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Young Blood

Learning to write my name

When I was 5, I thought preschool was a most difficult time. You got stuck in a four-cornered place where there was no escape, no running outside to play and have fun. I was pinned to a tiny chair with a notebook and pencil on the table before me. I stared at the figure in front of us who breathed flames of gibberish. I could not do anything; I just wanted to cry.

One time, the girl right next to me started yelling, crying for her mom. I looked at her and, out of instinct, I covered her mouth with my bare hands to contain the noise. She looked startled, and what happened next was unsurprising: She bit my hand. She bit it hard enough that I, too, started crying.

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The whole class was soon in chaos. There were people crying, running, trying to get out of class, kids who peed on themselves and yelled at each other, while a few quiet ones stayed in their seats. The lady in front started to call for help. After a few minutes, the class was back the way it started: 30 preschoolers sitting like angels.

The teacher made us do one thing: “Write your whole name on your notebook, spell it correctly and you may go home,” she ordered. Everyone was excited because they knew how to spell their names. I was glad I knew mine: Nicholas Wayne M. Ompoc. My mom calls me Wayne, my dad calls me Baby Boy. Easy, right?

The teacher sat down in front and looked at each one of us. After a few minutes, some of my classmates were already done and started passing their notebooks for checking. As a reward, the teacher would stamp a big star on the notebook, with the words “VERY GOOD” below it. I got jealous and excited, so I started to write my name, too.

“ZXLPOA NORTS M. TGLIZT”

Finally, I finished mine. Time to go and get my name checked. I walked straight to the table and let my teacher read my name. “Wayne, I think you misspelled your name. Mind checking it again?” she said. “Okay, teacher.” I got my name wrong? Impossible, she must be tricking me.

I looked at my name and inspected every letter, and realized I was missing a letter.

“ZXLPOAH NORTS M. TGLIZT”

There. Better. Now I was sure this was the correct spelling. By this time, almost half of the class had already gone home. I approached the teacher again and proudly told her I just missed out a letter and that I had corrected it. She looked at it and she made a face.

“Wayne, this is your name: Nicholas Wayne M. Ompoc. You know that right?”

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“Yes,” I said, as I puffed my chest out.

“Try again, you almost got it,” said the teacher calmly. I mumbled a feeble “okay” and went back to my seat. Damn. I got it wrong again.

With almost half the class gone, the teacher started walking around, checking on each remaining student. Nicholas Wayne M. Ompoc. That was my name. I knew how to spell it. How hard could it be to spell your name?

“QXZHALP IJAZ L. OABTO”

Now I was sure of this spelling. Or wait. I didn’t know. “Teacher?” She approached me and told me I got it wrong again. There were only three of us left by this time. The girl beside me did not want to write her name at all, and the other one was a boy packing his stuff and was just about to leave. The boy leered at me as he fixed his stuff and said, “Hahaha. You don’t know how to spell your name.” Then he left.

I scratched my head and bit the end of my pencil. The girl beside me started to write her name the moment she calmed down; she let the teacher check it and it was good. Just like that, I was the only one left in class.

I continued biting my pencil’s end, and then the tears I was long holding back rolled down my cheeks. I could not write my name. How could I even say that to her—that I knew my name but I could not spell it? I felt blank. I just stared at the letters on my notebook, now wet with tears.

“Wayne, you may go home now, we’ll try again tomorrow. Okay?” said the teacher. After that, she hugged me and still gave me a huge star stamp on my hand. When I got home, the first thing I did was to ask my mom how to write my name. And she wrote it down for me so I could practice.

The next day, I felt the urgency of writing my name again, so I wrote it on the first page of my notebook: “NICHOLAS WAYNE M. OMPOC” — in big, wobbly letters.

Looking back after 15 years, I realize we all have our own pace in life. You think you may know what is going on and that you are perfectly handling things. But when you start facing them, you fail on your first try. You have to try again. Some may do it faster than you, some may excel without a sweat; you may work your ass off and still end up failing.

But maybe failing is our lesson. Failing is something that helps us grow and develop a fighting spirit. Maybe I did not finish first and I turned out to be the last one, but I did make it.

Today, every time I experience setbacks, I look back at that exact moment: the first time I fell down and picked myself up to be better. Then I take a deep breath and continue to push forward, with faith that things will turn out much better tomorrow.

* * *

Nicholas Wayne Ompoc, 20, studies accountancy at the University of Santo Tomas.

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