Before entering the fifth grade, everybody had to have a Five Star® brand (by Mead, obviously), cloth-covered binder. Or else. This was law.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t really a law. Teachers didn’t expect anybody to buy that binder, mainly because over half the population of my town lived in a trailer court off Hwy. 59, where most everybody’s family income went towards cartons of Marlboros and a DirectTV subscription so nobody’d miss the Nascar races every Sunday.
And that binder was expensive. But it wasn’t just the binder, of course. You needed some roller ball gel pens to go with it, so you could decorate it with flowers and those S symbols that also look like vertical infinity signs and the name of your crush and song lyrics and peace signs. And all those cool things.
Nobody in the fifth grade had a normal binder, of course. Except me.
Each time we went to Wal-Mart (twice weekly), I yanked at Momma to buy me that binder. I had the color picked out (maroon), and I knew exactly what I was going to write, and where. I knew that I was even going to write Ryan (my crush’s name) on the very inside corner where no one could see it except me.
The greatest day of my life (I thought) was when Momma found a Lisa Frank® brand Trapper Keeper® with two rainbow-colored dolphins jumping out of an emerald sea in the five-dollar discount bin near the Wal-Mart checkout on one blessed Tuesday evening.
“Here,” she threw it at me, “Quit hollering about the other damn binder and use this one. It’s just as fancy, ain’t it?”
Lisa Frank®. The Louis Vuitton of all things school supply. It was only $5. And it was all mine. Everyone was going to be SO jealous.
The next morning on the bus, I made sure to carry my brand new Lisa Frank® Trapper Keeper® rather than shove it in my bag like I always do. Just so everyone could see it. But what do I see when I climb up those dumb metal steps and start making my way towards the middle of the bus?
Jennifer C. Jennifer C. with the crimped hair and the acid-wash jeans, and apparently, the Lisa Frank® brand Trapper Keeper® with three jewel-colored rabbits performing ballet on a glittering stage in front of rhinestone jungle animals. I knew that if anyone saw my binder, they’d accuse me of copying the coolest girl in school. Of being the wannabe. Of being the poor girl that was desperate to fit in.
I hugged my Lisa Frank® Trapper Keeper® to my chest and plopped down quickly into a seat before anyone could see me. I took some pens out of my binder, the boring black and blue Bic ones that are like, 20 for a dollar, and began to color in the dolphin’s eyes, covering up all those bright colors and happy hues.
By the time we arrived at school, just half an hour later, my new binder was a zig-zaggy mess of blue lines and black blobs, the plastic torn and jagged by the angry slashes of my cheap pens.