In the high school main office a bustle of students, intercom calls, and secretaries on phones makes it easy for me to disappear on the uncomfortable wooden bench. Luckily a fight broke out in a classroom so two boys being held apart like mad dogs are brought in, so I don’t have to sit in the principal’s office. I have loaner crutches leaning against my knee, and my elbows are stinging and bandaged with white gauze, my chin is taped up. I slip my cell from my backpack and call Kara.
“Hey, girl,” she says. “Still on for lunch today?”
“No,” I tell her in a low voice, my hand over my mouthpiece. No one notices me. “I’m sitting in the office at school, about to be sent home. I got suspended.”
“Damn!” Kara says, a laugh in her voice. “What the hell did you do now, Jessie Allen?”
In spite of everything, I have to smile. Yet behind the smile hot tears collect in the corners of my eyes. I’m suddenly so grateful for Kara’s friendship.
“I snuck out last night to meet Jimmy, and we both got popped.”
Kara laughs again. “I hope you at least had some fun first. I can hear the prison gates slamming from here.”
“You have no idea. Jimmy got kicked off the team and we’re both suspended, and the Jock Squad tried to kill me when I got here this morning.” Though my voice is quiet, the words feel heavy as I say them.
“Shit, Jess! You’ve always hated those jocks . . . now you can thank them. They’ll finish the job for you.”
I’m reeling as her words sink in. What is she saying? Is that how she sees me, too? As someone who doesn’t want to live? I thought she understood me better than that.
“It’s not funny,” I say quietly, turning in my seat to face the wall as the tears run free and warm down my face. “Everyone’s really mad at me. I don’t know what to do.”
“I’m sorry Jess,” Kara says quickly. “I didn’t know it was that serious. You know about stupid suicide humor! I’m such a loser.”
“Kara, don’t . . .” I say, wiping my eyes. “It’s okay. It’s just . . . I made this breakthrough with my parents yesterday! I thought things were going well, and now, my mother is going to lose it. I don’t even know how my dad will take it. I completely screwed everything up!” My voice grows louder.
The room goes quiet, the talking on phones stops. I look up and everyone in the office is staring at me. I glare back and they look away, going back to their business.
“Can you wait a sec?” I ask Kara.
“Hell, yes. I’m standing in the hallway at school in front of my English class. They’re just in there reading novels or some crap to waste time until lunch.”
I clip my cell phone onto my shorts waistband, put in the earpiece and pick up the crutches, and limp to the cement planter outside the main office to sit on the wide-tiled lip. A sweet cool breeze refreshes me. I’m alone.
“I’m back. I don’t know, Kara . . . I’m tired. Not just from being out late, but from living. Living is exhausting me. Is it supposed to be so hard? What about all that life we see on TV, where people are happy and funny and they get into madcap adventures and everyone leaves smiling and hugging at the end? Doesn’t that world exist for anyone? Is everyone as miserable as I am?”
“I am,” Kara says in a soft voice. “For one. But don’t ask me. I’m not a good judge of reality, Jess. I go to school with a pregnant fourteen year old who was raped by her brother’s friend, a seventeen year old mother, a kid who watched his parents get gunned down, and another suicide kid. These are my peers, Jessie, all the rejects in the entire school district. I have no clue what you’re talking about, with the hugging and the funny. That’s so not my world.”
“It’s not my world either, Kara. I just don’t get it. It’s like we all drew a card at birth, that says either ‘Fairy Tale Ahead: Live Happily Ever After’ or the one I got, which reads ‘Everything Sucks: Give Up Now.’ How come we didn’t get that other card? It’s so flippin’ unfair.”
“I know,” Kara says. “But you know what Marsha says: ‘You deal with the hand you’re dealt’. I mean, for a shrink, she’s not always an ogre. She tries to make me deal with the reality I’m in, even if it sucks the majority of the time.”
“I guess, for a shrink, Michael’s not an ogre either. My mother . . . that’s a whole other story.” I have this weird urge to tell Kara about The Granddaughter. “And I have a new shrink of sorts, one I haven’t told you about yet. She says . . .”
There’s a disturbance on the other end, and Kara whispers, “Gotta go, Jess! They sent the National Guard out looking for me. I’ll call you later!”
I wonder if I’ll still have a cell phone when she calls or if it will be taken away along with every other privilege I have. I say goodbye but she’s already gone. I hang up and think of texting Jimmy but see my parents walking up the stairs toward the office. Mother’s lips are tightly pursed; Dad looks defeated. I sigh and gather up my belongings and pull myself up on my crutches, glad to have them. The sight of my parents makes me feel weak in the knees.