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I see the building in the distance, all red brick and rectangular, so that the building itself looks like a giant, multicolored brick. I had woke up late and missed my ride with Kiara (some friend) so my dad had to drive me to school. He’s not that bad, but he currently has an obsession with his newest car. I almost forgave him for his car-mance though; when he let me run into Starbucks on our way to school after making me triple swear on my grandmother’s grave to not spill anything. When we pull up to school, I dash out, racing quickly past the freshman attempting to climb our school’s steps in their tottering heels. Sooner or later, they’ll stop, pick up their shoes, and dejectedly carry them up the stairs. I should know. I was once one of them. Now I’m smarter, and I can make the steps in thirty seconds in my wedge heeled boots. I waltz into school, relaxing once I see the familiar faces light up when my presence is noticed. This is my castle, and I rule here, with the power of a princess. It’s not much, this ancient school with its flickering florescent lights and its cracked linoleum, but it’s all I have, and I wear it like a crown. I’ve heard people say that for people like me, this will be my high point. I’ll be all downhill from high school. Well, let me point out, that that was clearly made up by the people who weren’t popular in high school. And if this is my high point, why not make every second count?
At lunch time, I head over to the table to say a quick hi to my friends. I glare at Kiara, but she can see that I don’t mean it in my eyes, and after she makes puppy dog eyes at me and pulls her lower lip out in the classic “I’m sorry” face, I shoot her a quick smile to let her know that all is forgiven. I flounce over to the lunch line, hoping that the bounce in my step will make my skirt flip up short, then fall back to above my knees. I see Casey in the front of the line, and rush up to join him, batting my eyes at anyone who looks disgruntled at my cutting. Casey grins, standing a little too close, and I back away slightly, but not too much. Being around Casey kind of creeps me out, buts it’s worth it if I don’t have to stand in the lunch line. I bypass the gravy covered objects for lunch and instead pick up just an apple, knowing that this is all I need to eat to keep from being so hungry that my stomach’s growling is audible. At the checkout, the lady eyes me.
“Is this all?” Her voice is loud, and I feel myself blushing as I imagine heads turning towards me.
“Yes. This is it!” I try to keep my voice light, as if this single measly piece of fruit was a full, rounded meal.
“Honey, what are you tryin’ to do?” She isn’t fooled, and I feel panic rising as heads turn to look in our direction.
“Excuse me…” I hiss at her. “What business is it of yours what I eat?” She just stares at me, with her buggy eyes, and I feel them raking over me. I have an urge to cross my arms, hiding my stomach, but I stifle it, keeping my arms locked at my sides. She whispers it as she rings my food up, but I still hear it. “Oh, honey. I’m so sorry.”
I return to the table, where more seats have been claimed by lunch bringers. The only seat open is next to Casey, but Kiara is across, so I sit in it instead of insisting someone move. I take a tentative bite of the apple, hoping nobody noticed what happened with the lunch lady. Casey turns to me and asks “So what was that?”
My heart sinking, I answer “what do you mean?” in as pretentious a voice I can muster, but Casey ignores it. If I’m the princess of this school, then he’s the king. No relation on our parts, though. “You know. The heart to heart you were having with the lunch lady.” He snickers, though no one laughs but him. This doesn’t seem to bother him at all. I roll my eyes and start a conversation with Kiara about her new shoes.
After lunch, the girls dash into the bathroom to do a quick makeup check. After applying a coat of mascara, I lift up my shirt, looking at my stomach underneath. I see Kiara doing the same two sinks down from me, as well as I see the little smirk on her face. She’s still skinnier than me, and she knows it, though she tries to hide her glee by staring into the mirror and prodding her stomach. I pull out my lip gloss, the expensive one, which I bought on my dad’s credit card during our last shopping spree. I smush it on, making sure that she sees it. I know she understands that I am head of this school, but reinforcement can sometimes be necessary. I wonder if she gets tired of this, being the extra to the star. The door slams and she drops her shirt with a startled look. We both turn to see who has entered the bathroom.
It’s a shy looking Indian girl. She’s in our class, but is so off of my radar that I wouldn’t be able to tell her from a freshman. The only reason I can recognize her at all is that she once stood just over me in a class picture and blocked the light from touching me. She could be pretty, I suppose, if she straightened her hair, wore makeup, got better fitting clothes, and for god sakes stopped slouching. Today, for example, she is wearing a white shirt that doesn’t fit her frame nicely, so that she looks scrawny, and plain black pants. This is my problem. Whenever I see someone, the first thing I do is fix them in my head. This girl, when given a full mind makeover by me, is wearing a yellow tank top that fits nicely, so that you can see how slim she really is, and a watercolor painted skirt that fluffs out from her waist. Her eyes are lined in gently smudged kohl liner, and her hair hangs straight and shiny down her back. Of course, her muttered words bring me rushing back to real life, where the jerking of the roller coaster unpleasantly brings me to a stop in this moldy bathroom at Winston High. “Oh. Hello.” She enters, heading for a stall. Normally, I would have just let her pee and get out, but she has interrupted my daydream, and I can tell what she is thinking about Kiara’s stomach in the mirror.
