The Longest Hallway This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 5, 2012
Most people I know like to have gym late in the day so they aren’t sweaty in all their classes. I prefer it in the morning: that way it’s not hot when we’re outside, and the bees aren’t active. I was lucky this year, because my schedule allowed me to have gym first period. My least favorite class, it’s good that I can get it over with early.

Today, Monday, is one of those ambiguous spring days. It is warm enough to wear shorts if I want to, but it might be better to wear pants. This is what I worry about as I say good-bye to my friends and leave homeroom. Do I change into sweat pants, or wear shorts? I don’t forget to keep an eye out for Peter, but he must have gone the other way today.

The locker rooms aren’t too far from my homeroom, but to get there I must walk down a hallway. This hallway, past the art rooms, cafeteria, and outside doors, stretches forever. I hate to walk it alone, but I have no choice. Three seniors, the kind of guys I can’t picture as adults with jobs and families, lean against the wall to my right. I will not be afraid; they can’t hurt me. I have trained myself to walk past them without making eye contact. I pick a spot farther down the hallway and stare at it. Eye contact with these boys is deadly. I would become a victim; I would become vulnerable.

I concentrate on walking, on swinging my arms casually, and already I am past the first senior. Coming upon the second one, I fail. They have laughed, and I lose my focus point. Worse, I look at them, opening myself up for attack. It’s too late to undo; I must wait for whatever they choose to heap upon me. The middle kid, kind of goofy-looking, smiles. I am almost relieved, can almost breathe again, but there is a little corner of me that remains wary: a smile means nothing in this hallway, or in any other in this school.

That suspicious, sad little person inside of me is proven right. When I am a few feet beyond the last guy, I hear more laughter. My heart sinks, and I wait for the words, missiles. They come.

“Black afro … frizzy head …” I do not hear the rest, but I don’t need to. I have heard these words before, and they are no longer a shock. I am not angry, I feel no rage. No, I am sad, and worse, I am ashamed. I feel guilty for my shame, want to kill it, but still my face burns. No matter what I do – perms, curling irons, hot combs, curlers, hair gels – I cannot get this hair of mine to lie flat; it is thick and wild. I want to tell that kid, the goofy-looking one, that he was wrong, it’s not an afro. But I don’t turn around, because I know that underneath these chemically treated curls, loathed and loved by me, the roots are already growing in, and that I will wait as long as possible before perming them again. Plus, I am late for gym class.

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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