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The Last Normal Day (Chapter One of a Book I'm Writing)
I know that you’d rather I jump into the action. If I was reading this, I’d probably feel the same way. However, it would be very tedious trying to explain the back-stories and tidbits of information that you don’t understand.
Instead, I am going to begin from my last ‘normal’ day. I had no worries, except for exams and minor grievances, such as what to wear each day to school. That Thursday, the sun was shining, the flowers were blooming, and the birds were chirping. Yes, it’s cheesy, but it’s true. It was straight out of every Hollywood movie ever; it was the epitome of spring.
I actually remember thinking, ‘What a beautiful day it is today!’ This was incredibly out of character, because I am no nature girl. The closest I’ve been to the outdoors is the creek in my family’s backyard. I spend more time indoors than out. Malls are my favorite place to be.
If I was to describe my social status then, I would say that I was an ‘it’ girl- a girl in the popular crowd. I had the best clothes, the best hair, and the prettiest school supplies. I was part of the cool clique, and clung to those girls like barnacles to rocks. However, deep down, I was insecure. I was frightened that people would find out that I wasn’t an empty-headed, freckle-faced blonde with pretty stuff, because for some reason, that was a priority.
Anyway, I’m supposed to be telling you about my last normal day. Yes, the sun was shining, the grass was green, and all was right with the world. I parked my perfectly preppy and pink cruiser bicycle at the rack at school, locking it with a – you guessed it – pink bike lock. Riding your bike to school was a big fad at the time. It meant that you were ‘local’.
Hearing a yell and some unkind laughter, I looked up. Reed was at it again – picking on little sixth graders who didn’t know St. Teresa Junior High well enough to know to stay away from him. He shoved them to the ground, saying very rude words and verbally abusing them. I turned away from the scene, pretending not to see what was going on. ‘Not my problem’, I thought as I swiftly grabbed my Vera Bradley backpack and hurried to my locker, the foul language slowly fading away.
Arriving at my locker, I wasn’t alone. My clique girls were there, too. The leader, Marceline, spoke up.
“Hey Winter.” She looked me up and down and gave a nod of approval. “Nice outfit today.”
“Hey, Marci. Oh, it’s just something I threw on,” I said, grinning. That was lie number one of the day. I didn’t just throw it on. I woke up at 5:30 am every morning to find the perfect thing to wear. As they say, dress to impress. That day, I was wearing skinny jeans, sparkly ballet flats, and a tunic top with the brand name written straight across it. For me, it was labels, labels, labels.
“Yeah, well, it’s cute. Anyway, we were wondering if you wanted to go to the mall with us this weekend.”
Strategically hiding my excitement, I said, “Yeah, of course! I’ll just ask… I mean, tell my mom that I’m going.”
“Great!” Marci flashed me her shockingly white smile. “See you in science lab!”
She skipped away, her flouncy shirt billowing, and was quickly followed by the rest of the girls: Kat, Melissa, and Maggie. I put my books in my locker and went to first period, History. It was an uneventful class, only boosted by Zach’s jokes. He was the class clown, and I had a secret crush on him. I didn’t even tell my clique girls, for fear that they saw him as uncool. I lost my focus multiple times, partly because I was bored and tired, but mostly because I was fretting over what to wear, do, and say at the mall this weekend. Going to the mall was still an exciting occurrence, as we were only in the 7th grade. If you went to the mall with friends, you were thought of very highly, at least among my friends and I.
Next class was Science Lab. Marci was my lab partner, which I loved and hated. I loved it because we were friends, but I hated it because I had to hide the fact that I was actually intelligent, while quietly doing all the work for her. While I create concoctions, she raves about her new clothes, or the boy she likes, or whatever. This is how we became friends in the first place.
Anyway, in Science Lab, we learned about erosion. We made layered landscapes in shoeboxes, and then proceeded to dump water on the layers of sand and rock and observe the changes.
“So, I was like, ‘I can’t believe you! We’ve only been going out for a week!’ And he was like, ‘You weren’t the girl I thought you were.’ What does that mean, Winter? I mean, come on, shouldn’t you know what you are getting into when starting a relationship?”
