Hartfield Chronicles

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Episode 11

Melinda’s Story

“Hey, what’d your mom want this morning?” Sarah asked me as we joined Larry and Walter for breakfast Tuesday morning.

I rolled my eyes. The last thing I wanted to do was relive my conversation with my mother. I took a long sip of orange juice to avoid answering, but she was looking at me expectantly. I sighed.

“Ugh. She was in church this weekend and someone mentioned confirmation classes. So, she found a local church and is going to enroll me. She wanted to know which day would be better.”

“Yeah, I only understood like, half of that,” said Larry. “What was the beginning part?”

“That was the beginning part,” said Sarah.

Larry pointed at me with his toast. “Okay. Lemme get this straight. You need to take classes at a church?”

“Yup.” I took a large bite of my pancakes, the comfort food I had determined would be the perfect antidote to the frustration caused by my mother’s early-morning phone call.

“And the classes are for . . .”

“Confirmation.”

“And what is confirmation?”

How on earth was I supposed to explain that? When I shrugged, Walter answered with a mouth full of scrambled eggs. “Confirmation is the sacrament through which the Holy Spirit comes to us in a special way and enables us to profess our faith as strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ.

We all just stared at him for a moment. Eventually, Larry broke the silence. “Bro, do you ever get tired of knowing everything?”

Sarah smiled. “I’m just going to pretend all those words made sense, since I was not raised in a very Christian household.”

I shook my head at him. “I’m going to assume you’re Catholic, too, since no one else would probably have known that.”

Walter nodded in agreement, guzzling a full glass of orange juice in one gulp. “Yeah, that was kind of reflex. My homeschool program had us memorizing the catechism. What is confirmation? is one of the questions. After it was out of my mouth, I realized Larry hadn’t actually been quizzing me.” Walter shrugged. “I received my Confirmation last May. You do know it’s optional, right?”

Technically, that was true. But, I still didn’t have much of a choice. How was I going to explain that to Walter, Sarah, and Larry, though?

I looked around the table. These were my best friends. They would probably understand. I took a deep breath.

“If you were on the phone with my mom, you’d know it’s not. I mean, I know I have the choice not to get confirmed, but I don’t have any choice about going to class. She threatened to drive up here every week to make sure I go. And I didn’t want to tell her that I was worried that I would get too far behind in my homework. I mean, I’m like, barely keeping up right now, and now I’ll have this extra class and it’ll probably have even more homework. And then, I mean, there’s the time. I have walk there which is going to be completely blech, come wintertime. But that’s even less time to get my work done.”

I wanted to cry. It was just so overwhelming. I sipped my orange juice in an attempt to prevent the tears. Sarah wrapped her arms around me.

“It’ll all work out. You know you wouldn’t be here if someone didn’t think you belonged. We’ll help you.”

“You mean, Walter will help her,” corrected Larry. “If you help her, she’ll fail out of the school.”

Sarah let go so she could punch Larry in the shoulder. He evaded her by quickly hopping out of his chair and running towards the servery, leaving me and Walter alone as she followed Larry, screaming threats to his back.

Walter was sending me a cautious look, probably afraid I was going to erupt into tears. “You know I’ll help you, right?”

I nodded with a sniffle. “Thanks. I think I just got really overwhelmed with everything. I was already worried about orchestra taking up so much time, and then my mother threw this at me. And, oh! Look at that!”

Sarah and Larry were slowly returning to the table, walking with their fingers interlaced, both beaming brightly as they spoke quietly to each other.

“It’s about time!” Walter exclaimed. He quickly dodged out of the way as Larry tried to punch him while Sarah whispered to me that we would talk during our morning free period.

***

After art class, Sarah and I sat in the gallery. While I tried to use my oil pastels to color the fruit bowl I had sketched in class moments earlier, Sarah explained how Larry had hid in the servery when he ran away from her.

“I walked in and he was around the corner, like over near where the dessert usually is? I didn’t see him. I walked by him and he grabbed me around my waist. I literally almost screamed, but then he kissed me.”