“What. Are. You. Doing.” I ask the girl, say at her, really. I don’t expect a response. “Do you think you can just come in here, just barge in? We don’t want you here. Get away from me! Get away from us! Just leave, you freak.” Her eyes fill with tears, and she runs away. I turn to Kiara, with a satisfied smile. She grins, and we know we are an invincible duo. She follows me, and in return, she gets to be popular. We suffer together, but we don’t talk about it. We are fiercely loyal. We put up our normal façade, the one that says that we are fine, and nothing is wrong with us, and don’t you want to be us and look, we practically glitter. I cling to the normalcy in the same way Kiara does. It gives us something to hold on to when we slip inside.
This is the eighth week at the new school. When I tell my papa this, he doesn’t believe me. “Ah, how the time flies!” papa says. He is happy here. The new store he has opened is doing “Just fine, just fine” as he says. Me, I just want to go back to Maine. I miss all my friends, but I know at the same time papa needs to get away from mamma. She was all over the house, from the flowers she left on the table to the quilt that she made for her and papa’s bed. The only thing that was missing was her. She lay in the cemetery a few blocks down from the street, so close that on warm nights when I slept with the window open I could whisper to her. “Hello mama. I miss you. Can you hear me?” Now we have our own ways of talking to her. Papa mostly cries. He whispers her name over and over as he sobs. My new room’s window doesn’t open.
Our school is a huge, imposing place. It begs to be noticed, screams out “Here I am, notice me!” The steps that lead up to it are huge blocks of concrete slabs, decorated with gum in various states of decomposing. I walk up them, being careful of where I step. School is a crowded, noisy place, and with its lack of natural light and abundance of people with not-so-great personal hygiene, it feels a lot like prison. People line the halls, banging their lockers closed, talking, laughing. They wave hello to their friends, sip their coffees, ready to discuss, analyze, and dissect anything that may have happened in the few hours that they were apart. No one waits for me. When I first came here, I thought I would be ridiculed as the new student. Instead, I am invisible. No one notices me as I walk down the hall. As I open my locker, it is as if I’m not even there. I don’t know what is worse.
I go to my classes, though it is hard for me to focus today. I am distracted, because papa did not come downstairs to wish me goodbye as he normally does. He stayed in his room, and I heard him weeping through the thin wood the door is made of. I wrote him a note saying I was going and left. Now I cannot stop thinking about him, and I have to work extra hard to pay attention in class. Papa reminds me of the bleeding heart plant. His heart is always bleeding, like an open cut. He tries to move on, but I catch him looking at pictures of mama, opening the wound.
Lunch is as sad as always, and I slip outside to sit on a bench, where no one can see me, ignore me. I eat in silence, with nothing but the sounds of the construction project across the street and a few birds chirping halfheartedly to keep me company. When I am finished, I throw my trash in the dumpster, dented from the time a senior partied a little too hard and drove his graduation present into it. As I go back inside, people are beginning to trickle out for their next classes. No one has noticed my absence. I head to the bathroom, after glancing at my watch to insure that I have time before my next class. I push open the bathroom door, which is heavily scarred with graffiti. Inside, two girls stand at the sinks. One is smearing on lip gloss, while the other is lifting up her shirt to gaze at her stomach. I can see her ribs clearly outlined under her skin, as if they are covered with a piece of plastic wrap, instead of layers of skin, fat, and muscle. She gives a sharp gasp when she hears the door slam behind me and drops her shirt. I almost turn and flee, but I know that this is the only bathroom between here and the science room, and I don’t have time to go trekking across the building. The lip gloss girl turns to stare at me, her eyes tracing up and down my body, and I feel as though I am going through one of those security machines at the airport. “Oh. Hello.” I say, trying to head for a stall. The lip gloss girl moves in in front of me, her eyes cold and hard. She glares at me as if I am less than her, and her expression is so powerful that for a moment I believe her, and am about to beg for her forgiveness when I remember that we are the same age. I remember what mama told me about popular girls. “Sweetheart, the only power they have will be the power you give them. You are just as good as her. Always remember that, my dear.” I try to look up to the girl, to make my face level with hers, look her straight in the eyes. But as I open my mouth to speak, she lashes out at me, screaming, yelling. “What. Are. You. Doing.” I am too taken aback to say anything, and just stand there, openmouthed, dumbly. “Do you think you can just come in here, just barge in?” The girl continues “We don’t want you here. Get away from me! Get away from us! Just leave, you freak.” I obey her orders and turn, running out of the room. I run to the nearest closet and yank it open, where I submit to the salty wetness in my eyes, and the tears pour down my face, crying for me, the no one of the school, crying for papa, who spends his day sobbing behind locked doors, and crying for mama, whose words I am not brave enough to follow.