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EvacPrac (Excerpt of a Book in Progress)
EvacPrac. That was the cool new way of saying Evacuation Practice in the 7th grade, even if I thought it was a stupid name. Does saying Evacuation Practice really take that much effort? I didn’t think so. However, no one really came to me for advice on how to be cool, anyway. I was ‘that kid’, or ‘hey you’, the kid without a name. No one knew my name was Margot. And nobody really cared.
EvacPrac was every day this year, even Thursdays, like today. We were very well aware that this meant that something bad was most likely going to happen. No one makes you practice every day for a fire drill, because it is highly unlikely that a fire will happen. If you practice evacuation every day, it means that something is highly likely. We had done EvacPrac every day since January of last school year. It was March, a whole year later. Nothing had happened yet, and I shuddered at the thought of what could happen. I shivered in the EvacPrac flotation device, even though the air was warm today.
I looked at my classmates. All were laughing and pointing at the bulky life-preservers around their friends’ necks. I hate brag, but sometimes I wonder if the only reason people don’t talk to me is because I’m actually intelligent and a deep thinker. We are all 13 now- but they are still all immature. Is EvacPrac something to joke about? This could save lives, and they continue to laugh at the flotation devices. They won’t be laughing when they get washed away.
Now that I’ve said that, I also wonder if our tiny flotation devices can really stand up to hundred foot wave. Probably not. But I guess it makes us feel better, like maybe we will live. After all, we could die at any time. You may think I am over exaggerating but I am not.
Thousands of miles away, on the other side of the Atlantic, there is a small group of islands off the coast of Africa called the Canary Islands. They are volcanoes, and scientists have told us that their next eruption could be quite soon. You might be thinking, "What does that have to do with you? It’s not like the lava is going to reach Philadelphia.” Well, I am not worried about the lava. When the volcano erupts, one of the islands will split in half. A side will fall into the sea, creating a huge tsunami called a Mega Tsunami, thousands of feet high, which will drown the east coast of the United States of America, including Valley Forge, where I live. Now do you think I am exaggerating? No, I didn’t think so.
At recess I sat on the bench, thinking. That was my favorite thing to do- think about something. I knew that I looked stupid when my eyes were glazed over, but I didn’t care. I was smarter than all of them combined.
“Hey, you!” I was flung back into the real world. “Stop staring! What are you looking at anyways?” Chandler Rufus, practitioner of evil, was in my face. Short and stout, Chandler wasn’t the thinnest boy in the world. His face was always beet red, and with red hair, and freckles, he looked like a giant tomato. Today he wore a red plaid shirt, which added to the effect. He was the leader of the boys, but not because he was cool or smart. It was because he could throw a punch that could knock you out cold, even if you were a girl. He wasn’t afraid to either. If you weren’t on his side, you were better off dead. Since I was invisible, I didn’t need to be on his side. I didn’t need to be on any side.
“I’m talking to you!” Chandler’s face got redder. “Answer me!”
Calmly, I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to look at you. I wasn’t looking at anyone, actually. In fact I was just…”
“Do I look like I care what you were doing? You have no friends! Of course you weren’t looking at anyone! There’s no one to look at, stupid. You ain’t got no friends.”
Subconsciously, I said, “Oh, I’m stupid? Great grammar, idiot.”
“REPEAT WHAT YOU JUST SAID!”
I had said it out loud! The boys were snickering. They knew that whatever I said, even if it was apologetic, I still would get punched in the face. I could go down saying sorry, or go down with a fight. I made my decision, because I had about a second to react. I wasn’t going to be pushed around by a bully anymore.
I coolly looked at him in the eye and said, “Great grammar, idiot. Can’t you speak English?”
The punch was painful. However, it didn’t hit me in the face, which is always good. However, it did hit me in the stomach. I had a hard time breathing for five minutes after that. Also, as I had fallen to the ground, I slammed my “funny bone”. And it certainly didn’t tickle. Like I said, even if you were a girl, he would punch you hard. No one stopped to help. Even though my elbow was bleeding like crazy, nobody cared or even got me a Band-Aid. Teachers didn’t even help. The only attention I got was when I was yelled at for getting blood on my Science quiz.
“Margot? What are you doing home so early?” My mother was making dinner when I arrived home. The smell of lemony chicken and apple crisp wafted through the house, making my mouth water. “I thought you had Extra-Curricular Art.”
