The locker was getting smaller.
Or maybe my legs had gotten bigger… but that meant that I would’ve been thrown into locker enough times to make this comparison. And that was ridiculous… and sad.
So yes, the locker was getting smaller, I decided.
From the thin lines of light that the locker’s door would allow in, I could see people passing by, but never bothered to ask for help. Why? 1) No one would. 2) Principal Litman would come and help me out in 3, 2, 1…
“Alice! Again? Really?” Annoyance fills her voice, as I have to squint my photophobic eyes because of the sudden wave of light. I’m stuck in a locker, and the Principal is the one who’s annoyed. Go figure.
I stretch my legs and back, releasing my articulations of their stiffness and grab my backpack, that fortunately came with me to my, as I call it, “office”.
As I prepare myself to receive a lecture, I find Ms. Litman staring right back at me, arms folded on her chest and not speaking.
What? Did they put something in my face too?
She’s still staring and it’s becoming quite awkward, I mean, it’s just been a few seconds, but this staring contest feels that has no end. Finally she sighs, closing her eyes and shaking her head.
“Come with me Alice, please.” And there we go again. I have to go to her office, she will ask me all kinds of questions, which I will respond sarcastically and finally she will give another sermon, although I was the one trapped in a 5 square feet room.
“Okay, what did you say to them this time?” She asks me, still with an annoyed voice, while sitting at her desk, right in front of me. I just stare at the wall. I can see Ms. Litman’s college diplomas hanged. She went to Yale? Wow. And I’m almost sure that I’m reading law school. So what the hell is she doing teaching a bunch of insubordinate and dramatic teenagers, that think their biggest problem is to find the perfect blouse that matches the perfect skirt or what’s the right brand of hair gel. She must have been suspended or something, because only a crazy person would trade her lawyer job for this. And Ms. Litman is not crazy. I kind of like her actually… when she is not lecturing me… for the hundredth time.
“Alice, are you listening to me?” she asks me, desperate now. I almost can see a grey hair grow between her perfect and brown locks. She always says that I’m the one that makes her look older than she is in fact. That, although I’m a brilliant student and give most of the teachers no trouble, somehow, once a week, I end up in the Principal’s office. And she aged in this couple of years, looking more and more tired. She’s still pretty though. She must be in her late thirties or early forties, I think. The first time I came into her office I told she was going to get old in this job. She just gave me a condescending laugh, because I didn’t know what I was talking about, you know, like every adult does with a fifteen year old kid. I bet she’s not laughing now, huh? I should tell her “I told you so” in the same condescending voice that she gave me, but I restrain myself from doing it.
And I’m sure I’m not the only cause for her wrinkles. I’m not that bad.
“Yes, I am.” I respond, with no emotion in my voice, but what everybody I know likes to call arrogance.
“So? “she continues
“So.” I answer again. The principal sighs one more time. Okay, I can be a pain in the ass sometimes. And maybe the main cause for her aging problem. Personality, what can I do?
“Honey, why do I find you in a locker once a week? “ okay, that’s a stupid question and requires a stupid answer.
“I’m really empathetic with the claustrophobics. “ I reply in my most solemn tone-.
“Stop being a smartass Alice.” She raises her voice now, and starts to get mad, and that’s not usual. Her patience it’s one of the reasons why she’s actually good at this job. Yes, I crossed a line. And now I’m starting to get pissed, so I just exhale, staring once again at the wall, to avoid her blue eyes, which are fixed on me.
“I’m sorry” I answer, sheepishly, now looking at my hands.
“It’s okay. But tell me what happened? What did you say to them?” she tries again, this time with a more soothing voice. She doesn’t ask who did it. Not because she knows the answer, but because two thirds of the school has already put me in a locker more than once. And I have to say that I don’t blame anyone. I’ve “offended” most of them. Why the quotation marks? They like to call it offending, I just call it honesty. They can’t handle it or don’t have the vocabulary to respond, so they resort to physically bully me.
Has Ms. Litman likes to say, I’m bullied because I am a bully. And now she just wants to know what happens, so “we can figure out a way to improve my behavior and avoid being bullied”. I know a way… Give me the high school diploma early, so I can just go to college and interact with people who actually know how to spell.
“It was Troy’s and Amy’s group of friends. They were teasing Emma, you know, the fa… the overweight girl from my English class.” I changed my adjective as soon as Ms. Litman gave me a look. Oh adults, you love to euphemize reality! I don’t get it.
“So you intervened to defend Emma, probably said something you shouldn’t…” - she excepts me to continue.
