I didn’t know how to respond to a teacher who was not just wrong, but who was wrong when I was clearly right. I felt the entire class looking at me.
“Yes, I did,” I said. I did my best to keep my voice neutral and non-challenging. I didn’t know how to explain a microclimate, or the marine layer, or to how to stand up for myself.
“Well I don’t believe you,” he said, extending his hand and snatching my homework sheet from me. He materialized a red pen, clicked it, and wrote an F before handing it back to me. “Try to do better tomorrow.”
The writer in me wants him to have a comeuppance. The writer in me wants to tell you that the smart girl rose to my defense, that the teacher apologized and then everything was better. The writer really wants me to meet Doctor George, tell him the story, and have him tell me that my teacher was wrong and that I was a better weather reporter than he was.The writer in me can’t do that any more than the adult version of me can invent a time machine, go back to that day, and tell the young version of me that he was right and the teacher was a dick. I can’t even remember what happens next, like the film of my memory gets caught in the projector, and melts away leaving nothing more than an empty, white screen.
My brain has been dumping memories like this on me for months, and I don’t know why. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with them.
At 8:05 this morning, It was 59° and mostly clear. The winds were calm. It’s 77° and sunny right now, with a very slight breeze out of the south southeast.