the difference between child-dread and grown-up-dread is the paycheck keeps the tears away

by M. F. Sullivan

the first day of preschool
my mother walked me down the street
to a tall building that cut
like a knife made of bricks
right into the street,
an american flag
sticking straight out
just above the door.

the first second i was there
i hated it
and the other children
with something deep inside me
older than my four years
like the disgust a man feels
when he's lived longer than long enough
and meets each morning tireder than the next.

that day, while forced to play
with blocks and rice
to nap on an auschwitz cot
with strange rot-toothed children
who were more enthralled than i
with a picture-book about dalmatians,
i scowled my way on through.

a century later,
my mother broke me out
and at home my parents asked,
so, how was it?

it was terrible,
i said with a wave of my arms.
we didn't learn anything
we just napped
and read books about dalmations
and i thought you were supposed to learn in school.

it's only the first day, said my father.

but the next day, too,
and the next,
with no time longer than the naps
you had to fake
if you couldn't manage to doze off
on a wafer-thin mattress
and a pillow flatter still.

even the field trips were tainted
like when the creepy little boy
in the back of the bus with me
told me, grinning,
that he'd grow up to marry me
despite my adamant protests.

each day was one of long despair
except for the days when it wasn't raining
in that depressive ohio way
because then we could be in the overgrown playground
with the rusty merry-go-round
and springing horses
and creaking swings.

but the best part of that playground
was the building behind it,
made of brick and taller than the sky
and covered in a wall of dark green ivy
that spread further than i could crane my little neck.

the day we got to wear our halloween costumes in
my father finally asked if i liked the preschool
and if i felt i was learning anything
and if i'd like to stop going.

of course i told him i wanted to quit
and so back at home again i was
until kindergarten started a year later,
a formless year,
the kind of year one feels when one
has yet to be convinced of
the sensation of time.

the weight of this inevitability was new
because there was no escape
and there were twelve more years of it
and there went my mother
and the playground was all shiny and new
and there was no brick building
to tower above me
and keep me company while i played by myself
amidst people i didn't really want to know in the first place
since it always seemed that they didn't want to know me,
and so i flopped on the strange red beanbag chair twice my size
and wept without resistance
because it was natural to do so
in the face of such a sentence.