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What is important?

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Moving a black lock of hair behind your ear you look up to the sky. Frost has formed on the window frame and a broken branch hangs limply like your grandmother’s old scarf she gave you last Christmas which now hangs in your closet. The room even smells like your grandmother.

You wince, an awful chill creeps up your spine as the last kid enters the class room. You look up.

Your heart skips a beat and you forget all about the plain old paisley scarf that smells like cats. You forget because he’s here.

“You’re late Mr. Keenly,” the teacher said eyeing him from her desk. Her crayon eyebrows rise above her beady eyes and she lets out a sigh of coffee breath. “Take a seat; I’ll deal with you later.”

“Yes ma’am,” he says smiling. The teacher rolls her eyes in tune with your heart.

“I don’t suppose you have a pass with you?” She asked looking down at the stack of graded tests.

“Nope,” he said nodding to the girl next to you.

“I didn’t think so.” The teacher didn’t even look up.

The girl next to you giggles loudly and twirls a blond curl around her finger. Then you see him lick his lips and turn to his friend next to him. They high-five and he gets a pat on the back from a guy sitting behind him.

You look away and let your straight black hair cover your face. You don’t want anyone to see your face. Your eyes feel puffy and red.

You hear as the teacher comes around to each desk dropping a test facedown. Your paper slams in front of you.

You glance up but you don’t pick it up.

The girl next to you lets out a sigh of relief. “I got a 75%! I thought I failed that one,” she said to her friend.

“It’s good that you didn’t or you’d be off the squad.” The friend spoke just above a whisper.

“I know right! OMG! I’m sooo glad!”

You slid your hand across the table and grab the paper and your breath catches in your throat. You see in red sharpie a big fat 63% staring you in the face.

You slowly turn the paper over and put your face down on the desk and silently shudder into your arms as you wrap them around your head.

The next 94 minutes go by slowly and you only catch the teacher saying something about personification.

The bell rings and you walk out of the room with everyone else. You stand behind him and you stare at the paper in his hand and see a 90% next to a smiley face.

You can’t help but clench your fists. He never tries, and shows up to class late but yet he just eases by. Everything comes easily to pretty people. They walk on water and others feed their ego, and they just float away from us normal people.

You hate pretty people on the spot.

Because you’re not one of them.

“Kristen? Could you wait please?” The teacher asked from her desk. You turn and try to make it look like you just yawned so you’d have an excuse for the wetness on your checks.

“Yes, Mrs. Kinsmen?” You say.

“I would like to talk about your grades. It seems you’re failing this class and it’s only been a month.”

“I know I’ve been really busy.” You lie.

“With sports?” she asked. You remember that fall sports were at their height right now and the school was abuzz with football and field hockey.

“Oh no.” You say knowing full well that sports and you just don’t mix. Your head and the ground have met one another too many times.

“Then what do you have to say for yourself?”

You shrug.

“This is a pre AP class, maybe it’s just not for you?”

You shake your head fiercely and sit down in a chair next to her desk. “No, this is the right class for me. I love English. I love to write and I don’t . . . .I.”

“Slow down. It’s okay, but could you please tell me why it is that you’re struggling? Are you just not getting it or is…..”

You interrupt. “No, I get it. It’s . . . just that I ‘don’t understand the project you gave us.” You say thinking of the prompt that was on the board yesterday. The letters stared you in the face and you can’t make them make sense.

“The prompt was to write about something that has meaning to you. You can write any way you want. It can be an essay or a movie script. You could write a poem if you want. It just has to be 300 words or less.”

“It can be anything?” you ask.

“As long as it means something important to you,” she says smiling.

“Okay,” you say as you grab your bag and walk out of the room.

You walk through the halls like a ghost. The last bell had already rung and the buses were leaving as you walked out of the door of the school.

You walk to your house trying to think what was important to you. Your mind was blank so you decided to worry about it later.

You open your door and drop your bag next to the faded yellow couch in your living room.

“Kristen’s home!” Your little sister Jamey came running down toward you. She jumps up and you pick her up and squeeze her. “You’re late!” She said looking at you with squinting little brown eyes.

“Yeah, I had to stay back to talk with my English teacher.”

“Did she congratulate you on your writing? You have the best writing. I tell all my teachers, I say ‘my Krissy has the best writing she is a novel.”

“Jamey its novelist not a novel.” You say laughing.

“Oh.” You drop her down on the floor, “Well sorry I’m not the big writer!”

You watch Jamey storm off and laugh to yourself some more. Then the phone rings. You wait for mama to pick it up but when she doesn’t you go to it and answer. It’s just the dial tone and you guess it was just some prank call.

“Mama?” You call wondering if she is outside. You check the garden were she keeps her red peppers but she isn’t there. “Mama?” you call as you race up the stairs.

You feel in the pit of your stomach something is wrong and you are correct when you see mama sprawled on the floor pale as a sheet.

“Mama!” you scream as you clasp next to her frantic. You shake her but she doesn’t move or yell at you “to stop acting like a ninny.” Jamey runs into the room in a panic, her little curls thrown about her face in disarray.

“Krissy what’s wrong?! What’s wrong with mama?!” Jamey is hyperventilating now you can tell. You need her to calm down or she’ll have a panic attack but you are not calm at all.

“Jamey call 911 now!” you yell. When Jamey doesn’t attempt to move you scream, “NOW!”

She jumps into attention. And you give a silent prayer that she remembers the home address.

Now you turn your attention to Mama who isn’t breathing. You slowly remember the steps to CPR that you learned at summer camp. You never thought you’d have to use them.

You give two breaths and do thirty chest compressions and continue for quite some time till Jamey runs in holding the phone to her ear.

“They are coming,” she says crying hysterically.

You don’t answer her because you know you can’t stop CPR till the ambulance gets here. You feel wetness on your check again but this time you can’t hide it.

When the ambulance comes you are in a daze. People ask you questions that you can’t answer like, “Was she taking any medication,” or, “has she any heart problems.”

You know nothing. Jamey clings to you like a bird to a nest and you hold her but your arms feel limp. The both of you climb into the ambulance with mama who is breathing again. Thanks to you, but you don’t feel better.

You feel selfish for crying over a boy and a silly grade earlier when your mother might have just had a heart attack at 47! 47!

That’s what you hear the paramedics talking about.

Later, once you are at the hospital the doctors say to you that you had saved mama’s life and that she was going to be alright.

You believe them but still you feel like an ungrateful brat.

You close your eyes and remember what Mrs. Kinsmen said earlier about writing what was important to you.

You could name a thousand things right on the spot that were no longer important, like looks, boys, other people’s grades, and yourself.

You turn to Jamey who is mumbling at your side. You stare at her long and hard and at the door to mama’s room and it all becomes clear.

You close your eyes again and see words float up to the surface and the one word that matters is the one that has been there all along.

Family





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