I wake up in a new bed, new bedroom, new house, new neighborhood, new city, new life. And I want nothing to do with any of it. I want the old life. Old bed, old bedroom, old house, old neighborhood, old city. All of the old friends and old jokes. If I bring that up, all my mom ever says is the change will be good, but good for who? Certainly not her only child who is cripplingly quiet and hard to talk to? I just don’t know.
But I do know that if I don’t get up right now that I will miss my new bus, and that’s just what I need. To miss the new bus to my new school and ruin my shot to make new friends. So I’ll get up, and put on my new clothes that my mom got me. She thinks that new clothes make up for the new everything else. I disagree.
I open the new door and walk down the new hallway and the new stairs. My mom greets me in the new kitchen with her old coffee cup. The one that I bought her in fifth grade, the one that was once bright blue but now is faded because she’s washed it so many times. It has faded purple flowers, and that was why I bought it for 15 cents from the old lady on our floor. It reminded me of my mom’s hanging basket that overflowed with the little purple flowers on our apartment balcony. But that is all old. The little purple flowers don’t grow here, it’s too cold. And we don’t have a balcony at the new house, just a rusty fire escape. I look up. She’s smiling, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. I think she is thinking of the old life, too. I look down again and walk to the folding table that takes the place of the old dining table. I’m desperate for anything, anything that reminds me of home. Of old. And then I smell it. Ah, there it is, old breakfast, the meal she has made me for the last ten years. Scrambled eggs with cheese and a glass of chocolate milk. One of my earliest memories is her making this for me on the first day of kindergarten. She seemed a lot taller then. But who cares? Does it even matter? It’s old, just like everything else.
I feel my eyes start to water. No! I don’t want her to see me sad. But I feel my control slipping away, and as much as I fight it, the tears start to fall. She sets down her old coffee cup and runs over to me. I don’t know what I mutter. It might be everything I’m thinking, or it might just be the word ‘old’ over and over again. We hug, for a what feels like a long time but wasn’t more than five minutes. She’s rocking me back and forth and murmuring things that she thinks will help. I guess they do. They are old things, things she used in my old life to make feel better. A part of me knows that at this rate I’ll miss the new bus, or maybe that I already did. That thought shakes me out of this post-crying haze.
I stand up, old breakfast forgotten. She asks if I’m okay. I answer yes, just a bit nervous about school. She smiles at me, but she knows I’m lying. She tells me anyway that it will be fine, to just be myself and everything will work itself out. That seems like an old cliche to me, but I nod along and smile anyway. She lets me go and I gather my stuff. All new. New backpack, new pencils, and new pens. New laptop. Not the old one with the random stickers. New and silver and shiny with no scratches.
I head out the new door. Down the new stairs, toward the new bus stop on the corner. I see new people, new kids I don’t know. There’s three of them. Two girls and one boy. I walk up slowly but then a flash of yellow makes me pick up the pace. When the new bus’s flashing light came through the intersection, I was standing at the corner, my breathing was heavy as the new kids’ eyes were on me. One of the new girls looks at me as I catch my breath. She smiles at me. Which is new. I try to smile back, but it comes out as more of a grimace because I’m still panting. Great, a new mistake.
I look away. This is not a new feeling, this awkward limbo between wanting to talk but being too scared to mutter a word. I’m saved from another inner monologue when the new bus pulls up and comes to a stop. The three kids line up and I follow in the back. I climb the bus stairs and look for an empty seat. In a neighborhood this size, there aren’t many. One of the girls sits in a seat, and the other girl from the bus stop sits right next to her. The boy from the bus stop sits in what looks to be the last one. He looks at me and scoots over in the seat. A new spot for me. That was nice, and much preferred to sitting next to someone I hadn’t spent any time with. Even if the only time was just standing next to each other at the new bus stop. My palms start to sweat, any social situation, no matter how small, is guaranteed to make me nervous.
I walk down the aisle and sit down very gingerly on the edge of the seat. The new seat, I notice, is smooth with no weird lumps or tears. It’s not the old one. The old one had a horizontal tear across the top that rubbed on the back of your neck. That’s the one I always sat in with Matt. He used to tell me dumb knock-knock jokes and I would laugh because he wanted me to. I sigh, and the new boy looks over at me, a bit confused. I try to smile, to tell him that it wasn’t him. But I can’t. I can’t speak. I turn away and he taps me on the shoulder. I look over at him. He asks me if I’m shy. I just nod my head. He smiles and says that it’s his first day at a new school. I say in a soft voice that it is for me, too. Well, that’s perfect, he says, let’s compare schedules. I pull mine out and sure enough, they are the same, save for one class. He asks if I would sit by him at my new lunch, and of course I will. He has held a conversation with me without me saying more than ten words. That must take dedication.
