Rumors. There weren’t many of them. Not at first. But there were enough. Enough were aimed at me, earning sideways glances from passerby’s, fingers pointing at me, chuckles, and the occasional hacking noise from someone pretending to be a cat hacking up a hairball. One morning, Mr. Turcotte handed out tests and then instructed, “Once the test begins, you are to remain seated until you are done. There will be no bathroom breaks, people. No water breaks. No headache breaks. No snack breaks. No selfie breaks. No social media update breaks. So, go to the bathroom now to attend to your needs before the test begins. That includes removing any hairballs.” He winked at me in good humor before the class burst out laughing. He hastily told them all to quiet down, but it was too late.
I crimped out a pained smile to be courteous, doing my best to keep my tears to myself. I chuckled too. If I didn’t, I’d only be teased for being too sensitive or not having a sense of humor. Besides, crying only made them meaner.
You know, I had never been that person, that person people paid attention to. Teachers usually liked me because I was a good student with good manners. I had never been in a fight or even been cornered by a bully. I tried to be kind and thoughtful. I tried to be a good friend, nice to people. Suddenly, I was the butt of everyone’s joke.
For the first time in my life, I dreaded going to school.
But I dreaded my home even more.
Between those two worlds, I would gladly have chosen to be stuck at school with kids laughing in my face if it meant I could escape the woman in the window.
The hairball rumor wouldn’t be the last rumor that would attach itself to me. And at home, the woman in the window was just beginning.