Authors: Sara Lewis Holmes
For Rebecca and Wade,
who are both
Courage and Kindness
Listen up, New Recruit. This is a Work In Progress.
Like me. Like you. We are all capital W â¦ capital I â¦ capital P.
But before we head out, you need to know where you are,
who's with you in this battle,
and why you should say yes.
The same things we all want to know on Day One.
On the first day of school, Miss Loupe approached the left edge of the front row of her first-ever sixth-grade classroom. Before her new students' eyes, she knelt and stuck one end of a giant roll of beige tape to the floor at their feet. Then she crept backward on her knees, tacking the three-inch-wide strip of tape to the heavily waxed linoleum. As she moved away from them, toward the cracked chalkboard that hung on the front wall, the tape unspooled in a straight line.
The students gawked. Their teacher was a trim woman with confident shoulders, a clean face, and an amazing total of twelve tiny hoops hugging the curves of her ears, but she still looked ridiculous, because her head was below their feet and her khaki-clad rear was bobbing up and down. They would have started whispering and poking and giggling, except that Miss Loupe began calling the roll.
Here. What's up with the tape?
Yes, ma'am, I'm here, ma'am.
She wasn't going in alphabetical order, she wasn't using a computer-generated class roster, and she wasn't stumbling over any of the pronunciations. The names simply floated up from the floor randomly, like she was drawing raffle prizes.
Here. Do I have to sit up front?
Reporting for duty, ma'am.
Bo gave Trey a virtual high five in the space between their desks. He thought Miss Loupe would look up at Trey's response, but she didn't. How was she going to know which face went with which name?
When she reached the front wall, Miss Loupe tore off the end of the tape and patted it firmly to the floor. Then she attached a new piece of tape on top of that spot and resumed crawling, this time parallel to the chalkboard. Bo, Trey, and the rest of the back row had to lean out of their seats to see what she was doing. One corner of her teal-blue shirt came untucked and trailed along beside her. The class could see a tattoo of a bird on her left hip.
Not here, ma'am. She moved to Texas, ma'am, to Randolph Air Force Base. Her father got promoted.
When she reached the far right corner of the room, where her desk was, Miss Loupe (and her roll of tape) switched directions
again and inched slowly backward toward her students. They could see the white zigzags on the soles of her shoes. She called ten more names, including:
I'm here. Do you need help with that?
Here. Um, I'm new â¦
Below their desks, Miss Loupe and her roll of tape changed course a final time. She crept past the toes of the entire front row, unreeling and anchoring a straight line of tape to the floor just beyond their feet. Everyone in the front row saw the mole behind her right ear, and Martina noticed how her hair changed from deep brown to white blond as it rose from the nape of her neck to the spiky crown of her head. The boys in the back couldn't see anything, but they hoped Rick at the front would report any more tattoos.
Did they tell you I'm moving? I'm moving.
I'm here above you, Miss Loupe. You know, in the center?
Finally, Miss Loupe reached the spot where she had started her journey and the end of her string of names. Patting the last strip of tape firmly onto the corner of the rectangle that now occupied the entire front of her classroom, she rose to her feet, placed the giant roll of tape around her slim wrist, and addressed the class.
“WHERE AM I?” she asked, throwing her arms out wide.
The gesture made her appear a bit taller, but still, she was no bigger than a fourth grader. A fourth grader with a belly ring, which was twinkling in plain view now that her arms had freed the last edges of her shirt from her belt.
The class sat in stunned silence.
She repeated her words, her voice filling the room as if she were the announcer at the annual air show. “WHERE AM I?”
The students rustled with unease. Wasn't their teacher supposed to say: “Welcome to the sixth grade, and I'm very, very glad you're here, but as the top grade at Young Oaks, you have a responsibility to the rest of the school to set a good example”? Were they supposed to completely ignore her belly ring? Could they ask about her tattoo? And why would a teacher put tape on the floor?
Bo wanted to ask all of these questions and more. But Miss Loupe had asked her question first, and now she belted it out one more time: “WHERE AM I?”
What kind of a question was that? In the last six years, Bo had moved five times. He'd never had a teacher who was newer to a school than he was, and they'd all known exactly where they were. But if there was one thing he'd learned in all the moves he'd made, it was to not mess up and ask the wrong questions on the first day of school. Teachers had long memories, and they told other teachers about you too.
Finally, Bo decided that a brand-new teacher with a belly ring would not have a rule about raising your hand before speaking
(he turned out to be wrong about that), and he called out: “Aren't you in Room 208?”
“Yes. Yes, of course, I am. But
in Room 208 am I?” Miss Loupe used her upturned palms to mimic the outline of tape.
“You're in a rectangle, ma'am?” ventured Melissa. She had opened her binder, her pencil poised.
“Let me give you a hint,” Miss Loupe said. She walked to the middle of the marked-off space. She placed the roll of tape flat on the floor. Then she began to circle it, eyeing it from all angles. She squatted with one hand held above her eyes, as if she were shielding them from bright sun. Then she stood to one side of the tape, about six feet away, and grasped an imaginary stick, gently drew it backward â
“YOU'RE PUTTING!!!” Bo burst out. “It's a golf course and you're on the green, you're going for a birdieâ¦.” Melissa turned to look at him, and he yanked his hand back down. “You're putting,” he muttered.