I was very frustrated by our assignment, and Marci’s snooty voice was beginning to annoy me. However, I half-heartedly agreed, “Yeah, definitely. You deserve better.” That is a never-failing line when it comes to Marci and breakups.
“You’re right, Winter. A girl like me deserves a caring guy, not a jerk. I was just so sure he could be the one. What do you think, Winter? He wasn’t the one?”
I didn’t hear her, because I was busy charting ‘our’ results. ‘The more concentrated a stream of water is, the more erosion occurs,’ I thought to myself, scribbling in the answers. I was snapped back into reality by a sharp call: “Winter!”
“What?” I grumbled, biting my tongue.
“You don’t think that Eric was the right guy, do you?”
“Don’t know, don’t care.” Oops. Did I really just say that?
“You don’t even care about what I’m saying? OMG, I’m going to cry!”
Red alert! Red alert! When Marci says that she’s going to cry, she is not kidding. She will sob herself senseless if you don’t stop her in time.
I put an arm around her shoulder. “Marci, I do care! I was just busy doing my work.”
Her face fell. “What?” she said softly.
“I mean OUR work! Sorry, slip of the tongue there, I really…”
“And you think I don’t contribute?” she interrupted. “I work hard in Science Lab!”
I wanted to say something, but I held my tongue. Instead, I apologized, like any good friend should. “I’m sorry, Marci. The only reason I was being mean was because I was jealous of you.” That was lie number two. Once again, this is a fool-proof plan with Marceline: compliment her, and she won’t cry.
“Really?” she sniffled.
“Yes. You get all the guys, and I get no one. And, on top of all that, your hair looks super cute, as well as your outfit. I was just upset that I wasn’t as cute as you. I’m very sorry.” Once again, very cheesy. That was straight out of every make-up scene that Hollywood has ever made.
“Thank you, Winter.” She smiled. Yes, the smile meant that it was all over. If you called me a liar at this point in time, I wouldn’t blame you. However, I am very experienced in Marci’s crying habits, and trust me, this is by far the fastest and easiest way out. We gave each other a big hug, and a big, “I love you, soul sister!”
“Girls, quiet down!” said Mrs. Ether, the Science Lab teacher, giving a pointed look at us. When she turned around again, we shared a silent chuckle.
I spent Math and English dreaming of lunch. Today, the salad bar was open. The salads at that school are delicious. The lettuce is droopy, but crispy and cold. They have all kinds of toppings, but I usually go with edamame, carrots, grape tomatoes, croutons, and Ranch dressing. It’s always very refreshing to have a nice, brisk salad on a brisk spring day.
The other girls approached me.
“So,” Mellissa said. “She’s crying in the bathroom, you know.”
I was confused, but then I realized who they were talking about. “Marci?”
“Yeah,” Kat joined in. “She said that you were mean to her. You said she was stupid and that you didn’t care about anything she said.”
“And she also. . .” began Maggie.
“Enough,” I interrupted. “I love Marci, and being so close to her, I know she’s on more of the sensitive side. Today, she was upset over a bad breakup, and I underestimated how upset she was.” Using big words always confuses these dolts. “I apologized, and thought it was all better, but…” I shrugged. “Apparently not.”
A relieved look came over their faces, and then, they all started talking at once.
“Well, I’m glad you apologized, but…”
“You shouldn’t have…”
“Bad breakup? Oh, that’s too bad! I hope…”
I tuned them out and began eating my delicious salad, nodding every once in a while. Finally, Marci showed up a little red-eyed, but otherwise ok.
She sat down, slowly, as if we were going to tell her to leave. She had a small salad as well, with French dressing and hard-boiled eggs on top. “Winter, I’m super sorry that I over-reacted. I just needed support. I felt so upset because I wondered what I had done to make Eric not like me, and if maybe you felt the same way.”
“Marci,” I said, mustering all my Forensic persuasion techniques. “I am very truthfully sorry that I hurt your feelings. I hope that we can still be friends. I also am very sorry that it didn’t work out between you and Eric. He wasn’t the right guy. He doesn’t deserve you.” That was exactly what she wanted to hear. She stood up from her seat, came around, and gave me a huge hug.
