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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Last
The first day of school was always so exciting. And why wouldn't it be? Summer was nearly over and the beaches were all closing. All of the friends he didn't get a chance to see over the summer would be at school. It was indeed an exciting time to be a ten-year-old.
There was only one problem for Danny Zembrowski. All day today, he would be last.
This was the one day of the year that he wished his last name were Adams, or Burns, or maybe, just maybe, he would let it go as far as Logan, but that was the absolute limit.
And yet, no. His name was Zembrowski, with a Z. In every class today, he would be called last, would have to take his seat last, invariably sitting in the far left hand corner of the room, behind the Watsons and the Youngs. He dreaded the time it took to get to his name.
7:15 in the morning, and homeroom was about to begin. His teacher, a lady in her early 40's, went to the front of the room to organize the children.
"OK, everyone. Settle down....settle down. My name is Mrs. Pitney and I'll be your homeroom teacher this year. When I call your name, come to the first row of chairs here and sit in the first available chair from front to back. OK? OK....Carly Adams......."
With that, Carly Adams, a freckle-face girl with curly red hair, sat in the first chair on the right side of the room. The long journey to the last chair on the left had begun.
"Marissa Block...."
He looked out the window and began to daydream. He thought about how satisfying the first kickball game would be at recess.
"Mary Bunning...."
He didn't care where in the kicking order he ended up, He just couldn't wait for that sweet moment when his foot first met the bright red rubber playground ball and sent it flying, and with it the last person in the outfield scrambling backward to try to get it. He was great at kickball.
"James Coughlin..."
"It's Jimmy..."
"OK, Jimmy...."
He didn't spare a thought for actual schoolwork. Why would he do that? He was so happy about seeing everyone again he could barely contain himself. So many desks yet to fill.
" Brian Daniels....."
Maybe a good game of freeze tag would be the thing to do today at recess instead of kickball. Hopefully, he thought to himself, he wouldn't have too much learning today. It was the first day, after all.
"Jennifer Durkin....."
Maybe today, just today they would play games in class just to waste the day. There's no telling where this day would lead. The waiting continued.
"Jane Evans...."
Hopefully he wouldn't see his brother David on the playground at recess. David often bullied him. He often wished that David had never been born.
"Miranda Fisher...."
Lunch would be fun too. He had a new lunchbox to show off in the cafeteria. His thermos was full of fruit juice. His mother would never let him have soda. She said it was bad for his teeth and his stomach. He liked fruit juice better than milk. He would drink it out of his thermos cup like his dad drinks coffee out of his mug in the morning.
"Christopher Foster...."
"Just Chris...."
"OK, Chris. Have a seat."
His mom had packed him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. they were always so good when she made them, because she would always take the crust off the bread.
"Stacy Gardner..."
There was an apple in there too. Danny liked candy bars much better than apples, but his mother always scolded him when he ate too much chocolate. The apple was a healthier snack. Danny didn't like being healthier.
"Ian Godfrey..."
Danny knew Ian. Ian had a really cool skateboard. Danny's mom and dad wouldn't let him have a skateboard. They said they were too dangerous. To compensate, they bought him a video game featuring skateboarders. Danny was only partially satisfied with that compromise.
"Susan Harrison...."
The number of kids in the back of the room was quickly thinning. Soon he would be the only one standing behind the row of desks waiting to sit down. Danny was beginning to shuffle from foot to foot, clearly wanting to be anywhere else but standing and waiting.
"Timothy Hawley...."
"Tim...."
"OK Tim...."
At least his teacher seemed nice enough. She was treating his fellow students gently, trying to get everyone's name right in her head. He thought that Mrs. Pitney was someone he could get to like.
"Linda Horvath...."
Linda rode the bus with Danny. She usually sat up near the front of the bus, never talking to anyone. She seemed smart, and shy.
"Michael Jameson...."
One thing Danny could always count on was a seat by the window. He suddenly felt sorry for Mary Bunning, who was stuck right near the sliding door to the room's supply closet. The one bad thing that Danny could see about his seat was that he would probably not be able to ever be the first one to leave the room.
"Elizabeth King...."
"It's Betsy...."
"OK Betsy. Have a seat...."
The heater was right underneath the window. That would probably come in handy in the wintertime. The windows at the school were a little drafty, so the heat near the windows would cancel that out. Danny didn't give this any thought at all. Ten-year-olds very rarely think about the weather unless either rain or snow is falling from the sky.
"Robert Marcus...."
"Bobby...."
"OK Bobby...."
Bobby Marcus was the biggest boy in the classroom. Everyone was a little afraid of Bobby, but he was really not much trouble. He was just big for his age.
"Alpa Patel...."
Alpa was easy to spot. She was the only Indian girl in the classroom. She always had her head in a book. She very rarely spoke to anyone either inside or outside of class. She always had fantastic grades.
"Greg Perkins..."
That first run at recess was always the best. It would turn out to be a race with all the other boys in his grade. Danny wasn't as fast as some of the other kids, but he held his own. He was better at longer distances, like when the kids have those fitness tests in the middle of the year. Danny liked doing the run with the blocks.
"Veronica Ralston...."
Veronica was the cute one. Danny only noticed or thought about that a little bit. He rarely talked to the girls. Veronica had long straight blonde hair. She had a nice smile for a new fifth grader. Only one row of chairs remained.
"Tyler Smith...."
Tyler always dressed impeccably. His parents drove him to school in a Land Rover. At parent-teacher conferences, his parents would always smile too much and dominate the conversation. Tyler took Ritalin and constantly had a worried look on his face.
"Michele Turley...."
Danny was getting nervous. The long wait was almost over. His brief shining moment in the spotlight of the classroom was about to happen.
"Henry Walters...."
"I go by Jimmy...."
"OK....Jimmy....Have a seat"
Henry went by his middle name. He realized at a very early age that he didn't like Henry.
"Shari Williams......"
This was the third year in a row that Danny would have to spend the rest of the year staring at the back of the head of Shari Williams. When Shari talked to Danny, it was usually some variant of "Shut UP! JERK!". Shari's voice got really loud when she got mad.
"And finally, Daniel Zembrowski...."
"Danny...."
"OK Danny, have a seat...."
The long-anticipated moment had come and gone, like so many other moments in the life of a ten-year-old boy. Danny would find himself in middle school a year from now. Would they still call the roll the same way? Would he still be last? He couldn't figure out exactly whether being last alphabetically was a good thing or a bad thing. The wait seemed like forever, but he always knew where he belonged when it came to his last name. A new school year was starting now. It only took a moment for the end to become another beginning.

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