Miss Loupe's head popped up from her downward gaze at the imaginary golf club. “Yes! Thanks for the vote of confidence in my game. I usually don't score birdies â¦ more like triple bogies. Do you play golf?”
Bo shrugged. He and Trey liked to mess around with the old clubs they had bought at the base thrift shop, mostly in the rough field behind Trey's house where the mobile home park used to be. There were concrete slabs and rusty metal drains that made balls shoot up into the air like popcorn. But he just said, “Putting
greens aren't square. They're mostly round. Your tape looks more like a tee box to me.”
“Yes, you're right. Maybe I'm not on the golf course after all.”
Melissa crossed out the words
Golf. Putting. Birdie.
on her paper.
Miss Loupe threw up her hands. “So WHERE am I?”
This time, she walked to the back of the Taped Space, sat down, and huddled against the wall below the chalkboard. At his seat, Bo rose up onto his knees so he could see her. Miss Loupe's shoulders sagged, her head dropped to her bent legs, and her hands hung limply near her curled feet. The room seemed to darken, as if the formerly bright sun had weakened to a dim glow. The class could hear the ragged edges of her breath. They shifted in their seats, unsure.
Miss Loupe's head tilted up. She crawled to the middle of the floor where she had left the roll of tape and cupped her hands around it like a bowl. She lifted it weakly to her lips.
“You're a dog in the pound!” Zac said. The girls all glared at him.
Miss Loupe didn't answer.
“Prison!” said Melissa, waving her pencil. “You're a POV!”
“I think you mean, like, PO
,” said Allison, who was sitting in front of Melissa. She flipped her long brown hair out of her eyes. “Like my grandfather. He was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He was interviewed on TV about it and they, like, even made this movie about him â”
“Yes, thank you, Allison,” Miss Loupe said from the floor. “You
are correct. POVs are privately owned vehicles, while POWs are, as you said, brave people.”
Allison smoothed the ends of her hair so they curled against her silky pink sweater. Bo wondered if her grandfather had really been a POW. Last year, when he'd first gotten to this school, he had believed Allison when she told the whole fifth grade that her older brother was with the CIA in Afghanistan. Thanks to Trey, who had been at Young Oaks since kindergarten, Bo now knew she didn't have an older brother, only a little one named Tony in first grade, who told everyone
big sister was an exchange student in Rome.
Miss Loupe stood up again and threw her arms out wide.
“WHERE AM I?” she said.
This time, Bo didn't wait for her to start pantomiming.
“You're on stage!” he called out.
Miss Loupe grinned and nodded her head, which made her earrings flash.
“Welcome to the Taped Space!”
She reached down, picked up the roll of tape, and tossed it over three rows of desks to where Bo was sitting. It bounced off the wall behind him and dropped into his hands.
“The Taped Space is also known as the Theatrical Space,” Miss Loupe continued, “or our Temporary Stage.”
She turned around and wrote in block letters on the chalkboard:
ART NEEDS A FRAME
And below that:
ART IS ARRANGING OBJECTS TO CREATE BEAUTY
She turned back to her students.
“This isn't art class. This is sixth grade. I know that. But when I was in sixth grade, I lived here in Reform, because my dad was an instructor pilot on the base. I went to class in this exact same school, and â¦” She paused. “Principal Heard was my sixth-grade teacher.”
“Really?” said Bo. “Was she big then too?”
The class busted out laughing, but Bo's own grin faded quickly. His teacher was tight with the principal? He hadn't planned on seeing Mrs. Heard so often this year â in fact, not at all. His dad had been clear about that.
Miss Loupe held up her hand.
“Not as â¦ substantial,” she admitted. “But she was a great teacher. And she could draw anything. You know that map of the U.S. in the main hallway? Mrs. Heard painted that.”
In the Stone Age?
The colors on the map had faded so much that the cows in Wisconsin looked more gray than brown, and part of the coast of California had worn away.
“I'm not good at drawing like she is,” Miss Loupe continued. “She wanted to hire a teacher who could create murals like that map and spruce things up around here. But I talked her into taking a chance on me.”
She looked around her class, at each face, as if she were marveling that she was there in Room 208 with them.
“Because I do know something about another kind of art,” she said. “Theater.”
She turned back to the board and wrote one more thing:
THEATER IS THE ART OF SAYING YES
“But ma'am,” said Melissa, waving her hand like a crossing guard, “how do we do that?”
Miss Loupe lifted a pile of Student Handbooks.
“Tomorrow,” she said. “Today, the Handbook awaits.” She gave the books to Rick to pass back.
The class slumped in their chairs. Bo turned the roll of tape around and around in his hands. This was the weirdest Day One he'd ever had.
Miss Loupe smiled confidently at the class. “We have a frame,” she said, indicating the boundaries of the Taped Space. “We
going to learn regular sixth-grade material. We have to cover the Handbook. But for the rest of the year, we'll also see what happens when we say