This piece is titled "Heart Sleeves" and it is mostly about my memories of myself as a child. I drew the girl based on a photograph from my first day of school. We wore gray pinafores, black and yellow striped ties, and white shirts. I am pretty sure the pinafores were awful itchy, and I probably hated wearing them, but I don't remember now. What I do remember is that I was not afraid. This is important because later on I was afraid a lot, and it is good to remember a time when I was only brave. I also remember that walking to school, through the park, I usually found interesting things to entertain myself. One day I remember stopping for a very long time to watch a butterfly open and close its wings. It probably made me late to school, but I don't remember.
With my brother, wearing our uniforms
I remember a long row of coat hooks where we hung up our coats, and put our outside shoes into our shoe bags. We only wore Plimsolls inside the school. Scotland is a muddy place most of the year. The shoe bags were bright neon colors. They had black images of butterflies, or flowers, or cars on the front, along with a place to write your name, so you didn't end up wearing the wrong shoes home. I remember my teacher's name was Miss Rose and she had rosy cheeks. I also have vivid memories of wooden, ladder-type structures attached to the wall of windows in the large gym room. I have no idea what their function was, but I do know we were not allowed to climb on them, ever. It was so terrible being tempted by a whole huge wall of ladders, knowing that real trouble was in store for you if you so much as put a foot on one. It must have been excruciating for the boys.
I remember there was a boy that sat behind me named Andrew, who used to ping eraser bits at me all day. Another boy, whose name might have been Barry, used to talk to me about how spicy American hot-dogs were. One time he made me guess if a lump on his hand was a wart or a blob of dried glue. I guessed glue and I was wrong.
We had hot lunches on real plates, and I think there was usually some sort of wobbly British custard for desert which I avoided. I did lots of playing house in the little scratch of forest at play-time. Outside in the cold we ate our play-pieces (snacks). Mine were usually bags of salt and vinegar, chicken, or prawn-flavored crisps (chips). I remember a girl named Lisa who lived on the hill by the church. Her father was the rector, and I always thought it was strange that she was not afraid to live next to the graveyard. I also remember that she was quiet and kind to everyone. She was really good at drawing people.
It was quite wonderful I think. I know that I enjoyed school, and the other students. I talked a lot, I got in trouble sometimes for it. I liked reading, and learning, and reciting the poetry of Robert Burns. I liked walking to school, lining up to go in, putting my shoes into the bag with my name on the front. All of this is to say, I rather wore all my hearts on my sleeves at that age. Unabashedly soaking up my life, enjoying what was happening around, and as far as I could tell, unafraid. Unfortunately the world beyond that time proved to be a little spiky, just like that Hatpin Sea Urchin in the top corner of the drawing. It was waiting for me, made with poisonous protrusions that could puncture all the soft and vulnerable hearts I wore on the outside of myself.
Between me and the spiky world there must have been something. Something good and true and beautiful. Something that made it okay for me to wear my hearts on the outside, and something that I would not really know until much later. If there had not been anything between me and the looming sharp points, I think that today I would be a cracked and torn version of a human. Today I am not the girl in the picture on her first day of school, but I hope I am still a girl with hearts on her sleeves. Perhaps not as many. I think I might have lost some in the war with the Hatpin Sea Urchin. But I am glad to have retained some of the hearts, and I hope the others will grow back as I learn to be unafraid again.