My breakfast pounds against the inner lining of my stomach as my eyelids beg to drop down onto my cheeks. I force my eyes open, refocusing the swirled lines in front of me into a mathematical equation. Deep breath- in, out. I cannot afford to be sick during this class. I need to hear what the teacher will say next. The boring monotone floods into my ears, begging me to sine squared of just take a minute to c times the reciprocal of the square root of take a quick nap. I need to rest my head. I lower the left side of my face onto my arm, turning my head so that my gaze is angled toward the board. Again, my vision blurs as the teacher's face blends with the whiteboard, slowly fading into a nice, comfortable... No! I pull my head up with every ounce of willpower, considering whether it would be worth the stares to just physically hold my eyes open with my fingers. The lockers slamming in the hall build a cacophonous din in my brain, the volume turned too high on a radio station for buzz. Static obliterates all coherent thought, and class drags on.
When we’re finally let out, I drag my feet toward the commons. I have a 30-minute lunch break and no idea how I am going to stay awake. I make the dreadful decision to sit in the cafeteria, where the noise of Evan and Graham, two senior guys known to be notoriously good for stirring up a racket, will grind into my skull for a half hour straight. If I try to save myself in the library, I know I am going to fall asleep and miss my next class entirely. I enter the cafeteria, and a half-eaten bag of chips narrowly misses my face as it flies by. I whip my head around, instinctively seeking the swaggering baller-wannabe who just took a shot at the trash bin. With the brisk movement, my brain churns the cafeteria into a Pablo Picasso masterpiece, colors morphing into strange shapes, carouseling around the scene before me. I hear Evan’s voice call out, "My bad!" without a hint of apology, or maybe it’s Graham’s raucous laughter. In any case, I am beyond trying to figure this out. As soon as the flashing colors dim, I squint, find my lunch table through spots of clear vision, and head over. This time, I move slowly.
The slush of my brain sloshes around in my head, leaving vague outlines of homework assignments scribbled on the edges of my consciousness. I have to read 20 pages on Andrew Jackson by Friday, right? Or is the project due on Friday? No, wait, the reading is for the project, but that's been pushed off to Monday because instead we're taking Friday to.... I have no idea. The information slides out of my grasp as I rack (what is left of) my brains, desperately searching for the answer to this question. If only my head were a jack-o-lantern so I could carve out holes, reach in, and pull out the goopy, sticky slop inside to find the answers. I wish my head was a jack-o-lantern. I wish I had slept more than three hours last night. I wish I wasn’t about to throw up breakfast over lunch.
JJ and Lanie, my friends since the sixth grade, wave hi as I approach our table, and I produce a weak smile to go with my weaker excuse for a wave. A mumbled "Didn't sleep last night" immediately sets off a passionate debate about whether Ms. Coltor is the devil, works for the devil, or owns the devil’s soul. Regardless, her projects are evil incarnate. JJ claims for sure she is the one and only, but Lanie argues that JJ just hasn't had Scharfman yet, and you ain't seen nothin' yet if you haven't done a Scharfman group project. The very thought of Scharfman releases that static buzz again, the unrelenting bang of locker doors closing in the distance as sound completely submerges my sanity. More teachers. More classes. More work. How many periods left? Uggh…. I could go beg the nurse to pardon my sins and send me home…. Sadly, there is no way I can miss the Chemistry lab. I need, and I mean need, that A. Trust me--you haven’t met my parents. Thank the Science gods JJ is my lab partner. She's guaranteed to know what we're doing, which is only another of the long list of facts I’ve lost amid the locker-induced drone.
I pull out my phone to text my mom, typing, Not going to stay for math help. I need slep. I send it in the same instant that I realize that slep is not a word, and then I am too tired to care enough to actually send her the correction. She'll figure it out. Visions of my bed start dancing through the haze in my skull. Soft pillows, warm blankets, the sweet relief of the snooze button on my alarm clock. Behind me, the principal calls out that lunch is over, and everyone around me rises in a tidal wave of sound and movement that knocks me back in my chair. I fight the tsunami of reverberation. Standing slowly, I make eye contact with Lanie, who gives me a sympathetic smile before she rushes off to her own science class. I possibly attempt to smile back, forego my usual half-hearted shoulder shrug to avoid unnecessarily complicated thought processes, and start to shuffle my Uggs toward fifth period US History. Technically, it's AP US History, or APUSH for short. Uggh, I could really use a push right now. The slamming of the lockers carries me on a current of humming hubbub, and as the commotion clamors for control of my jack-o-lantern mind, I finally give in to its cry. Inside my head, brain waves allow themselves to be engulfed by static roar.