I stare at the poster.

Sign up by January 9th. If you sign up after January 9th, you will have to pay a late fee.

I stare at the poster. It's like a piece of God. A band of glare stretches across the the laminated surface. There is a picture of a girl on the poster and she is hovering over a stack of paper, pen poised above the table like a viper. A slight smile twinges her lips at the corners.

This is my future, the girl is thinking with her dyed hair and designer clothing.

This is Harvard.

This is Penn State.

This is mortgages and satellite television and a job in a cubicle.

Pay a fee, if you are late signing up. Pay for a test you never wanted to take. Pay for a future you wish you never had to experience. Please visit this website for tips.

This test, that is graded by a faceless drone a hundred miles away. This worker bee, with its thermos full of chicken soup and a turkey sandwich packed for lunch, is attacking your test with a red pen.

It is designing your future. It is giving you a number and telling you where to get in line.

It took this test once too.

I walk past the poster and the vending machines and the library filled with books by Faulkner and Einstein and hundreds of no names. Into the staircase, where I push past other students whose minds are filled with dates and times and prices and tests. I walk on the right side of the hallway because I have been told to.

Yes, kids are Americans too.

Teachers stand on the side, watching us. If you make eye contact they will smile, just like wind up dolls. I don't look up. I don't look down.

My brain is crawling around in my skull. I have a chemistry test in Three minutes.

Two minutes.

One minute.

The room reeks of chemical farts. Some kind of sulfur permeates the air. I take a seat and scrub my face. My head aches. I could be home watching a sitcom or playing a video game. I could be wasting my life away in comfort.

The room is white and cavernous. I imagine the air, swirling and eddying above our heads. I look at my comrades in this life. They are bored and restless. Some are studying, looming above their textbooks like the girl in the SAT poster. I feel like sighing but I do not. I tug a ream of papers out of my binder and read the same sentence over and over again:

Atoms are made of three types of subatomic particles.

Protons.

Neutrons.

Electrons.

We are all made of atoms. We are all made of the exact same things.

I blink back a a rush of migraine tears. A make a note to myself, written in black ink that has been shipped to the United States from China:

Bring $ for SAT by Jan 9th.