‘Yeah, it’s good to have friends,’ I thought as we hugged.
When she let go, she said, “You are one of my best friends, Winter. You’re always there for me, so I’ll always be there for you.”
As I was soon to learn, she was a liar.
I had softball practice after school that day. I’m number 12, my lucky number, so I was very excited for our first game next week. I figured that my lucky number would help me, since I’ve never been particularly gifted in sports. Despite this, I do love softball. It’s nice to be part of a team, rather than an individual, like in track or swimming. I feel that in a team, I’m a bit more confident. And when you’re up to bat, and your teammates are chanting, “Winter! Winter!” you feel like you deserve to be part of the team. “Good eye, good eye!” they call. Even if I strike out, the coach says, “It’s best to get out swinging.”
Enough of that. Anyway, it was a great practice. We even scrimmaged at the end! That’s my favorite thing to do, because it’s like you’re in a game, just the pressure is off, and you are surrounded by support.
At one point, I hit a grounder straight past second base. I was so impressed with myself, when the coach walked over to me on first base, shaking her head. “No, no,” she said, eyes closed in exasperation. “Why did you hit that ball?”
Not knowing how to answer that question, I shrugged.
“You should not have hit that ball. Can you tell me why?” She studied my face.
Then, it came to me. “Because of our strategy.”
“Do not hit the ball until you get a strike, so as to wear out the pitcher.”
She nodded approvingly. “Yes. Just remember that for the game, ok?”
As she walked away, I watched her, growing more and more confused and angry. That is such a childish strategy. She didn’t care about my achievement. She just wanted the team to do well. It had been a perfect pitch. Why shouldn’t I have swung at it?
In that moment, I decided that I would never follow that rule in the game. If it was a ball, it was a ball. If it was a strike, I would swing. I would not be known as a cheapskate.
It had been a relatively good day, with no issues so far. However, that night was when I got the first whiff of trouble.
At the dinner table, I asked ever so sweetly, “Can I go to the mall this weekend?”
This was when I realized something must be wrong. My parents became restless, and looked at each other, sharing a quiet conversation before answering.
“I don’t think you can.”
“Dad!” I whined, trying to change his mind. “Why can’t I?”
This stopped them again. They didn’t know what to say. I tried to read their expressions, and I saw fear. Fear?
My mother put down her fork. My dad mumbled something about the bathroom and left. My mom began, “Your father lost his job today, and we have no source of income.”
I laughed, without knowing why. I stopped myself. “Sorry,” I said, without knowing why. I didn’t know what to think. No job? Where would we live? What would we eat? We were never poor, but we were not rich either. What did this make us now?
“Mom,” I said. I stopped. “Mom, what are we going to do?”
She shook her head, and I saw her eyes go downward. She was ashamed. My dad was ashamed. “Mom, it’s not our fault. Just blame the economy.” She nodded, but didn’t look up. I stood up and gave her a hug. “Mom, it’s ok. It really is.”
I cleared the plates and started washing the dishes. I knew that I should feel bad, but I was also angry. Hopefully, we could get by. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to, and I would be forced to. . . I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything about poor people. By why did this mean I couldn’t go to the mall on Friday? And what would I tell the girls?
I went to my room. My two parakeets, Azul and Verde, chirped as I entered the room. I looked at them for a long minute, and then, I undid the latch and let them fly around my room. They deserved freedom after sitting behind the thin, metal bars of a cage all day.
After my shower, I began homework, but I kept getting distracted, but my homework became progressively easier as I became more absorbed in my work. Linear equations and prepositional phrases soon were all I was thinking about. I remember hearing that when a person gets injured, the brain actually blocks out the pain so as not to overload the senses. Maybe that was happening to me, except instead of pain, it was worry. I wasn’t worried, but I felt like I should be terrified. What did it mean? I didn’t know anybody who didn’t have a job. The only thing I knew about unemployment was what the news told me, and all the news told me that there was a lot of it. Thinking that, I became a little bit comforted in my non-existent terror. My dad wasn’t the only one losing his job. There were others. I wasn’t alone.