I shrugged, trying to look like it didn’t bother me. “I was too tired,” I said. It was true, and it wasn’t just tired that I felt. It was also a lot of pain. My stomach was still aching from that punch. I loved art though. It was the only place I felt free to express myself, where nobody could judge me, or categorize me. I was creative actually; that’s just the side of me that people never get to see.
“Well,” said my mother, unconvinced, “get started on your homework, then.”
I nodded, trudged to the table, grabbed an honey-crisp apple, and shuffled up to my room. Homework wasn’t that bad for me. It kept my mind busy. I liked checking it the next day to find all of my answers to be correct. My teachers often said that I should go into Extra Help, since Math and English and Science and History are obviously too challenging for me. I laugh inside each time they say that. I even risk a laugh out loud right now. Little do they know that I might actually be a deeper thinker than they are.
Silence suits me. I like the way silence feels. It is peaceful, relaxed, Zen, if I may. No one will bother you if you don’t bother them, kind of like bumblebees.
Thinking of bumblebees brings me back into the real world to remember my parakeets. I tiptoe over to their cage, and whisper, “Hello, birdies.”
They chatter for a moment, and then repeat me- “Hello, birdies… hello birdies…” Luna, the female green parakeet, is the first to respond. She was always fearless. After only a week of bringing her home, she already would sit on my finger. Judo, the male blue parakeet, pipes up next. He is so beautiful, because his color is so striking. Unlike Luna, he started out shy, and after a few months with him, he would finally sit on my finger.
However, now I have had them for 2 years. I actually received them as fledglings from a family friend who owns a pet store downtown.
I close my door tightly, and undo the latch to the cage. There is a flutter of wings, and they are free.
Beep… beep… beep… My alarm clock goes off at 5 o’ clock every day. That was actually accidental. I was setting my alarm clock to 6 o’ clock two months ago when the dial got stuck at 5 am. I tried and tried to keep moving it, but it was stuck fast. With one big pull, I yanked the whole dial right off, and I have woken up at 5 am ever since.
For the first few days of waking up at 5 am, I just let it beep and tried to keep sleeping. It didn’t work, and my mother got very angry at the constant beeping that woke her up. I tried to hit snooze, but it felt as if I shouldn’t. I didn’t want to be waking up every five minutes until 6am. And if I turned it off, I would be late for school.
Maybe it wasn’t just happenstance that caused my clock to stick at that ungodly hour. Maybe, just maybe, I was being told to wake up earlier. I decided not to sleep until 6 o’ clock anymore. I would wake up at 5 and get a jumpstart on my day!
It was miserable. Waking up at 5 completely makes you want to say, “Ten more minutes!”, roll over, and pretend you never heard anything. However, you have to persevere through the droopy eyes and sleepy brain if you ever want to become an early riser.
Beep…beep...beep… The alarm was still going off. I realized I had started thinking again, and had gotten distracted. I reached over, and hit the off button. The beeping ceased. “Good morning,” I whispered. “Today is going to be a new day, a wonderful day, and a great day.” It was my morning mantra.
Silently, I walked to the bureau. I ran my finger against the picture frame on top of the bureau. I didn’t allow myself to cry at the picture, even though that it brings back so many memories; some of anger, some of love, some of sadness. I didn’t allow myself to think about it. I always think about things, but never about the picture. It’s too painful.
I reached into the drawers. I see my favorite sweater/tunic. I like to wear it with leggings, because it is both formal looking and yet, very cute. I might even venture to say that it is “in style.” But don’t come to me for advice on that.
I wear the outfit I mentioned. It is cozy yet light, perfect for an October day like today. Many girls might spend all morning getting ready: design, straighten, and curl their hair; put on makeup; and spray that disgusting super sugary sweet perfume all over them.
I do no such thing. There could be a tidal wave at any moment. Why waste your time on makeup that will drip, hair that will frizz, and perfume that will wash away when the world ends? I just brush my hair, and put it into a professional high bun.
I walk into my mother’s room and give her a kiss on her sleeping cheek. I creep down the stairs. My bare feet slap against the cool wooden floor. Into the kitchen, into the pantry to grab out a packet of oatmeal. The water heats up in the kettle. I put a little extra water in so that I can have a cup of tea with my apple and cinnamon oatmeal. I do love tea. It definitely wakes me up.
“Silent, silent, silent: You have to be quiet,” I tell myself. The last thing I want to do is wake my mother up and spoil my morning routine. The teakettle whistling, so I pull it off the burner quickly. I stride to the cupboard to grab myself a bowl.
