Playing Hooky

Gloria Mesa

© Copyright 2023 by Gloria Mesa


Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash
Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

When I was a little girl being homeschooled meant answering the queries of well-intentioned adult strangers who questioned with good reason why I was out playing, or shopping, during the hours when most other kids my age were in school. I would explain that I received my education at home. My mother worked with me on my studies, and I tended to be finished early on in the day. I wasn’t playing hooky.

But when I was twelve years old, I moved to my ancestral home of the Dominican Republic, with my mother, father, brothers and sisters, and with no government to ensure, or care, whether my siblings and I learned anything at all, our schooling quickly fell by the wayside. We really weren’t being educated.

While other American kids were lining up at street-corner bus stops, and other Dominican kids were trudging to half-day classes in their monochrome polo shirts, and khaki slacks and skirts, my siblings and I were wandering the jungles, chasing rivers. I climbed hills until the sun started to set and the sky turned more beautiful shades than could properly be captured on a camera.

Summer or not, we played all day when we weren’t doing chores, and searched for waterfalls or food.

At first, I played “woman of the house” while my mother went to buy groceries because it was just her, and I, a tweenager, to watch my little siblings and keep everything in order. But when my father and older brother came in our wake, I did next to nothing, besides dishes and laundry. Sure, it was summer in that log cabin in the jungle, but we should have been in summer school, honestly. Instead, we picked mangoes, and jelly-like fruits called quenepas. We swung on a vine and waded streams - watered what must have been an acre or more of cacao, with water we hauled gallon by gallon from the stream. We played hooky for years on end.

Children younger than me started to catch up to me academically. I, the girl who had been the all-star student, was now so terribly behind in my schooling that I actually started to be embarrassed about my education.

I didn’t want to see or think about anything that reminded me how far behind I was in math and government. And all my parents did was send me out of the house to go wander, make friends- get fresh air.

Slowly, all my book learning fell further and further by the wayside.

Years later, my education had been on the back burner for so long that it seemed like everything I’d learned before had been set on fire.

I wasn’t just behind where I SHOULD have been, but I had to go BACK and review all the things I’d forgotten.

I had a 6th-grade education on my 17th birthday. And I cried and told my parents how embarrassed I felt about being so behind, but they excused themselves, saying that I put too much stock in education, and that they’d been teaching me something more important during all those months and years when my schooling wasn’t even an afterthought.

I was angry, justifiably. But eventually I realized that I just had to get over it. I couldn’t just wait around for people who didn’t really care that much to change their minds and try, if they could, to “catch me up” to where I should have been.

I knew if I wanted to get anywhere, to make anything of myself, I would have to do it myself. I would have to find some way to spin magic out of the disaster of my life that honestly, in the dark moments, looked irreparable.

So I started, grinding with everything in me. In a few months, I managed to get myself from 6th-grade math into high school. I crammed my dormant brain cells and note book pages full of calculations and equations until my brain hurt. And I still cried, but I wasn’t JUST crying, and that was what mattered.

The one saving grace of my under-education was my literary prowess, which somehow managed to grow, even without proper education. I had always written, at least, since as long as I could remember; as a little girl in the States, as a teenager coping with the stress of caring for my little siblings in a scary and unfamiliar environment, as a miserable, stupid-feeling teen, just trying to cope with my circumstances. In every possible way, writing was my means for escape.

I was published for the first time at 15 - because at 15 I decided to push to start making something of myself. I had realized (or come to the conclusion) that my parents didn’t seem to care very much whether I could succeed in life or was fit to become anything. I’d never had a summer job because my parents insisted I was too focused on trying to make money, that I was a “little girl” and needed to focus on being a child. So by the age when most teens had at least worked at a grocery store or a fast food joint, I had done nothing, and had nothing - nothing whatsoever - to show for myself. But I set a goal that year that I wanted to be published before my sixteenth birthday, and I was published about 10 months later, two months before my self-imposed deadline. That achievement gave me a much-needed confidence boost, a bit of affirmation that I hadn’t grown completely useless for anything.

I’m still fighting, working hard to try to finish high school and graduate from the twelfth grade with my GED. It’s a work in process, but one I believe I can, and will manage.

I hold it in my head as a milestone, a huge target that will be a high point of my life. A marker of accomplishment, maybe.

I’m not the type to give up on things easily. And though this mountain looks nearly insurmountable from the bottom, I motivate myself to push forward with the thought that:

If I can do this, I can do anything.”

My Name is Gloria Mesa. I am a Black-Hispanic author and poet from Maryland, USA. I’ve been published twice before for essays in a women’s magazine but never for poetry or creative writing.

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