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Our Deepest Fear
Author's note: The movie Freedom Writers inspired me to write this novel. It's a wonderful movie and I encourage everyone to watch it. I hope readers will learn from my novel to never discriminate against anyone. I hope readers will also learn that if you are being teased or made fun of, stand up for yourself. Everyone is created equal and nobody deserves to be treated in a mean way.
“Quiet down, class! We have a new student.” Mrs. Peterson opened the door and a girl walked in. She was Mexican and looked very shy. Her teeth were nearly chattering and the tiny hairs on her arms stood straight up.
“This is Micaela.”
A few students mumbled a hello. Micaela smiled.
Micaela was wearing a navy blue skirt and a white polo shirt with a pair of flats. She dressed in standard school uniform, which Crescent Middle School did not require. Micaela wore her long black hair in a single braid down her back.
Brandy, the most popular girl in the 8th grade, shouted, “Ew! She’s not even from here. Go back to Mexico!”
The whole class started laughing and Micaela’s smile disappeared. She then dashed to an empty desk in the back of the room and sat down.
Mrs. Peterson scolded Brandy and told her to see her after class. Then, she mouthed a sorry to Micaela.
“Now everyone, this is Micaela’s first day at Crescent, so I want you to all try to be helpful to her. Selena, I’d like you to walk with Micaela to the rest of her classes today. I’ll give you a copy of her schedule after class.”
Brandy whispered, “Of course, she picks another Mexican girl to help her,” a little too loudly.
“That’s it Brandy.” Mrs. Peterson said. “Lunch detention.”
Brandy rolled her eyes and started picking at her flakey, purple fingernail polish.
After class was over the bell rang to go to lunch. Brandy grabbed her friend Stacy’s arm and urged, “Come on! Hurry up! I want to get out of here before…”
Mrs. Peterson tapped Brandy on the back. “Brandy, have a seat. Stacy, please go to lunch.”
“Yes, Mrs. Peterson.” Stacy quickly responded.
Brandy walked to an empty desk and slumped far down into the seat.
She overheard Mrs. Peterson say, “Here’s Micaela’s schedule. Help her read it if she doesn’t understand, okay?”
Selena smiled and replied, “Yeah, I will. See you tomorrow, Mrs. Peterson!”
“See you too, Selena. Thanks again!”
Brandy hated having detention. It was so miserable.
“Now Brandy,” Mrs. Peterson began, “why were you so rude to Micaela today?”
“You should treat others the way you want to be treated.”
Brandy stood up. “Yeah, yeah, yeah I’ve heard all that before. But I’m tired of changes in my life! I don’t want stupid new people coming into my classroom, I don’t want my mom to…”
Brandy heard some girls giggling in the hall. They were staring directly at her. She blushed and sat back down while Mrs. Peterson got up and closed the class room door.
“Brandy, it’s all right. You can tell me. What’s going on with your mom?”
Brandy sat up straighter and blinked furiously, almost as if she was trying to push back tears. She croaked, “Nothing. It’s fine.”
Mrs. Peterson looked at Brandy for a few more seconds, waiting for her to say something else, but she didn’t. Then, she walked back to her desk and started grading some papers.
It was silent until the bell rang. Brandy stiffly got up and walked towards the door.
“See you tomorrow.” Mrs. Peterson said.
Brandy weakly smiled back.
The rest of the day was completely awful for Micaela. There were lots more giggles and cold stares. She felt so useless and unwanted. Selena was the only person she’d had a genuine conversation with. Selena told Micaela which teachers were the nicest, who were the smartest kids in class, and even said Micaela could sit with her and her friends at lunch. However, Micaela couldn’t because she had her English tutor at lunch.
At 2:30, Micaela boarded her bus, number eighteen. And sitting right in the first seat was none other than Brandy. She glanced at Micaela and then started pounding her fingers into the keyboard of her cell phone.
Micaela sighed and walked down the aisle of the school bus until she found an empty seat. She took out her Algebra homework and started working on it.
Find the slope and y-intercept of the following equation and plot three points on the graph: y=3/2x+8
That was easy. Micaela had already done this math in Mexico last year. Well, at least there was a bright side to Crescent Middle School—easy work.
A few minutes later, the bus stopped by Micaela’s house and she got off. To her surprise, Brandy got off at the exact same stop as her. Brandy didn’t even look at Micaela. She just walked straight down the street.
When Micaela opened her front door, there was her mother.
“Micaela! Micaela! Did you have a good day? Tell me everything!”
