“How many of you know how to ride your bikes?” Mrs. Hodgenson asked our class. Every hand shot in the air.
“Keep your hand up, if you can ride your bike without your training wheels.” Slowly, my hand went down, a deflated balloon. It was the only hand not raised.
My dad took the training wheels off that night and set them on the dirt. My dad held the seat of my bike as I pedaled trying to maintain my balance, “I’m going to let go now.” I felt his hand leave. I pedaled a short ways, lost control, and hit the ground. My face scratched slid against gravel. My side ached. I sat up, my bike toppled over next to me; I wiped my cheek with the back of hand, blood smearing across my pale skin and got back on my bike.
A boy in my class told me he knew how to turn girls on. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I did understand he was being weird. I didn’t say anything. “You just do this”, he took his fingers and slowly ran them up side of my leg. I told him to leave me alone. When we went back in from recess, I told my teacher that he touched me on the playground. She told me not to tattle and sent me back to my desk.
I asked my teacher to begin a creative writing group for me. She said if I could get three other students to join she would stay after school with us once a week so we could write stories. That afternoon, Paige, Robin (my first crush), Tim, and I stood in front of her door. We spent that year writing a book about a bumble bee that traveled all over the city.
One day before our parents picked us up, Robin asked me to be his girlfriend. I broke up with him a few days later for lying to me.
A few weeks later, Tim called me to tell me his Dad had committed suicide. “I just needed to tell you,” he said.
At open house, I received my progress report from my teacher Mrs. Copeland. My parents let me open it up, when I did, I started to cry. My mom carefully took the paper out of my hands, Mrs. Copeland knelt down on one knee and asked me what was wrong, I had good grades, she said, there was nothing to cry about. My mom looked down on me, “This is her first B.”
“In?” My dad asked.
“Math” Mrs. Copeland went on to explain what I struggled with.
It was the first time I felt like I disappointed my parents, but it wouldn’t be the last time I got a B in math.
My teacher asked me to help another student with her poem about cowboys. Each of us had to write one so it could be entered into the annual Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering Contest. When I sat down to read her poem with her, I realized it was terrible and I didn’t know how to tell her. I re-wrote her intro for her and told her to add on to it. The poem I entered that year won state.
Mrs. Fiddas the children’s choir director at my church asked my sister and I to stay after class. She pulled both of us into her lap. She smelled like flowers. She said, “I love you girls. You know that right?” We nodded. We loved Mrs. Fiddas too. “And I pray for your mom every night.” I saw tears in her eyes and rested my head on her shoulder and wondered why God created cancer if he didn’t know how to cure it.
My mom came into my room before bed to talk. She sat down; I knew that meant she was serious.
“We need to talk about Robin.” I sat up, my back propped against the wooden bed frame that had belonged to her as a little girl. She explained to me that Robin’s dad had been shot and killed. It was an accident.
When Robin came back to school, I asked if we could talk, alone. I told him I was sorry. That’s all I knew to say.
“We have to move to Atlanta my mom says.”
I spent the rest of the year looking at Robin’s empty desk and wondering if there really was such a thing as accidents.
My mom got me up for school, but today was different; she told me I needed to come to the living room. She was frantic. The news was on. My mom never watched the news. Something was wrong. I watched as the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. Smoke billowed up on the screen. The newscaster was crying. My mom was crying. Our phone rang. It was my Dad calling to say My Uncle Frank, who lived five miles from the towers, was OK.
Paige pushed me against the wall in the girl’s bathroom and demanded I let her do my eye makeup. I told her mascara made your eyelashes fall out. She said, “But you’ll be pretty until they do.” I gave in and she did my eyeliner, slathered on the mascara, and pulled a contraption out of her purse that she claimed curled eyelashes. I didn’t feel like myself, but I got ten compliments that day, all about how pretty my eyes were. That night I asked my mom to buy me makeup.
Joe asked me to be his girlfriend. He kissed me under honeysuckle vines and it was the first kiss I had that didn’t leave my face wet with spit.
His dad passed away that summer from cirrhosis of liver. The week before he died, his yellow-colored hand clutched mine and he pulled me down to him, “Take care of my boy” he said and he kissed me on the cheek. But like the Bible says, the sins of the father are the sins of the son and I was not a savior.
Mrs. Franco came to our school for her first year of teaching. She had just graduated from the University of Arizona. She was pretty, young, and had no idea what she was getting herself into. We didn’t even have a teacher sponsor for student council. No one wanted to represent our class. Our last sponsor had quit half way through our freshmen year and our Freshmen English teacher swore he wouldn’t come back to teach until we had graduated. He kept his promise.
Mrs. Franco became our class sponsor, the NHS advisor, and our favorite teacher. She asked me what I wanted to be one day when I got out of high school, “An English teacher.” I told her. She smiled, “I think you would be perfect for it.”
My best friend started dating a boy who kidnapped her bright smile and infectious laugh. I begged her to leave him, she wouldn’t. That summer she asked if I would come to the gym at school to hang out with her while she watched him play basketball. When I got there, they were already arguing.
“Why don’t you do something already?” She screamed, tears streaming down her face.
He raised his fist. I stepped in front of her. He stopped. I didn’t blink.
We stared at each other. Stale mate.
He turned, punched the brick wall, and walked out of the gym.
My Uncle Frank passed away from a tumor in his leg. The cancer had spread to his brain and caused him to go delusional; complications from chemicals he had breathed in from September 11th the specialist said. I wasn’t allowed to say goodbye, he didn’t remember who I was anyway. It was the only time I had ever seen my dad have tears in his eyes.
My mom passed away on a Sunday. I called into work, the voice on the other end belonged to one of my classmates and demanded to know why I couldn’t possibly come in; I could hear her roll her eyes.
“My mom died this morning.” I didn’t wait for a response. Click.
Mrs. Franco held me back after class the next day, “What are you doing here?” She knew what happened. Everyone did. Perks of a small town.
“I’d rather be here than at home where it happened.” I told her. She hugged me.
I graduated that year in the Top Ten with enough scholarships to put me through most of college.
My dad paid some money that we didn’t have to give me an ad in that year’s yearbook. He handed me a folded up piece of paper. I was supposed to turn it in to the yearbook staff so they could print what he wanted the ad to say. I read it before I handed it to someone in yearbook. He wrote, “…You have shown strength in the midst of adversity.” That night on my drive home from work, I cried.