From a Dance Team Girl This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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We were both leftovers. Our friends had paired up quickly to avoid the same fate, and we were stuck without a group. What’s more pathetic and embarrassing in high school than being left without a chemistry partner, having to sit there and wait for the teacher to ask, “Who doesn’t have a group?” and look at you sympathetically. Then you hold your breath and wait helplessly to be paired up with the guy who smells like a sewage dump or the girl whose boogers litter the underside of her desk. So I turned to the girl next to me, a stranger who had also been abandoned by her friends, and asked if she wanted to be my lab partner. She seemed as desperate as I was not to be left to fate. And so I met Jill.

She was on the dance team, a group of girls I usually tried to avoid. Their hair was always curled and tied back with colored ribbons, and their clothes were coordinated with their handbags and shoes. Dance team people were always smiling and laughing as though high school was the most wonderful time and they were sooo thrilled with everything. I, being as sarcastically pessimistic as they were cheery, regretted asking her the moment she agreed. How was I going to survive the endless giggling chatter about lip gloss and pom poms? It was rash and stupid, I decided, but I would honor my commitment.

As time passed and chemistry labs came and went, I found I didn’t lament choosing to work with Jill. There were days when she overslept and days when she became frustrated studying Spanish flashcards during class. She was almost human – exactly what I hadn’t believed possible from a dance team girl. Her perkiness didn’t fade, her laugh never tired, and her lighthearted humor was always nearby, but somehow, her obliviousness to the darker side of life didn’t bother me. Her preferred discussion topic of dance didn’t make me want to gag as much as I thought it would. We were almost friends. Almost.

Midterms approached, and suddenly Jill wasn’t at school. This wasn’t unlike her; she often missed first period because she was tired from dance the night before. And so I didn’t think a thing of it. Then at lunch, a rumor was suddenly spreading. Jill’s dad had died. I tried to convince myself it was only a rumor, but I had difficulty imagining who could come up with such a horrible lie. And it wasn’t a lie. When her best friend came to school the next day and began crying, I knew it was true. I later found out that he’d had a heart attack after driving Jill’s sister to college. The medics tried CPR, but he was gone. No one expected it.

I’d never known her father – or any member of her family, for that matter. She was just the girl I sat next to in chemistry class. Just one of the acquaintances you acquire switching classes every 42 minutes.

As I opened my assignment book the day after the incident, I noticed in my scratchy handwriting I had written “Jill’s Birthday.” Her dad had died the day before she turned sixteen. Sitting there with my assignment book in front of me, and for several days afterward, I tried to grasp what that would be like. I had difficulty focusing as I performed everyday tasks. What would I say when she returned? “I’m sorry,” or nothing at all? Would she burst into tears? If she did, what should I do? I’m not the hugging type, and for the first time, I found myself wishing I were.

Jill missed a week and a half of school. Then she reappeared. Sud­denly Jill was sitting next to me in chemistry, as if nothing had happened. I began to doubt the legitimacy of the story, praying that by some miracle her father had woken up, unharmed. It wasn’t true, but the lie helped me. The black and white rules of childhood had become gray, and lying seemed more real than truth.

Jill smiled, she laughed, and she functioned better than the rest of us. It took all I had to look her in the eye or dish out the dry, sarcastic humor that defines me. She was changed, though. Someone who hadn’t known her might say she was fine, a perfect example of a thriving high school student. But I saw through every silence and noticed that sometimes she’d force her eyes back to the chemistry notes before her. She needed a distraction.

It has gotten easier. There are days when we laugh while cautiously lighting the Bunsen burner. There are times when I can tell she isn’t thinking about balancing chemical equations. But she never loses her grin. I find I don’t sit awkwardly, unsure of what to say. She helped me cope with her loss by simply breaking the silence. And every day I return the favor by replying, even though it’s harder than remaining quiet. I try not to worry about offending her. And I look her in the eye.

Before knowing Jill, I’d never appreciated the spirit of those who celebrate the small things. Maybe, behind all the talk of dance steps and spring fashions, there’s fulfillment. These people have thoughts, worries, and desires, but they can push them away to find a little superficial bliss now and again. People like Jill don’t smile and laugh because their heads are filled with light and fluffy thoughts. They do it because they can find moments of joy in their lives.

Jill has given me perspective. Every day I try to understand those around me, and I’ve come to realize that a senseless giggle now and again can save you. Jill is the savior of my first period Honors Chemistry class, and the strength of her happiness leaves everyone in awe. Our class learned about more than the periodic table and calculating molar masses. We’ve been dealt a lesson in death and optimism … from a dance team girl.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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This article has 8 comments. Post your own now!

Madi J. said...
Sept. 15, 2009 at 4:53 pm
guess wat. we read this in language arts. my entire class so 143 people read it and everyone i talked to loved it. i love your wording choice ur amazing. and i hope u kno tht
 
Alyssa W. replied...
Sept. 16, 2009 at 3:17 pm
Thank you so much. I really appreciate your comment, as well as the others posted here, and I'm truly flattered.
 
Madi J. replied...
Sept. 16, 2009 at 7:28 pm
aww!!! ur welcome! ur really talented! I just started writing (hmm.... maybe last November) like seriously and I fell in love with it. My teacher now quotes your story. I hope you don't mind but i LOVED ur first paragraph so much that i mite steal the idea to use for my first page only it would be slightly different. Thanks for replying and good luck on what ever you do!
<33 Madi
 
Robyn M. said...
Jul. 12, 2009 at 10:45 pm
wow...sipmly amazing...u deffinently have a talent!
 
pinkrose888 said...
Jun. 16, 2009 at 6:22 am
Fantastic. :D
 
SOCCERLOVER>3333 said...
Jun. 15, 2009 at 7:03 pm
AMAZING article! This really put things into perspective.This article opened my mind,I used to think people like that were just all glitzy and "perfect" now i don't!!!!Thank you for opening my eyes. And may your friends Dad Rest In Peace.My Condolences to her family.
 
Zimmian said...
Jun. 12, 2009 at 11:58 pm
Wow, that's beautiful!
You really helped me understand more fully some of my friends. I am *slightly* more the pessimistic friend of ours, and when they (dance team girls) are laughing and smiling and giggling sometimes, i wonder if there are fake happy-fluffy thoughts, but truly, it's just their amazing beautiful ability to find joy in the life God has given them, no matter what. That's strong of you as a person to have been able to realize so through others, even though it's... (more »)
 
pinksage33 said...
Jun. 12, 2009 at 11:45 pm
I could really relate to this article. Great job!!!
 
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