With the technical matters of our newfound companionship figured out, he talks about all sorts of things for the rest of the ride. He talks about his old life and his new one, about his favorite basketball teams, which he is closer to now that he lives here and can maybe go watch someday. He asks me all sorts of questions, but all of them are yes and no, so I can nod or shake my head to answer. Which is nice, all of my old friends tried to drag me out of my shell, but he just lets me be. It’s a new nice, one of the very few I’ve found while going from old to new. He apologizes over and over again for being so talkative. Then goes right back into talking, usually about his parents or brothers and sisters. Every time he says he’s sorry, I tell him that it’s okay. His chatter fills my silence, which I am grateful for. His constant stories let me get caught up in trying to keep it all straight.
The new bus ride is shorter than I thought it would be. The boy, whose name I learned was Raanan, and I got off the bus and began the walk to the new school. Toward the new classrooms and new teachers. Ugh, the apprehension must have shown on my face because he was quick to tell me about what good things he had heard from his mom about this place, and how he would talk enough for the both of us. I laughed a bit at that because it was the most truthful thing anyone had told me since we started the move to the new.
The girls from the bus stop walked up to us and said hello to me. One said that she couldn’t believe that I put up with Raanan’s chatter the whole bus ride. Raanan blushed and told her to shut up. I learned that the girls were Raanan's siblings and that made me feel a bit better. Raanan didn’t just make new friends that easy, they were stuck with him at home. The girls were twins and Raanan told me he was the youngest, at 16, with three older sisters and two older brothers. I told him that his mother was crazy. I was shocked that I had said that. He laughed when I tried to apologize and said that was what his mom had told them most of the time. Both sisters agreed.
We said goodbye to them after that and headed down the hallway to our new lockers. Raanan’s locker was a couple down from mine and after putting all of our stuff away, we made our way to our new first class, Spanish. That class past in a blur of rules and introductions. Luckily for me, the teacher didn’t make me stand at the front of the room and introduce myself. We just did a little game and true to his word, Raanan talked enough about him and myself that no one was put off by my silence. I just smiled and nodded my head, and everyone in the room was acquainted when the bell rang. The next two new classes, Technology and Geometry, passed in the same way. Raanan’s ever-present chatter and my shy smiling seemed to be enough to get us, if not friends, then at least some allies for the lunchroom.
As lunch came around, the dread I had at the bus stop was like an iron lump in my stomach. Raanan didn’t make a peep walking to the lunchroom, and that was not helping my nerves. The new lunch line was extremely long, but a few people from our morning classes were at the back, so I pointed them out to Raanan and we walked over to the lines. They greeted us and we waited together. I don’t know how I ended up with such a loud group of people. I guess I’ll have to blame Raanan, but with their constant jokes the time past quickly and we had gotten our trays and sat down at a table in what felt like seconds. I was chewing a bit of sandwich when one of the new people cracked a joke. I laughed so hard I started choking. I took a drink of water to dislodge the piece of food and everyone at the table got really quiet. I started to shrink into my seat when Raanan started laughing. He smiled and told the girl that he had never heard me laugh that loud before. She started blushing and I felt I needed to defend myself. I told her that her joke was funny and that maybe if he wanted to see me laugh again he should take some lessons from her. The whole table got quiet again and I felt like an idiot, who insults their new friend that got them all of their other new friends?
Everyone at the table was shocked, I could see it on their faces. Then Raanan looked at me and smiled. I knew you were a witty person behind that shy exterior, he says. I smile too and the rest of lunch passes in insults flying back and forth.
The class period after lunch, American History, was pretty much the same as the three before it, with more introductions and rules. Things went well until the bell rang and I realized that it was my last class period with Raanan. He tells me it will be fine and he’ll save me a seat on the bus. Then he’s gone.
Walking to my last class of the day, Creative Writing, I was extremely nervous. I had done fine with the social interaction with Raanan by my side, but how would do when it’s just me? I get to the door and slip in quietly. I’m early enough that there aren’t many people here yet. I take a seat and wait. The seats are just like the ones at my old school, except for the color. The old chairs were burgundy, and these ones were a navy blue. The new chairs don’t bring back many memories, just boring lessons, and paper flying when the teacher wasn’t looking. That’s the same everywhere, I think. The old and the new both have boring lectures and rowdy teenagers. That makes me smile, and I’m still smiling when the teacher walks in. She catches my eye and smiles like she knows what I’m smiling about. That’s weird, but not new, teachers always seem to have super powers.
I look down and she continues her lazy walk to the front of the room. I look around but this class has none of the people that I had lunch with today, which is kind of ridiculous knowing the size of this school. There should be at least one.
The teacher clears her throat and the class goes silent. She begins with her name which is Ms. Aviva, and a short introduction about how much she loves cats. She says that she understands that some of us are shy and some of us are outgoing. She lets the ones who want to say their name and an introduction, and with a shake of the head, she would skip over the ones who didn’t wish to say anything. There weren’t many that chose not to introduce themselves, and I thought I owed one to my mom and Raanan. So when the time came for me to decline, I nodded and stood up. I wanted to start with a simple hello, but I felt all of the eyes and felt my throat close up. I looked at Ms. Aviva and she gave me a small smile, not the one that looked like she knew everything, but one that looked like she knew that it was scary. Hello, I said, my name is Griffin. I looked around the room, then back to her. I cleared my throat and finished, nice to meet you. I sat down and the next person went. I felt my pulse slow and I slumped in my seat. Being with Raanan all day made me forget how hard talking was.