“No, Mama. Kids were mean to me, especially this girl named Brandy. She lives right down the street from us too!”
Micaela’s mom said, “Lo siento. (I’m sorry.) I promise, things will get better. Just keep your head high. We’re going out to dinner tonight, all of us. Papa will be home at six. Would you like to pick where we go? ”
Micaela smiled. “Yay!”
Micaela decided to finish her homework on the porch. She picked up her back pack and lugged it outside. Outside, she heard arguing. It was a man’s voice and a woman’s voice.
The man barked, “I told you, I’m not taking her. I have work to do!”
The woman snapped, “Peter, you were the one who wanted partial custody, so grow up and take her!”
There was a long pause and then the man impatiently called, “Brandy!”
Micaela gasped. Brandy??! Her parents we...were divorced? No, it had to be another Brandy. The Brandy she knew must have a perfect life. Fancy dinners every night, members of the country club, a pool in her back yard, things like that.
But then, sure enough, Brandy emerged from the house, like a fisherman returning from a day’s work with no fish. Her head was drooping, shoulders slumped, as she shuffled past the skirmishing couple, er ex-couple, and slouched into the front seat of a car. Then, the man plopped into the driver’s seat of the car and they sped away, leaving the woman standing there all by herself, looking very frustrated.
“Change of thought,” Micaela said to herself. “Brandy’s life is NOT perfect.”
The next morning, Micaela got up and started getting dressed for school. Again, she wore a standard school uniform. She liked looking sophisticated for her teachers.
“See you, Mama.” Micaela said as she rushed out the door.
She was the only one at her bus stop that morning. Brandy probably wasn’t there because she was at her dad’s house.
Once the bus reached Crescent Middle School, all the students got off. Micaela walked solemnly to her locker, got her books, and headed to her homeroom class. Her homeroom class was pretty quiet. Most kids were either dozing off or urgently trying to get their homework done from the previous night.
Once the 8:00 bell rang, the morning announcements came on. The principal talked about Scholastic Bowl practice that afternoon, track tryouts next week, and some reminders from teachers to their students. They listened to the pledge and then the announcements were over.
Micaela went to her first hour class, then second hour, and finally it was time for Mrs. Peterson’s class. Micaela was looking forward to class with Selena, but not with Brandy.
Micaela walked into the class room and sat in the same seat she did last time, which was way in the back of the class.
She looked up and saw a couple girls staring at her. Then, they turned and starting giggling.
“She’s so weird,” one girl snickered.
The other one chuckled, “Why does she always wear that hideous uniform? Hellooo, buy some jeans!”
Micaela sighed and put her head down. Selena hadn’t even talked to her today. Wasn’t there anyone who liked her?
She looked at Selena, who was reading a book. Then, something caught her eye. There was a piece of paper attached to her back. It read “Kick Me!”
Just then, Brandy got up, walked toward Selena, and kicked her book so it fell on the tile floor.
“Hey!” Selena barked.
Brandy laughed. “You have something on your back.”
Selena felt her back and grabbed the piece of paper. She looked up at Brandy. Then, she looked at the other kids in class. They all started laughing at her.
“Freak!” Stacy blurted out.
Selena picked up her book and sat back down.
“Uggg, why was Brandy so mean?” Micaela thought.
She went over to Selena and said, “Hey, Selena. I…”
“Just don’t talk to me,” Selena murmured.
“Yeah, don’t talk to her, Mexican!” Brandy shouted.
The class started laughing again.
Micaela went back to her desk and sobbed. Where was Mrs. Peterson anyway? The bell rang a couple minutes ago.
Finally, an elderly lady walked in.
“Hello, I’m Ms. Judy. I’ll be your sub for Mrs. Peterson today. She would like you all to do this worksheet on complex sentences. Who can give me an example of a complex sentence?”
Stacy, Brandy’s friend, promptly raised her hand.
“The meeting at the park—Washington Park—lasted for three whole hours, while the meeting at the other park—Eastside Park--only lasted thirty minutes.”
Ms. Judy smiled and beamed, “Excellent. Will you pass out these worksheets?”
“Sure,” Stacy replied.
When Stacy got to Micaela’s desk, she slammed down a worksheet and pranced away. She was a mimic of Brandy.
Toward the end of class, Ms. Judy informed each student that they’d have to memorize a poem for homework, any poem they chose, and recite it in front of the entire class the next day.
Micaela hated talking in front of a group of people, especially a crowd that hated her and constantly judged her.
