Show and tell

We were late to school.  The social worker had warned my mom about it, but what to do?  The car took a long time to heat up and and the road was icy.  I had an orange hand-held Donkey Kong video game with a big crack in it my mom got from the dump.

The night before, I played it late.  In my sleeping bag, on the floor of her boyfriend's house, with a flashlight.

My tired eyes were shocked open in a layer of November frost as I ran from the car. A tattered brown paper lunch bag, smelling of tofu sandwiches from the previous week and stale corn chips tore and crunched in my left hand - desperately trying to keep up with me.

Numbers, colors, painting, blocks, a story about cows or tractors or airplanes. Feet dug into the floor as I craned my neck to check the clock: 8:30. My quilted navy-blue cloth boots from the freebox had a 3" tear on the left side. The tear and I were friends.  The tear reminded me which side was left so I wouldn't get teased about that.  I examined the tear for 15 minutes. Then a song —mumbled and lip synced nervously.

9AM: The curtains opened and it was time for show and tell. Ezra went first. New soccer ball, new cleats, new shoes — curly hair and dimples. Blond Abby — some ugly doll which cried. Jeff got a Patriots Starter jacket. His thin black hair stuck to his scalp while his wild blue eyes jumped around. Fletcher had a toy gun. It was contraband and quietly confiscated, quiet tears turned to punches. Time out. Let’s resume.

Finn Yngvesson sat next to me. His adopted parents were Swedish.  He had something from Europe. No one cared. Okay, my turn.

I walked slowly, putting weight on each foot - the wales of my corduroy bell-bottoms vibrating loudly against one another. The words all came out in delayed split second intervals, like Tie Fighters in Star Wars all leaving the bay milliseconds after one another, creating a cascade of "bew-bew-bew" where you're not sure which one came first. My stomach released its tension. My eyes went full aperture. No one understood me. Second try, slower:

We. Got. Our. Own. House. Today!

My cheeks held up by metal hooks, I gazed wildly for confirmation. None came. Everyone already had their own house. But it didn’t matter. I wouldn’t leave the stage. Feet firmly planted in the carpet, my back arched, my 7-yr old belly protruding through a rainbow sweatshirt...

My eyes softened, I breathed deep through my nose and with prompting returned to my place in the circle.

A few years later, Republican Governor William F. Weld would strike down section 550 — affordable housing credit for mothers and children. I wrote an impassioned and misspelled letter, but to no avail. We were forced to move. They took away the gentle slope that fell into a forest cliff, the hollowed out trees where I hid from ninjas and police.  Even after I returned, I couldn't find the fairy island in the river with brown clay banks, the forked tree where I kept the crystals and feathers and dead bugs.  Other kids or real estate developers would enjoy them. There would be other houses of course, better jobs, more money, other trees. But I would not tell about them.

Jacob Singh
CTO in residence at Sequoia Capital. Independent product and Engineering Coach Mediocre guitarist, singer, rock climber, point guard and baker Dedicated dad. American in New Delhi.
New Delhi