The introduction was over and the actual class had begun. She told us that she had one rule, to respect everyone and everything in the classroom. She then put a piece of notebook paper on every desk. Everyone was looking at her, waiting for instructions. She told us that she wanted to see how good we are, that the best person would set the standard for the class. I swallowed. She told us to leave the papers nameless and that we had fifteen minutes. All you could hear after that was the scratching of pencil on paper. I had no idea what to write about. I was at a loss. I mentally shrugged and began to talk about my experience in this new school. So I started to write:
This is the classification of my lives: the old and the new, with each having a sharp contrast to one another. This is my first day in my new life, the first day of waking up in my new house and going to a new school and meeting new friends. I must say that this change did not start as a pleasant one, with my old fear of speaking in front of others making it difficult to stand out from the crowd. The only thing I could do to keep sane was to keep my lives apart. The old and the new were like watercolor paints, I didn’t want them to bleed into each other. My morning was spent making comparisons between two things, but as the sun made its trip around the sky, I began to compare less and less. All of the new faces and friends made it hard to keep the old and the new separate. And as things from the new reflected things from the old, the classification of my lives became the timeline of my life. I learned today that change is difficult, and the things from the new are not always better than the things from the old. But I also know that the new is not trying to replace the old, that you are supposed to learn from both and keep moving forward. In the end, change is the one constant that you can always count on, so I’ve learned to embrace it because you have better luck going with the tide of change than against it.
Ms. Aviva called time and I put my pencil down. She collected the papers, sat down at her desk and started to read them. She merely glanced at some but read some with much more attention. The class was silent, we were all waiting for the verdict. The ones she seemed to enjoy went in one stack, the ones that needed improvement went in another. She soon had the two stacks made and looked up. We watched her. She finally said that we were a very talented class, that usually the winner is much easier to see. She read through the good stack one more time, pausing a few moments every now and then to write a comment or to fix a mistake. We waited, and though I didn’t think I had a chance, I still wanted to win. I had treated this project like a diary, and that probably wasn’t the best idea. I should have written about something a lot more exciting. I’m done, she says, I am going to read the winner, then keep it to grade the class. She makes a statement that if, when she’s done, you want to claim it, then you may. If not, don’t, this assignment is a participation grade. The whole class is on the edge of their seats. She clears her throat and begins to read,
“This is the classification of my lives…”
I’m dumbfounded. How could it be me? So many thoughts are rushing through my head that I only hear snippets of my writing.
“Keep my lives apart...”
“The old and the new were like watercolor paints…”
“Change is the one constant that you can always count on…”
The rest of the class sits in silence and listens. She finishes reading and looks up. She repeats that whoever did this was extremely talented. She says it takes a lot to be able to put your exact feelings into writing. The dreaded question comes up, mystery writer, do you want to claim your work? No, no I don’t. It feels wrong, taking credit for nothing but feelings. It wasn’t good writing, it was just a realization that needed to be put into words, nothing more.
She sighs out her next words, fine, she says, you can be a mystery writer. The class looks around as if with one wrong blink they would be able to tell who wrote it. A girl in the back, one who gave an introduction, says that she would claim it if it were hers. Another boy in the front says the same. Pretty soon the whole room believes that the “mystery writer” should claim this stupid paper. Ms. Aviva is smiling at me again, the I-know-everything smile is back. I mentally sigh and raise my hand. Peer pressure wins again. Ms. Aviva calls on me and the whole classroom is silent. I sigh, out loud this time, and say it’s my paper. For some reason, the class cheers, and Ms. Aviva passes the papers back out by reading the first sentence and the class reads her comments in the margins. I get mine back first, and the comment I have is this.
“If you do not claim this paper, I will be upset, mystery writer. Not disappointed, mind you, just upset I can’t put this fabulous writing to a face. If you do claim it, stay after class to hand it back to me. Thank you!”
I smile at the note. She says that this is the only major thing that will happen today but to be ready for a tough curriculum in the coming weeks. We do little housekeeping things for the rest of the period and the bell for study hall rings. I get up and go to her desk.
She smiles and tells me that my writing flows well and that the heart is there. Some technical things need a bit of work she says, but she’s happy to have me in the class. She also commends me on my introduction which was “obviously a little terrifying.” I smile and she lets me go with a promise that she will see more good things from me.
I walk to study hall smiling. That’s another thing I noticed , I’ve smiled a lot more today alone than for all the weeks that led up to our move. Another good change.
I’m almost to my locker when something flashes in the corner of my eye. I turn to look at it and find it to be a few coins that someone must have dropped. I laugh a little. It's change. Pocket change.
I pick the coins up and put them in my pocket. I can’t wait to tell Raanan about this when I get on the bus.