Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Brown (11/26/09)
TITLE: My Last Name Isn't Brown
By Angie Wolf
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My cheeks were hot with a feeling of offense. My mother used to say, “Katrina, no one would know when you are upset unless they touched your face.” And that day was a perfect example.
It had been twenty years since I had set foot in a classroom, and to say that I was ambivalent was an understatement. There I was sitting among students who were half my age. I had blazers older than most of them. These kids were young with eyes full of shameless ambition and minds crowded with overflowing aspirations. Most of them were fresh out of high school and still living under their parents’ roofs and rules.
I was never a fan of math, especially Algebra. It just wasn’t my forte, but College Algebra was a mandatory course for degree completion. It was beyond my comprehension how the subject matter would ever apply to my eventual work as a psychologist, but I wasn’t in a position to complain about the core curriculum. I was divorced, unemployed, and desperately in need of new skills to compete in the job market. Before I made the decision to complete my college education, I sought counsel from my pastor whose advice came in three sentences, “Katrina, sometimes it’s better to do something as opposed to nothing. If you’ve got the right motives, God will bless your steps, even if they are baby steps. Remember, Christ has given you the strength to do all things.” His words resonated within my spirit from the time I registered for part-time student status at the beginning of that first semester to the time I graduated with a 3.5 grade point average five and a half years later.
My Algebra professor was an emotionless man who appeared to be in his mid-fifties. His thinning hair had a yellowish tinge that made me wonder why he would attempt to cover his gray with dye if he wasn’t going to do it right. His voice never seemed to reach a level much higher than a loud whisper so I often strained to hear him. And his handwriting? Atrocious. It was comparable to twenty-first century hieroglyphics. I had hoped for a small class where I could get more individualized attention since math wasn’t my strongest subject, but the class consisted of at least 30 students. I knew I would have to focus, work extra hard, and possibly seek a tutor to obtain a passing grade.
As a child, I used to think that my first name was unique until I became aware of the fact, when I reached adolescence, that others shared my name although some spelled it differently. My delicate ego deflated when I learned this truth, however with maturity came the realization that I could still be “special” even though there were probably 50,000 or more people with my name in the nation.
At the beginning of each class was roll call. The professor would state each of our names, and in response we’d respond with “Here” or “Present”. A pale twenty-something girl with freckles that consumed her entire face and auburn streaked hair was my namesake. “Catrina Smith,” called the professor. “Here,” she said. Names on the roster were not listed alphabetically but by student number. Several minutes later I heard, “Katrina.” But today as usual, he did not say my last name, so I waited instead of responding with my usual “Present.” It was midway through the semester and by now he had memorized most of names in the class, except for mine.
A few more seconds elapsed and again he called out, “Katrina.” Again I waited.
I felt like I was suspended in time, a weird kind of algebraic time. I could have answered him like I had so many times before, but today I wanted to be fully acknowledged for who I was, like the rest of the class. Meanwhile my classmates had begun to look at me out of the corners of their eyes as if to say, “We know you’re older than the rest of us and perhaps a little hard of hearing, but he just called your name twice.” The third and final time he called, “Katrina. Katrina Brown.” A surge of courage rushed through me and I said, “My last name isn’t Brown. It’s Evans.” He stopped, his face clearly flushed with embarrassment, and said “I’m sorry, Ms. Evans.”
That’s all I wanted and a B grade for the class. I got both.
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