After a nice bowl of oatmeal, I lay outside on my porch, drinking my warm tea and watching the sunrise as I do every morning. I think of EvacPrac, and it suddenly hits me. This could very well be the last sunrise I ever see. This very well could be my last day on Earth. This could be my last day I have to make a difference in my life, to change my perspective, to enlighten others.
I had half an hour until the bus arrived at the street corner. That one half an hour was all I needed to create my life’s work. It was the “Last Day Plan”. Since we never knew when we were going to die, and not just because of EvacPrac, but because of all the things that factor into life. I would live today as if it were my last, and make the day worth it. My grandmother used to say, “Don’t count the days; make the days count.” That would be my mantra. I no longer would be ‘that girl’; my name was Margot Torus, and it was time people started calling me that. And, maybe, I could even change someone’s life! It was a long shot, but a good thought.
I ran inside. If this was my last day, what would I do? I would make my mother breakfast! She did love pancakes, and we just bought pancake mix last week. It wasn’t opened yet, so I yanked off the tab. I had never made pancakes before, but I had seen my mom do it and it didn’t seem too hard. I turned the box around so I could see the directions on the back.
Add 1 ½ cups of water to 2 cups of pancake mix. Stir.
“Ok,” I said out loud. “I’m stirring.” Looking at my shirt, I added, “It’s a bit messy but I’m stirring. Now, what do I do next?”
Place a bit of prepared pancake mix of griddle. Flip as needed.
Pulling the griddle out of the cabinet was the hard part in this step. I already knew how to pour the mix onto the griddle. I put eight gobbets of the sticky mix onto the griddle. “Awesome,” I said as I flipped the first of the pancakes. It was a bit burnt around the edges, but it looked perfect besides!
After I had flipped each of the pancakes, I scrambled to the cupboard again. I found my favorite plate. It was beautifully decorated with graceful flowers and buzzing bees. I pulled it off the shelf. As I did so, I quickly glanced at the clock. Good, I thought. I still have ten minutes until I have to leave for the bus. I have everything already packed. Take your time, Margot.
When I reached my mother’s room, I knocked quietly. “Mom? Are you awake?” I whispered. She was still sleeping. Grabbing a card table from the guest room, I laid the beautiful breakfast on the table. Looking at it, I had a swell of satisfaction. I guess that’s what it feels like to be truly happy. Maybe what they say is true: the only true joy is giving. One final thing to add, I leaned against my mother’s dresser to write the following:
You make such great meals, so I guess it is time to return the favor. I hope you enjoy these pancakes. I Love You! Margot
I ambled back down the stairs, feeling very happy and fulfilled. My plan was so far working; LDP was working! (I decided to give it an acronym: LDP for Last Day Plan. I thought it was catchy.)
I almost missed the bus. I saw it pull up to the corner, and I ran out my garage door so fast it was like I grew wings. Have you ever been amazed by what you can do? Well, I was. I had never run so fast. And, I felt like LDP definitely had something to do with it.
I usually would be dreading the bus ride. No, Chandler Rufus doesn’t ride the bus. However, Greg MacMillan does. Unfortunately, he likes to make my bus rides miserable. “Why don’t you talk? You can talk, right? Or are you stupider than we thought? Why won’t you answer? Are you deaf, too? Why won’t you answer me?!”
I ignored him. He often became furious trying to get me to speak. Today would be different, however. I boarded the bus. I smiled at the bus driver, an almost obnoxious, but yet happy, smile. “I’m sorry I almost missed the bus,” I said. He seemed taken aback, along with the other bus riders that heard me. “I was making breakfast for my mother, and I got outside just a little bit late. Please excuse me.”
The old man took off his hat, rubbed his forehead, and said, “By golly! You can talk!” However, he realized what he had just said, and he pretended to study the dashboard.
I smiled in spite of myself. I waltzed down the aisle, carefully studying the faces of the children. Many, if not all, seemed absolutely dumbfounded by this new transformation. I have to say I kind of was myself. How did a simple idea change me this much? I didn’t know. What I did know, though, was the look of shock on Greg MacMillan’s face as I purposely chose the seat right next to them.
I totally played it up. It might have been too much, but I got my results.
Pretending to look at the window, I suddenly turned around to face him. He was still staring. “Oh, Gregory! I didn’t see you there!” (Like I said, I totally played it up, and it was priceless!) ”Did you finish your homework last night? I seem to recall that you don’t usually do it. I do my homework though. I feel like it is good practice. What about you? Do you enjoy homework?”
