Mrs. Lynn always called on her when she least expected it. The entire English class looked at her. She remembered the first moment she walked into the classroom in September and thought by sitting in the back row corner seat that she’d forever be out of sight. That plan failed. At this moment all eyes are on her – her least favorite feeling in the world.
“I…what was the question again?”
“It wasn’t a question. It’s your turn to present on Lady Macbeth.”
“I thought my presentation was Thursday.” The 10th grade class let out a boisterous laugh in unison.
“Today is Thursday, Giselle.”
Her face goes white. Well crap. All eyes are still on her. They want her to make a fool of herself. She looks down to her blank notebook. All she has written is the date.
April 7, 2014.
At that moment she realizes, she even wrote the date wrong.
It’s 2015. She thought to herself. Thank God it’s not April 7, 2014. That was the worst day of her life.
“Why don’t you go tomorrow?” Mrs. Lynn chimes in. “Erik. Are you ready? Giselle wished she could hug Mrs. Lynn. She was far too kind to her. She could feel Erik’s in the seat behind her – his eyes searing into the back of her head. If they were lasers, her hair would have been on fire by now.
“Why doesn’t Giselle have to go? That’s not fair.” Erik enjoyed drawing attention to her and making her uncomfortable. It had been this way forever.
Erik Thompson was always a step behind Giselle Thomas since the first day of Kindergarten. He sat behind her in every class. He was always in her group. And he was always a jerk. He was the dark cloud that followed her at every turn. And she never knew why. They were friends once. She couldn’t remember when that changed, but somewhere between Kindergarten play dates and presentations on Lady Macbeth things changed. Maybe she changed. She didn’t know. What she did know, at this moment, was that she wished he would just go away. She literally wished he would disappear from her life.
“Enough Erik. Are you ready today?” Mrs. Lynn asks impatiently.
“Yes, Mrs. Lynn. I am ready. Not all of have mother’s we can blame all of our problems on.” Erik says proudly. Gisele’s heart sinks. The class let out a collective grumble. Mrs. Lynn settles the class and hands Erik a detention slip. And in this moment, Giselle prays to drop dead right then and there.
The bell rings.
Giselle grabs her things and bolts out the door. She even ignores Mrs. Lynn, who tries to talk to her on the way out. It’s 2:00 and time to walk home.
It had officially been a year since the incident. And in true irony today was the day her mother came home from rehab. Giselle looks at her phone. She has seven messages from her dad. She puts it away without reading them and leaves the main building. On the way out she sees the crooked flagpole and stops in her tracks.
“You’d think they’d have fixed that by now.” Sam chimes in from behind her. Giselle smiles. She’s happy to see a friendly face.
“You’d think everyone would have forgotten by now.” Giselle looks to the flagpole.
“Forget about Erik. That guys sucks. No one cares anymore,” Sam says in an attempt to comfort her.
“You’re a bad liar, but thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow” Giselle turns to leave.
“Do you want a ride?”
“I could use the walk but thanks.” They part ways. It had been a year but Giselle remembers it like yesterday.
When she left for school that morning her mother was passed out. She had gone on a bender the night before and fell asleep with glass bottles around her on the couch. Giselle left a note for her.
Poetry presentation today! 12:00. Room 804. Love you!
She knew her mother probably wouldn’t make it but she hoped she would make this one. It would be the first time and she had promised.
When 11:30 came around, she secretly checked her phone under the desk in Biology class. She had a message from her mom that she would be there. Gisele’s heart leaped. In fact, a huge smile came across her face, so big that her teacher noticed and confiscated her phone.
“You know better,” he had said. Giselle did, but she was too excited not to check.
At 11:55 the bell rang. Five minutes to switch classes, except today she was going to a different room, a bigger room, where eight poets would read poems selected for the literary magazine. Today was special. She clutched her poem as she walked. Her heart was beating out of her chest. She searched the hallway for her mother. Maybe she would run into her and they could walk to the classroom together.
She arrived at 804. The room was already packed. This was way more people than she thought would be here. There was a sea of teachers, parents, and students – so many faces she had never seen before.