That night, Micaela searched the internet for a poem. She wanted a deep poem, one that meant a lot. She googled “meaningful poems” and scrolled down until she saw a good website. This website had a lot of poems by Marianne Williamson, a poet she admired. Then, she found it! A poem that meant so much to her, a poem that defined her. This was definitely the poem she was going to memorize.
The next day, Micaela walked into school, reciting her poem in her head over and over again.
Suddenly, she lost her balance and stumbled on the girl in front of her. It was Brandy.
As Micaela was getting up, she cried, “Sorry!”
Brandy looked it her in disgust, her eyes filled with hatred.
She mumbled, “I don’t talk to people like you. Ugly, stupid Mexicans.”
With that, she stormed off.
Soon after that, class began. Brandy was the first one to read her poem—flawless. Then Jake, then Stacy, then Ryleigh, then Mary, and then some other students whose names Micaela didn’t know yet. Finally, there were only two people left to go, her and Selena. Selena went first.
As Selena read her poem, Micaela just stared at her blankly. In her mind she kept thinking I’m going next. I’m going next. I’m going next. Me.
Then, everyone started clapping, except Brandy.
Next, Mrs. Peterson called her name. “Micaela?”
Without responding, she walked up to the podium. She saw Selena’s dark eyes staring at her, Brandy’s blue eyes with tons of black eyeliner, Kim Vy’s black, squinty eyes. Everyone was looking at her. Micaela looked at Mrs. Peterson’s big green eyes looking at her too. No two persons’ eyes were the same.
She saw Brandy whisper something to her friend, her friend whispered it to Kim Vy, and then the whole class was laughing, except Selena. Selena looked like she had a tear coming from the corner of her eye.
Selena walked to the front of the room and yelled, “Stop! Why are you all making fun of her? And why do you all have to make fun of me? We’re no different than you. All of us, Mexicans, Indians, Whites, Blacks, Chinese, we’re all enrolled at the same school, in the same classroom, sitting in the same desks, learning the exact same material. We’re all different in some ways and we’re all alike in other ways. We all don’t want to be made fun of or laughed at, right Brandy?”
Brandy didn’t respond, she just listened.
Micaela was so thankful and she couldn’t believe Selena had the nerve to do that!
“So be quiet and show my friend some respect!”
Selena smiled at Micaela and went back to her seat. The whole class was silent, it was as if Micaela was deaf—she heard nothing.
Without thinking, she recited her poem.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Micaela heard a roar so loud, a lion couldn’t even beat its sound. Everyone clapped for her, everyone. Micaela smiled and on her way back Selena jumped up and hugged her. Finally, she had a friend and a wonderful day at Crescent Middle School.
Before Micaela got on her bus, she wanted to thank Selena. She went to Selena’s locker and tapped her shoulder.
Selena smiled. “Hey.”
“I just wanted to say thank you. I could never get up enough nerve to what you did. And it means so much to me.”
“No problem. I was just fed up with how people were treating you and me. And yesterday, I’m sorry for not talking to you in class. I just wanted to be alone.”
“That’s okay. I know how you feel. So, do you want to come over to my house tonight? We’re having tacos for dinner?”
“Mmmmm! I love tacos. Sure. I’ll be over around 4:00.”
“Don’t you have to ask your mom?”
“She’ll let me go. She’ll be happy I have a friend.”
Micaela gave Selena a hug and then ran to her bus, a little worried she might’ve missed it.
When she got on the bus, someone called her name. It was Brandy.
She turned to Brandy. “Look, if you’re going to make fun of me, I don’t want to hear it!”
“No, no! I...I just wanted to apologize for how I’ve been treating you this week. I’ve been so mean to you and Selena, and it isn’t at all fair to you guys. Will you sit with me?”
Micaela nervously sat down, afraid this might just be a big joke.
Brandy said, “So, I’ve been thinking. Would you like to come over to my house after school? I haven’t had anyone over in a while.”
“I would, but Selena is coming over to my house at four.”
“Oh, she can come over too! That would be so fun. We can do each other’s hair, make-up, everything.”
Micaela smiled. “I guess that would be okay.”
“Great! Here. Use my cell phone to call your mom and see if it’s okay with her.”
Brandy handed Micaela a shiny, purple phone.
“Ma?” Micaela said.
“Micaela? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, fine. I was just wondering if I could go over to my friend’s house today. ”
“Oh, you found a friend!”
“Ma!” Micaela said, embarrassed.
“Of course you can go over to her house. Just call when you need a ride home.”
