“I guess what I really want is to be a bug.”
A boy in the back of the classroom immediately laughs, triggering a few more giggles from peers. The teacher shushes them, but tries the question again.
“Bugs are wonderful, but I think you may have misunderstood the question. What is it you’d like to be when you grow up? What job would you like to have?”
The room sits in silence for a moment. A murmur of stifled laughter squeaks out before the teacher once again hushes it, her patience growing thin.
Kelsey stands at the front of the room, uneven blonde bangs sticking to her porcelain skin. Her arms dangle awkwardly at her side, a puppet without a puppeteer. She holds herself as if she’s waiting for someone to tell her how to move, how she should conduct herself.
She opens her mouth and a softness comes out, almost winded. “I know what you meant. And I have the same answer. I want to be a bug.”
The room explodes. The laughter isn’t as easily squashed, echoing off stucco-lined ceilings and dim windows. Kelsey shrinks in her skin, tugs at the bottom of her shirt. The clock on the wall seems to have stopped. Perfect, she thinks. Of all moments to freeze, this is the one.
“YOU CAN’T BE A BUG, WEIRDO!” yells Tommy, a boy confident he’s two sizes bigger than he truly is. He throws his head back, cackles at his own observation. More powerful this time around, the teacher demands order and tosses out potential punishments. The words “no recess” seem to settle the zoo.
But Kelsey remains standing, no tears or flushed cheeks. She imagines herself at the helm of a boat, designating positions for all her classmates to go. Perhaps she’d make Tommy walk the plank. No, no, I’m better than that. Cerulean waves lap at the side, a rocking occurs, and her feet sway along with it.
She closes her eyes and is suddenly three years old again. She toddles, her family surrounding her at their old lake house, embers from a fire flickering in the distance. She watches a line of ants militantly march towards a mound in the dirt, points at it with her little fingers.
“Isn’t it beautiful? They always work together. They know they can accomplish so much more when in a team,” her mother explains, lifting Kelsey into her arms.
Kelsey opens her eyes, her voice now firm.
“I understand. But I would like to be a bug.”