This story contains a curse word. Just one. But it's used extensively as a part of the story. If that's an issue, then this story is not for you. This is based on a true story and it affected me enough to want to put it down on paper in the hope that something like this doesn't happen again.
Kindergarten is a German word. I hadn’t known that. It literally means “children’s garden.” Created for kids whose parents both worked during the day and needed a place for them to be safe. A place to learn songs, dance, paint, play and begin to learn about themselves. In the United States, kindergarten starts at five and it was then that I began to learn who I was.
It was the first day of school. September. I had to take two buses because the bus was the only option available to me to get across town. I was used to traveling by myself, even at five years old. A third of the kids entering Richmond Elementary, which had children from kindergarten to second grade, were five years old. There were many bright colors in the long, deep hallways; pictures of smiling children, children running, walking and playing. Around me were kids who looked like the children I saw on the walls. It was confusing to me. Why was everyone so happy? What is this place? Adults were shooing children to their respective rooms. An adult asked me what class I belonged in. I told them, Mrs. Warner, because that’s what my mother told me before she pushed me out of the house this morning.
I found room 134 near the end of a long corridor, not because I could read the signs, but because another adult pointed it out for me. I paused at the door before walking in. Before me were a bunch of kids talking and laughing loudly. Bouncing with an inner energy that I neither had, nor understood. There were two women in the room, both in their low 30’s. One was white, one was not. I asked the one who was not, because she seemed more like me, if she was Mrs. Warner. She said she was not, she was Ms. Perez, and pointed to the white lady who welcomed me with a wide smile loaded with super white teeth and told me to find a seat. Mrs. Warner then clapped her hands several times and told everyone to find a place to sit. The seats were set up six across by five deep in front of Mrs. Warner’s desk. I sat in the third seat in the row closet to the window, giving me a pretty good view of my new classmates, who seemed very strange to me. I’d never been around this many white people before in my life. This was new territory. They were so…relaxed.
Mrs. Warner got everyone’s attention and said she was going to take attendance. When you’re name was called, you were to raise your hand and say, “Here,” to let her know who you were. Sitting on the edge of her desk, she went down the list. Hands were eagerly raised around the room as I waited my turn. She asked for Javon Tillman. No one raised their hand. She asked again, everyone looked around, including myself, but no one raised their hand. Mrs. Warner made a check mark and continued down the list. When she finished, she looked around and asked if there was anyone whose name she didn’t call and to raise their hand. I raised my hand.
Mrs. Warner came to my desk with a warm smile. Looming over me she ran her eyes over her list again. “Well, let’s see who you are. Sometimes the office can make a mistake on these lists. Tell me, son, what’s you name?”
Without batting an eye, I said, “Mother Fucker.”
The entire class turned around, eyes wide, some had their hands over their mouths, many were saying, “Ooooooo.” Ms. Perez was stock still.
Mrs. Warner amazed me in getting whiter than she already was, but she tried to keep her composure. “Excuse me, son, but we don’t use that kind of language in my classroom.”
“Language?” I asked. “What do you mean?”
“I asked you what your name was.”
“And then you said a bad thing.”
“Yes, and in Mrs. Warner’s class, we do not use bad words. Okay?”
I shrugged. “Okay.”
She took a deep breath. “Now, tell me, what’s your name?”
She crossed herself and shook her head. “Okay. Let’s try this. You live with your parents, yes?”
“Of course you do,” she said.
It would take some years before I realized she was being condescending.
“Good. Now, when you’re mother wakes you up in the morning, what does she say?”
“Wake up, Mother Fucker.”
“Jesus!” Mrs. Warner slapped the list against her leg.
“No, Mother Fucker.”
“When you’re outside and your mother calls you to come inside, what does she say?”
“Mother Fucker, where are you? If I do something wrong, she says Mother Fucker what is wrong with you?”
“Oh my Lord!” Mrs. Warner was nonplussed.
Ms. Perez stepped in, gently moving Mrs. Warner to the side and taking the list from her hand.
“Tell me, do you live on 45th Avenue?”
“Yes.” That much I knew from the people in my neighborhood.
Ms. Perez pointed to the list while holding it under Mrs. Warner’s chin. They looked at each other, then Mrs. Warner took over again.
Mrs. Warner knelt down to my level and took my right hand in both of hers. “Listen, son. Your name is Javon Tillman.”
“No it’s not.” I said
She shook her head, “Yes. Yes it is.”
“No, my name is Mother..”
“Don’t say that again.”
“Because that’s not your name. Your name is Javon. Javon Tillman. That’s who you are.”
“Yes. Now. What’s your name?”
I paused, wondering if what she was saying was true. “Uh, Ja-von.”
She smiled. “That’s right. Javon. Javon Tillman.” She turned to Ms. Perez. “Isn’t that right, Ms. Perez?”
“It’s true,” Ms. Perez gave me an earnest look.
Real knows real, Ms. Perez was telling the truth.
“My name is Javon.”
“Javon Tillman,” said Ms. Perez.
“Now Javon,” said Mrs. Warner, “I don’t want you to ever use those words again as your name. That’s not your name. I’ll teach you how to spell your name and much more. You’ll learn many new things. Okay”
“Great. Now, who are you?”
“That’s right, Javon. Welcome to kindergarten.”
Mrs. Warner then spun on her heels and went back to the front of the class. Ms. Perez gave me a consoling rub on the back and a look that told me everything was cool. I liked Ms. Perez already. Mrs. Warner, not so much.
Mrs. Warner then began to speak to the class about what was expected of us. Class rules, the things we were going to learn, play time, lunch and more, but all I could think about was my name.
I repeated silently to myself, “Javon Tillman. My name is Javon Tillman. Javon. Ja-von. Ja-von. Ja-von.”
It was mind boggling. A revelation. An epiphany.
But all I could think was, “Ain’t that a mother fucker.”