She walked to the front where the presenters were to line up. And, of course, Erik was there, in the line of poets. And, of course, the presenters were alphabetical order. So, of course, he would go after her. She took her spot in front of him. He sneered at her. She couldn’t care less in that moment. Instead, she searched the packed room for her mother’s curly brown hair and bright blue eyes.
Maybe she’s somewhere in the back.
12:00 struck and the bell rang. Mrs. Lynn introduced all the poets. Giselle’s nerves got the better of her. At this point she didn’t care if her mom was there. It hit her that she now had to read her poem in front of this crowd of people. Her stomach dropped. She had been so concerned with her mother before that she didn’t realize what she had gotten herself into.
Giselle was to go third. She read and reread her poem.
Don’t look at the crowd. Deep breathes. It’ll be over in a second
The first poet read. Then the second poet read. Giselle was next.
Breathe, Giselle, Breathe.
Mrs. Lynn came to the microphone to introduce Giselle.
“Don’t mess up.” Erik whispered in her ear.
Breathe, Giselle, Breathe.
And just as she was mustering up the strength to go to the microphone, her mother, Martha, crashed into the room. “I’m here! I’m here!” she shouted. The entire room looked at her. Martha was still wearing the same clothing she passed out in with her makeup from last night smeared across her face. She had a little blood on her forehead. Giselle would later learn the blood was from when her mother crashed into the flagpole outside the school.
“Giselle! Mommy’s here!” Everyone was stunned. “They tried to stop me, but I’m here! Did I miss it?” She talked to Giselle as if there wasn’t a room full of dozens of people watching. Giselle just stood still. She couldn’t believe what was happening, or what would happen next.
Two security guards came running into the room. Her mother yelled at them to leave her alone. She wanted to see her kid’s poem. The guards asked her nicely to come with them. Her mother yelled more. The scene was like something out of a movie. Giselle watched as they escorted her mother out. Her mother was shouting at her but she couldn’t hear anything anymore. Life moved in slow motion until her mother was gone and all eyes were on her – her least favorite feeling. No one knew what to do, least of all, Giselle herself. And then she decided what she would do.
And now, as she walks down her street with her house in sight, she wishes she could do that again. She doesn’t want to see her mother. She doesn’t care what kind of life altering experience rehab was. She didn’t go see her for a reason. She hadn’t seen her in almost a year.
What do I even say?
“I didn’t do it on purpose.” A voice came from behind her jolting her out of her mind. She turned to see Erik, of course.
“I didn’t realize your mom came back today.”
“How do you know that?”
“My mom texted me when I got out of school that she saw your dad bring her in your house.”
Giselle looks to her house and then to Erik’s, the house across the street. She couldn’t escape the one person she wanted to see less than her mother. She just ignores him and walks toward her home. Erik follows.
“I don’t know what to say. Sorry doesn’t seem like enough,” he mumbles.
“It’s not. It never really is.” Without looking at him, she turns to go to her house. He turns to go his, but turns back. “I am sorry,” he says just loud enough that she would hear, but she keeps walking.
That’s what her mother would say. I’m sorry. And it wouldn’t change anything. It wouldn’t erase the mortifying experience that was last year, or the subsequent embarrassment and torture since. It wouldn’t erase that she was the girl with the crazy, alcoholic mother and always would be.
She walks in her front door. She can hear her parents talking but can’t place exactly where they were.
“Giselle?” her dad calls to her as he comes into the hallway. “You didn’t respond to my messages.”
“Sorry.” What a useless word.
And just then, her mother comes into the hallway. Giselle almost gasps at the difference between then and now. She looks good. She looks healthy and bright, like the mother from her childhood memories. How could this be the same woman that stormed her poetry reading?
Tears well in her mother’s eyes, as she looked into Giselle. Giselle is completely still. Her mother walks toward her and inhales, as if to say something.
Just say sorry. Get it over with.
But her mother stops herself, instead. She doesn’t say a word. She just looks at Giselle and then embraces her with her whole body. It’s a hug full of unconditional love and endless apologies that no words could say.
Giselle stands lifeless arms by her side. And then, after a moment, she lifts them and hugs her mother back resting her head on Martha’s shoulder and squeezing her tightly.