He sat still for a long second, until his friend Markus slugged him in the shoulder. “I have better things to do than homework,” he mumbled. He took an exaggerated deep breath and leaned way back, eyes closing. “…Unlike you!” He snorted, and I tried to suppress a laugh. It didn’t work, and I ended up snickering. He glared. “Besides,” he continued. “I thought you were retarded anyway. Like, seriously retarded.”
“I am far from retarded, Greg. Far from it.” If only he knew, I thought grinning.
The remainder of the bus ride was spent drawing in my sketchbook for me. For Greg, it was silent contemplation. I was victorious! Wouldn’t grandma…just…
EvacPrac was first thing in the morning on Fridays. “To conserve time,” they told us. Obviously, they didn’t realize, whether at the beginning of the day or the end of the day, we still would be using half-an-hour of time.
We sit in our seats quietly for two minutes or so. “To think about what you are going to do,” they said. Then, with a flash, the alarm begins. It is unlike any other alarm that I have ever heard. Rather than beeping like a fire alarm, it is a quiet, nearly silent buzzing. However, it causes you to get a massive headache that hurts like fire. It puts you on the brink of screaming, at least in my opinion.
Next, we are to file out of the classroom in alphabetical order. Since we practice this every day, it’s no big deal anymore; we have memorized our order. We know who we’re supposed to stand next to, so it is quite simple.
After filing out the door, it’s always the same. ‘Silence, then continue. Outside, then put life-jackets on. File our way up the hill, than wait.’ It becomes a sort of mantra for us. You realize that ten minutes have passed, but you are so ‘out of it’ that you barely realize. Then, twenty minutes pass of silence. We are to remain standing, except for Barry Litton, who is allowed to sit because of his ‘medical issues.’ At the 15 minute mark, I decide that LDP should take part in this drill as well.
“Got any licorice?” First I asked Chandler, then three other girls in my class. They all give me the warning eyes, the what-are-you-doing look that tells you that you are doing something wrong. The teachers silently watch each one shake their head. Then, they turn to me. Miss Chaser, my homeroom teacher, shakes her head. I look at our principal, Mrs. Valera. I raise my eyebrows in question. She nods, almost imperceptibly. I stifle a chuckle and hide a smile.
“You do know how serious Evacuation Practice is, don’t you?” Mrs. Valera’s clear, professional voice booms across her desk. Realizing her volume, she stands to shut the door. I feel the air hit my neck as she brushes past, and with a clink and a thump, closes the door. I have a strange premonition that the room is sound-proofed.
“You understand that had that been an actual evacuation, you could have caused someone to lose their life.”
I sit and wait. I don’t even nod. I don’t even look at her. I stare at the “21st Century Learners” poster hanging behind her. The image on it looks like a rainbow. The poster is faded, and especially in the red part of the rainbow-like chart. It is more of a pink now. I look at the rainbow, and try to look as indifferent and unresponsive as possible.
“Margot, look at me,” Mrs. Valera says, staring deep into my face, trying to discern my emotions. Yeah, good luck with that. “We’re all friends here.” That’s what you think. She is pulling that super-nice fake adult smiley happiness attitude. The sugar-coated nonsense used to talk to a preschooler.
I redirect my focus to the window leading to the outside world. It looks so calm, and quite serene. But no, I am not there. I am here. LDP would not approve of my despondent attitude.
I snap my head around. I stand up and look her square in the face. “That is not my last name. My last name will never be Henries. My last name is Torus. It will always be Torus.” Henries- I despise the name, though it brings back so many memories. Let it go, I think. Don’t let the anger build, or you will lash out at Mrs. Valera.
“Don’t be silly; your last name is Henries. You are being ridiculous. First you ruin the drill, and now this foolishness. You are so irresponsible and defiant, it makes my head spin. Look…” She was already flipping through hundreds of files in the back of the room. It takes about 20 seconds for her to find mine. I think, hold it in. It’s okay.
“Aha!” She put her glasses on, which were hanging on those strings around her neck. She gave me a haughty look, and I realized that I hated her more than anything at this moment. “Margot Elizabeth Henries, born September 8, 2013. Mother, Elizabeth Torus. Father…”
“STOP! I don’t have a father! That is a lie! I am NOT a Henries! STOP ASSOCIATING ME WITH THAT NAME!” My voice cracked and broke off. My eyes began to sting, and against all my wishes, I felt a droplet on my cheek.
