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. ♦