Ruby

Paper. Paper. Pencil case dangling from my bag. I leave the library for a second to pace before walking back in briskly to fix it. I have found the paper. I pull out a pencil. It is not sharpened. I throw it away without thinking and my breath shortens while I look for another, more perfect one. I find it and measure the top of my paper as quickly as I can, knowing that the title will be exactly 18 characters long, including the space. When I find the center I write the title with serif, to differentiate it from the content. Urgent Assignments. Subhed (sans serif): Biology.

I make a list: 10 biology assignments, with neat little check-boxes beside each, four with stars because I need to consult with a teacher about them. That means 60 percent of them have to be done completely on my own. Twenty-four percent of the algebra assignments have to be done on my own, 100 percent of the English and Chinese, and 25 percent of history. I put them in order in my head: algebra, history, Chinese, English. Algebra, history, Chinese, English. Algebra, history, Chinese, English. Algebra, history, Chinese, English.

I have a little over a week to complete 43 assignments. Some are projects. Some are tests I missed or failed. Most is homework. I have 10 days before the semester ends and I fail. That’s 4.3 assignments per day. That’s not so bad. I will work during study hall and after school and all hours of the night. It is only 10 days. But I might miss a day for therapy and my new kickboxing class at the Y, because when I get home I might be too exhausted, mentally or otherwise, to do work, so that is eight days for 43 assignments, which is approximately 5.4 assignments per day. I can do one test a day. Perfect. As I think the word, a boy sitting beside me says it in a totally different context.

I am too scared to look at my grades online, but I try to calculate my GPA anyway. I realize that I will not be able to handle knowing. I walk out of the library again, trying to do the breathing exercise my therapist told me about, but it isn’t working. I do not have a panic attack so I walk back into the library, retrieve my backpack and papers and pencil, and go to biology to dissect a fetal pig.

***

That was disgusting. At least everything was sterile. The smell of formaldehyde fills every hall in the school, gagging us. Retching noises and gagging sounds surround me. But like I said, at least everything was sterile.

English class. My teacher hates me because I am doing poorly, and I am absent a lot, and I skipped a couple times, because I was too nervous to go. I love this teacher. I love reading and writing. But she looks at me with disdain, like I am a delinquent, making her life more difficult. I probably am. I see the girl I am partnered with for a project in this class, the girl I let down last week by doing my part wrong, the girl who deserves a partner who isn’t failing.

I walk away from the classroom as my teacher approaches. I am afraid that she will yell at me or send me to the office. “Where are you going?” she barks. The world becomes muffled; everything sounds like I am underwater. “The nurse,” I stutter. She says something else, and I just say OK and keep walking. “Did you hear me? I said come get a pass so I can make sure that’s really where you go.”

I need help. I don’t know what I need. I don’t know whom to ask.

Instead, I go to the main office. I ask for the assistant principal for some reason. She has a deep-auburn perm and wears beige skirt suits and nude heels and has a sharp smile that sometimes scares me. I know she is a good person. The secretary says she is out. I go to the nurse, who tells me she got a call from my English teacher. I don’t know what to say to her when she asks what’s wrong, so I go to my guidance counselor. I convince him to let me stay in the guidance area. I am still panicking. I try to do work and cannot, because my heart is in my throat and my brain must be somewhere else. I decide to write.

I grab a computer. There are three. I realize I still need to write my Rookie diary. My thoughts about it were lost in a feeble effort to distract myself from myself last night. I am writing it now, in the guidance area at school, trying not to panic because of my 43 assignments.

The bell rings. I am still writing. I’m going to be late for algebra. ♦