“Look, I was eating lunch outside, and Emma started crying because Troy and Amy were teasing her, asking if she had to iron her jeans on the driveway or something and I just responded for her.”
“What did you say Alice?”
“I just asked Troy if offending people today was to compensate for his inferiority complex in the future, because now he thought he had the world in his hands, but in the future the only thing that he would have, was a spatula to flip burgers in Mcdonald’s.” Now, lets analyze things. What Troy was doing was offending… I just spoke the truth, right?
I’m almost sure that Ms. Litman wanted to smile, but she contained herself. It’s not appropriate to encourage my behavior.
“Okay. What about Emma, if I call her here, she can testify that they put you in the locker and that you were defending her?”
“She actually, helped them putting me in the locker.” my voice was low, almost a whisper, because I knew she was going to freak out with the explanation.
“What? Why?” She was surprise by the plot twist.
“Well, she couldn’t stop crying, and people can cry when they have reason to, of course, I’m not that insensitive, but it was getting on my nerves. So I told her to stop crying. Being fat is not a terminal condition and if she didn’t like it, then she should start dieting. It’s not that hard, like climbing Mount Everest or something. She just needed to close her mouth and stop eating her feelings once in a while. To divorce Ben and please to not go back to Jerry and to, I don’t know, maybe try a date with Mr. Lettuce.”
“Alice…” I hear Ms. Litman, not so happy voice, with her eyes closed and her hand holding her head, but at this point I’m venting and can’t stop.
“I also told her that treadmills had other uses, besides rolling groceries in the supermarket and to tell everyone who make fun of her while exercising, to screw themselves, because at least she would have a goal in her life.” I’m almost out of breath, but finally I stop myself.
“Do you any social filter Alice?” Ms. Litman asks me in all seriousness.
“I think I do, but it breaks sometime” I answer, in all seriousness too.
“Alice, I don’t know what to do anymore. I can punish Troy and Amy for physically abuse you, but then again, you’ve verbally abused them. Do you understand? Offending is also bulling! It wouldn’t be fair if I punish them, without punishing you. My hands are tied and you are not making it any easier.“ Her voice sounds tired, almost complaining.
Oh no, she didn’t just say that.
“I’m the one that was trapped in a locker, and you’re complaining things are not easy for you? Listen, I don’t care if you punish Amy or Troy, or anyone! I really don’t! For all I know, you could have just helped me out, and after the “rescue” we could both be on our ways, no lectures needed, not for me, Troy or Amy! I just want to finish this living hell, that people call high school, quickly, to finally meet people who are not stupid! Why don’t you all just leave me alone?”. Yap, I pissed now.
“Alice calm down. Don’t you have any friends that you could talk to and have lunch with, maybe that would help?” she asks, nicely, although I’m not being nice to her.
“I’ve told you, I don’t want any relationship with anyone here! I don’t have the patience or will to. And you can think that I’m just another misunderstood teenage kid, but I’m not. My parents and my brother understand me. I don’t have any problems at home. I wasn’t forced to grow up faster than normal, I don’t have any self- esteem problems, I don’t even care if I’m bullied or not. I just have another way of thinking, different from most of teenage kids. And I’m not saying that I’m better than them and I don’t want to sound arrogant when I say that they are to juvenile for me, but they are! And there is nothing wrong with that, I just don’t have any interest on talking or sharing experiences with them, don’t I have that right?” I feel exasperated.
“Yes, you do Alice. But even so, that is not normal. I’m just trying to help you” Now I feel like she’s pushing, and actual anger starts to build in me.
“I don’t need or want your help!” I say, a little bit louder than I should, but I don’t apologize. Quickly, I proceed, before giving her the chance to interrupt “And who the hell are you to tell what’s normal or not? You are a lawyer teaching a bunch of stupid kids, that’s not normal!”
“Alice!” Now’s she’s really angry. It appears that I have offended her.
“What? You think because you’re older than me and feel like you are ensuring my wellbeing, is okay to tell me that I’m not normal, but the other way around, you get offended? Jesus, you are even worse than my colleagues! At least they have age has an excuse for their puerile actions, but you… adults… you’re just a group of hypocrites.” I’m still pissed, but calmer. I just hate the condescending attitude.
Ms. Litman is silent, in shock, looking at me. She wasn’t expecting my burst and bluntness. This is what usually follows my commentaries… no answer.
Finally, the principal speaks.
“I’m really sorry that’s how you feel.” She’s serious. The sweetness in her voice, which is usually present in our encounters, is gone. “I just want to support you and stop this type of behavior between students. And has I say, you need to stop with the verbal assault-“
“For God’s sake! It’s not verbal assault, it’s just the truth in a harsher way!”
