· “M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I” in Slice magazine’s Unknown issue#13
[ . . . ]
“Your mom says you can read a little already,” Mr. Roland said.
“A lot,” I said. My voice sounded loud. I was beginning to be the boy I had been. Mom was always reminding me to use my inside voice again.
“All right, now,” Mr. Roland said. He nodded at Mom. “There’s always a question for new students to get into the American School of Warsaw. You have to spell one thing.” He held up his pointer finger.
“Okay,” I said. I could spell my name. I could spell my brother’s name, j-o-e, but sometimes I messed up the s and the e when I tried his full name, Joseph. But I could spell pretty well.
“Spell Mississippi,” Mr. Roland said.
I stared at him.
“It’s a river,” Mr. Roland said.
Of course I knew it was a river. I knew it was a state, too. I knew it was in America. I knew about steamboats and the water’s flow south and that it cut the country in half, but I didn’t know how to spell it.
I felt dunked underwater and gulping. Grandma had already paid all the money. I wanted to speak English. I wanted to be with my brother. I was an American. I wanted to say I was Mississippi!
But I was Polish, and I felt dumb. I couldn’t speak Polish and couldn’t spell English. I didn’t belong at either school.
Read the entire essay in Slice.