“That’s okay. She lives right down the street.”
“Okay, good-bye. Have fun!”
“I will. Bye, Mama.”
Micaela handed Brandy back her phone. “My mom said it’s ok.”
Brandy replied, “Awesome. You know, it’s so cool to listen to you talk in Spanish. Will you teach me some?”
Then, the bus reached Brandy and Micaela’s stop.
As they walked to Brandy’s house, Micaela said, “Okay, what Spanish words would you like to learn?”
“Anything, really. Colors, numbers, basic words.”
“Okay. Red is rojo.”
Micaela laughed. “No, you have to roll your tongue. Rojo.”
“Yeah, like that!”
When Brandy and Micaela reached Brandy’s house, Brandy’s mom was sitting on the porch.
“Hey, mom,” Brandy said. “This is my friend, Micaela.”
“Hello, Micaela.” Brandy’s mom said. “Brandy, I thought you were going to be at your dad’s house this weekend.”
“Well, he said he had a lot of work.”
Brandy’s mom sighed. “Bring me my cell please, Brandy. It’s on the counter.”
Brandy led Micaela inside.
“One sec,” Brandy said to Micaela.
Brandy grabbed her mom’s phone and went back outside.
A minute or so later, she came back inside, and looked very sad.
Micaela asked, “Brandy? Is everything okay?”
“No,” she sobbed. “My parents just got a divorce and it just seems like neither one of them wants me. I might as well be put up for adoption.”
“Brandy, no! Your parents love you. Your dad is probably just really busy with work and your mom’s probably upset about the divorce. After all, he did ask for partial custody.”
Brandy looked confused. “How did you know my dad asked for that?”
“Well, I sort of heard your parents arguing the other day. I wasn’t spying on them or anything. I was just doing homework on my porch and then I saw them.”
Brandy responded, “Oh, that’s okay. You know the other problem?”
“My dad got to keep our old house, so my mom had to move here. And she has no money! She was a housewife and relied on my dad for the money because he’s a heart surgeon and makes a ton of money. So now, my mom has to go back to school, get a degree, and try to find a job. Gosh, I hate change! Why did they have to get a stupid divorce?!”
Brandy stomped her foot into the kitchen floor.
Micaela said, “Oh, Brandy. Lo Siento! I’m so sorry. It will be okay though, I promise.”
“I suppose you’re right.” Brandy let out a little laugh. “Gosh, I’m so pathetic. I’m rude to you all week and then I invite you over to my house and complain about all my problems.”
“It’s okay. I like to listen to people’s problems. Oh, shoot! Selena! I have to call her and tell her to come here, it’s almost 4:00.”
Brandy unzipped her back pack and got out her cell. “Here.”
Micaela said, “Hey, Selena. I’m at my friend’s house. She lives on the same street as me, but her address is 167. Can you come here?”
“Sure, I’ll be there in five minutes.”
When Selena got to Brandy’s house, Micaela greeted her.
“I have a surprise, Selena. Brandy talked to me on our bus after school and, well, she invited me to her house.”
Selena shouted, “What? We’re in Brandy’s house? No way. She lives on the rich part of town, not here.”
That’s when Brandy came into the conversation. “Hi, Selena. I’m very sorry for being mean to you. It was very cruel of me. And, about the house, yeah I used to be rich. But my parent’s got divorced, so my mom lives here now.”
“Oh.” Selena said.
Brandy replied, “So, can we all be friends?”
Micaela and Brandy looked at Selena.
Selena smiled. “Yeah, we can.”
“Yes!” Brandy said.
That night went by very quickly for Micaela, Brandy and Selena. They did do their hair and make-up. But they also talked about friendship. The three girls made a pact with each other. Then, they turned the pact into a “friendship pledge.” The pledge went like this:
I pledge to never discriminate against anyone ever again. No matter what race, religion, size, height or intelligence level they are. People are all created equal and you should treat others the way you want to be treated.
“Class, we have a new student.” Mr. Fritz--Micaela, Brandy, and Selena’s ninth grade teacher—announced. “Her name is Shamika.”
A heavy-set, African American girl walked in. She had a nervous look on her face.
“Hi Shamika!” Kim Vy said.
“Hey.” Jake said.
“Welcome.” said Ryleigh.
Selena and Micaela smiled and waved at Shamika.
Shamika half-waved at the class and slowly walked to her seat.
On her way, Brandy jumped up and hugged her. “Hello Shamika!”
With that, Shamika’s nervous look vanished and a big smile replaced it.