“Enough!” Ms. Litman explodes, banging her hand on the table. The outside of her office fell silent. Everyone in the hallways could hear us. “Enough, Alice.” She continues, this time quieter. “You will stop with this arrogant attitude. You will stop offending your colleagues, and you will stop defying your English teacher. Yes, I know what happened last week.” She answers, my unpronounced question, as I raise my eyebrows.
She must be referring to the disagreement episode, from last week’s English class. I disagreed with Mrs. Fox interpretation on one of Shakespeare’s existential crisis. Although she didn’t like it, she could have accepted my opinion… yeah… she didn’t. So I just told that if the world was based in one opinion, we would all be ignorant. Now, I didn’t call my teacher an ignorant, not that it wasn’t my intention … but if the shoe fitted Mrs. Fox it’s not my fault.
“And please Alice, try to make some friends. You’ll need them. “ She almost pleads.
“Yeah, whatever… “ I’m being impolite now, but it escaped my tongue.” Ms. Litman, am I to be punished? I really don’t care if I am or not. Just want to know if I need to tell my parents if I’m going to be late.”
“No Alice. You are not. For now. Troy and Amy on other hand…” she trails of.
“I couldn’t care less if they are reprimanded or not, Ms. Litman. I won’t feel wronged if you don’t do anything about it. I felt he was doing something wrong, so I spoke up, he didn’t like it… boohoo… so he put me in a locker, and everything is settled, let’s just move on! Please, can I go now? I’m starting to have a headache.” Ms. Litman hesitates for a bit, but finally nods.
I turn when she speaks again.
“You know Alice, although you are quite good constructing an argument, it’s not because people fall silent and have no answer for you, that you are always right. Remember that.”
“I know. But, Ms. Litman, as a lawyer, you also know that, that’s only what it takes to convince the jury.”
And with that, I quickly turn and storm out of there.
Jesus, this headache just started, but it’s already driving me crazy! Probably just stress.
Although I was not forwarded to detention, I still need some alone time so I pull out my cellphone and send a quick text to my mom.
Trouble at school. Sorry. Will be a little late. Love you.
The Principal will contact my parents, no doubt, but I gave my mom the heads up and we’ll deal with it at home. I do not hide anything big from them. And they always encourage me to tell everything I needed, without prying and giving me the necessary privacy. Let me be clearer: I’m not telling that I never lied to my parents… I’m still human. But never really lied big or hide something that could get me in real trouble from them, because, at the end, they are the ones able to help me.
Instead of going home, I take the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge Park. I always pick the same spot. The one where I can see the two bridges intersect, with the Manhattan buildings behind. I pull out my sketch book and pencil and start to draw. I love drawing buildings. The only thing that takes my mind off everything, ever since I was little… and could draw something besides scribbles. Before that, I loved Legos. I was obsessed with them when was about two or three years old; I’m not sure what I remember and what my parents and brother tell me .I still am obsessed with Legos, if we’re speaking the truth. Love to connect the pieces, the only difference now, is that the pencil complements it. I can’t explain why this thrills me, but I think it’s amazing how they turn what’s written and outlined in a paper sheet, to real and huge size. How they can project something that’s needed for work, so pragmatic and safe, but at the same time so beautiful (sometimes… Have you seen the Empire state building? Jesus, is horrible!)
I want to do it, one day. I want to draw something and watch it get built.
My mind is completely focused. So much that if someone was to dive in it, would only find a wave of charcoal lines. It makes me forget and not get a hold on time. This usually happens when I’m sketching.
The only thing that brings me back is the brisk breeze and the purple color in my extremely cold hands. It’s the middle of February, and at 5 pm it starts to get darker. I know I should go home and, besides, this headache is killing me. I’ve had some in this last couple of weeks and I’ve been blaming stress for it, but really, this one seems like a no stopping hammer inside my brain. But for me is a rule to never a let a draw half done. Call me a perfectionist, but I just can’t do it.
The lines on my sketch are darker and darker, because of the pressure that I’m applying to them, proportional to the growing pressure inside head. God, where the hell did this pain come from? I know that I had that heated discussion with Ms. Litman, but it wasn’t that overwhelming.
Unable to calm it down, I stop my left hand from drawing and close my eyes, though it’s unlikely to the dim light to be causing it. Finally I resort to applying pressure on both sides of my head with my palms.
“For Christ’s sake, just stop!” It was almost a cry.
For a second the headache is replaced by a humming in my ears. And then I can hear him, before I can see him.