In ScriptLeave a comment
April 2, 2023 by The Citron Review
by Gina Ferrara
Mrs. Vujn, was gigantic. She towered over the rows of desks, each desk hitting just above her knee as she walked the aisles to check the work we would do every day in pliable work books and on mimeographed worksheets that always had the slightest scent of vinegar. With her extreme height and lankiness, it stood to reason that she could be associated with giraffes. Mrs. Vujn was that obvious. Another thing about her was she favored loud print dresses and orange lipstick that was the shade of pure citrus. Looking at her, I just knew that I would never be like her when I grew up. I didn’t stand a chance of ever being that tall. None of the adults in our family even came close to her stature. Although her height made me think of giraffes, the truth was she lacked their gentleness and she caused me to have small tidal waves of terror whenever she passed my desk, especially in the afternoons when we had penmanship.
It was the year that we learned how to write cursive at my school. As a child, handwriting always fascinated me, specifically my father’s. His script looked like something from another century; it was that formal and ornate, with a signature that beamed presence. And, of course there was the history of his handwriting which loomed quite large in our family. It was well known that when my father was in grade school, the nuns were so impressed with his handwriting they would pull him out of class so he could address envelopes for them. Any time the nuns sent out letters of appeal, it was my father’s script that recipients first would see, and something about that script would never be subtle.
I spent many hours trying to mimic his momentous and cascading swirls, the loops and strategic exaggerations of letters executed precisely and positioned for dramatic impact. My own hand lacked the finesse of effortlessly connecting letters to make my signature or book title a comet’s length, to blaze across the page with that level of importance. If I gazed to the very front of the classroom, the entire cursive version of the alphabet spanned above the blackboard, yet compared to my father’s handwriting, these collective letters seemed mundane. I would often find myself in a dilemma, to try and copy exactly what was ahead, or, to demonstrate a little individuality by executing letters with more originality, capital letters allowing opportunity for personalized expression. Mrs. Vujn did not approve when I made an aesthetic choice instead of exercising conformity. She wanted the written rote. In fact, she felt tasked to bend down and suspiciously eye my work before taking my tablet, ultimately ripping the sheet out and making me begin again. This would be an ongoing battle between us.
What exacerbated the desire to write like my father was the fact that he had left us. Learning to write in his manner was my way of keeping him close and harboring some semblance of our family as I wanted it, intact. He and my mother were going through a terrible time in their marriage which was on a rapid and unstoppable track for divorce. After my sister and I would go to bed at night, when they assumed that we were asleep, my parents would get into raging arguments that would either wake us up or prevent us from sleeping altogether. One of us would have to leave our bedroom to implore them to quit arguing so we could sleep. I wasn’t exactly
ready to greet the world in the mornings since the night before would involve getting them both to retreat into their respective corners, my father in the den on the orange couch and my mother in their bedroom with the tufted slipper chair; the tall and stern Mrs. Vujn did not help matters. My father’s departure did make for better nights of sleep, but it also seemed impossible to fill his natural place in our home. The thirty minutes trying to perfect my penmanship reminded me that he was no longer living with us, and I had much work to do before I could sign his name or even my own.
It is believed that handwriting, the size and slant, the execution of it indicates personality traits. From presidents to founding fathers and serial killers, writing samples and signatures are often analyzed and thought to be as revelatory as DNA. And just as the helixes twist to reveal identity, perhaps Mrs Vujn was trying to curb my letters from their own troublesome twisting. Besides reprimanding me about the way I made my capital letters, she often became impatient because my handwriting consistently levitated off the line. Words might have started straight, but
inevitably they would end up rising in the same way a two-seater plane begins its ascent to fly. Seeing this caused her orange lips to grimace, becoming a shade of sour orange or bitter kumquat. Her longitudinal limbs and torso would bend, where she awkwardly hovered over my desk. With her ballpoint red pen, Mrs. Vujn underscored the blatantly obvious line, or she’d draw boxes where I was expected to fit my capital letters. She even moved me close to the front so I could have a better view of the generic, cookie cutter letters, all twenty-six of them, capital and lowercase that she said were just like fathers and sons or mothers and daughters. There was
something safe about those letters; they held no intrigue and lacked possibilities. I also noted that they were intact, unlike our family. There weren’t any stray capital or lowercase letters. All of them were partnered. Something about them reminded me of the way parents and children look together when they walk near a lake or ocean, a walk I wanted to take.
I fumed inwardly about the limitations Mrs. Vujn was trying to impose, all emphasized by my home situation: a distracted mother and an absent father. Still, that year, I would remain hopeful, which was its own form of ascent, letters, large and loopy, taking flight off the line along with thoughts that my parents would reconcile, my father would return, and the writing from my hand would mirror his.
Gina Ferrara lives and writes in New Orleans. She has four collections of poetry, and her latest, Amiss, is forthcoming for publication by Dos Madres Press. Her poems have been featured recently in Dovecote, Tar River Poetry and the Naugatuck Review. Her non-fiction pieces have been published in The Longridge Review.