Mrs. Valera knew then. She escorted me out of her office. My eyes were damp, along with my cheeks. Her face was still, but yet contorted, but into what? Sympathy? I don’t want her sorrow. I turned around to say sorry, but the door was closed. I heard her whisper to herself, and I realized, a lump forming in my throat, the room was not soundproof.
The rather uneventful day led to an uneventful night. It was a dark gloominess that I could not overcome, like a cloud hanging above me. I felt so melancholy that I didn’t dare play with my birds, for fear I would hurt them. My sleep was dreamless, and I couldn’t help but wonder why such a wonderful daybreak led to such a depressing nightfall.
The morning brought Saturday. The weekend was here. I could let my week’s worries just leave. I went to my armoire to get dressed. It was different though, more plain. Then I remembered. I reached into the waste basket by my desk. The frame was chipped and cracked, the glass was shattered, by the picture was safe. I attempt to release the picture from the mess of a picture frame, but I stop when I see the red blood dripping from my palm. I hadn’t even felt the glass puncture my skin. The blood was beautiful, red and shiny. I put the ruined frame under my bed, in case my mother came into my room, and went to clean the cut on my hand.
Still in my pajamas, I tiptoe across the floor. This is the first time in a few months that I have strayed from my morning routine; I feel uneasy. Does that mean I have OCD? That thought makes me stop. Is that why I couldn’t stay calm yesterday? My routine changed: instead of being quiet, I put LDP into practice. Maybe, just maybe, I shouldn’t give up so fast. Maybe I should give LDP a second chance.
Grabbing a bandage from the cabinet, I sat down at the counter. My palm insists to continue bleeding, and I am dully surprised that no blood has gotten on my clothes. After klutzily plastering the bulky bandage over my hand, I applied light pressure while walking back up to my room.
Getting dressed in a gray skirt, tights, and a blue sweater, I walk back downstairs for the second time today. The sky is gray, overcast with clouds and it is dark. The sun has not yet risen. Looking out at the world, I figure that it will begin to rain quite soon, but turn on the news just to be sure. As the newscaster is talking about a murder in center city, I am pouring myself a bowl of Lucky Charms. I pull up a stool to the counter, so I can see the TV screen. The meteorologist, Elizabeth Turnsui, appears in the studio.
“Hello, early risers! Today will be very soggy and damp, and in downtown Philadelphia, we are expecting at least two inches of rain. The temperature will linger near the high 40s, and we can expect this storm to last throughout the weekend. Surprisingly, by Monday, the temperature should jump again to 70 degrees by mid-afternoon. Wind gusts on Sunday may cause power outages and downed power lines, so keep a flashlight on hand if need be. Back to you, Tim!”
As Tim begins to talk about the Canary Islands current condition, I shut it off. There will never be good news. Why spend your time listening to that?
I stare out the window at the even darker clouds collecting in the distance. I wonder if my father can see those clouds too. By the time I look away, my Lucky Charms are soggy.
The morning passes quietly, my mother thanking me for the pancakes I made the day before. I sit on the couch and read a book about Mother Teresa. I was always inspired by her, because she had a way with just knowing the right thing to do. Sometimes, I can’t even figure out the right thing to do, even after months of contemplation. I never understand.
My mother leaves to go work at noon each day. She works at a kitchenware store in the mall. She loves it there. She lives and breathes cooking. Every day, she comes home with a new recipe. Thursday was lemony chicken, Friday was homemade macaroni and cheese with ham, and today will bring another new recipe.
Today, I don’t want it to be like my normal Saturday. If I was to die today, I wouldn’t want to die on a couch. I sat and thought about what I could do. Breaking mother’s rules about staying home while she was gone, I stood up, stretching my achy, cramped muscles. I make a mental checklist: “Keys, shoes, coat, money, cell phone.” It takes me a minute to find my keys. They never seem to be in the place I put them. I finally find them, stuffed in my backpack along with an empty gum wrapper. Shoes are sitting below my backpack. “Check!” I say out loud. “Coat…check!”
Finally, when I have my keys, my boots, my coat, my money, and my cell phone, I grab an umbrella as well, in case it really begins to rain. At the moment, it wasn’t really raining. More like very humid, to the point where the air begins to feel like mist. I feel soggy as I sling my leg over the top of my bike. My helmet is embarrassing. It is pink and purple flowers, really girly, and not at all professional.