“That is sooo sweet!” I glanced up to see Sarah beaming.

“I know! I’ve never kissed a boy before. I told him that as he was walking me here.”

“You two are really cute together.”

“So, have you kissed Walter yet?”

My green oil pastel scratched halfway across the page and my jaw hit the floor. I gaped at my roommate. “WHAT?”

Sarah giggled. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to ruin your picture. I was just wondering. I mean, the two of you spend most of your free time together. Alone in the library. I was just wondering if there was something more than studying going on. You would tell me, right?”

“Yes. I mean, no. I mean—” I sighed, looking at my sketchbook. The picture wasn’t exactly ruined, although it was going to take a lot of effort to salvage the image. I glanced back at Sarah. “Yes, I would tell you if there was something going on between me and Walter. Between me and anyone. But, no. Nothing’s going on. Walter and I are just friends. Besides, I’m too overwhelmed with my work to worry about boys right now. I’ll let you do that for me. You can tell me what it’s like to have a boyfriend and I’ll live . . . ugh, what’s the word? I remember learning that phrase last year. I’ll live . . . something . . . through you.”

“Oh! I literally just had it on the tip of my tongue.” Sarah wiggled around in her seat, as if she could shake the word back into her memory. “Vicariously!”

The woman in the box office, whose door was propped open, peered out at us, putting her fingers to her lips in the universal signal to be quiet.

I lowered my voice. “Yeah. That’s the word. What’s that mean?”

“It means, I’ll have a boyfriend and I’ll tell you all about it and it will be like you have a boyfriend, too.”

***

By the time Sarah disappeared to her German class, I managed to shade my green streak into the surrounding fruit. I went upstairs to my locker, exchanging my portfolio for my flute. This was probably the only time I would be able to practice for my audition. But, I had no idea where I was supposed to go.

Not here, I realized. The third floor held a wall of lockers on one side of the building and a row of classrooms on the other. They were all occupied. I decided to see what was upstairs. The fourth floor also had a wall of lockers. But they were facing a row of cubicle-sized, soundproofed rooms. Each of the doors contained the same sign.

Music Practice Room
Please sign up in box office.
If box office is closed,
please check in with security in the lobby.

I went back down to the lobby. The only person in the box office was the woman who had earlier shushed us. She looked up when I entered.

“May I help you?”

“Um, yeah. I was hoping to use one of the practice rooms upstairs?”

She nodded. “ID please?”

I passed her my card and she clicked a few buttons on her computer before returning it. “Here you go. This will open room 405.”

Upstairs, I sampled each of the songs in my book before deciding on an audition piece. I spent the rest of the class period practicing it. By the time I returned my flute to my locker, I was pretty confident I would be able to perform it flawlessly for my audition.


Melinda’s Journal

Wednesday, September 20

A few years ago, we went on vacation to Cape Cod with my entire family, including my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We all stayed in a beach house where the grownups had their own rooms and the four big kids slept in sleeping bags on the living room floor. We had a lot of fun on that vacation, but I think there had been a violent storm, like the remains of a hurricane or something, just off shore, because I remember the waves being very violent.

One day, we all went to the beach to play in the water. My father and uncles were about chest-deep when my brother decided to swim out to them. Off he went and I tried to follow, but when the water was about three feet deep, I was knocked under by a wave.

I closed my eyes and tried to swim to the surface, instead finding my hand touching the sandy ocean floor. I began to panic and swallowed some water before I finally broke free and gasped for breath.

Before I could stand up, I was knocked under again, without fully filling my lungs. If I opened my eyes, they would burn from the salt water and it was too dark to really see anyway. So, I kept my eyes closed tight and once again struggled for the surface.

I was only underwater for a moment, probably less than a heartbeat, but it felt like forever. When I finally was able to stand up, coughing, I returned to the shore and sat on the beach for the rest of the day, avoiding the water at all costs.

I am starting to have that drowning feeling again, so strong that it is almost tangible, as if I could reach out and grab it. I spend most of my day in classes and most of my free periods completing homework. Then I spend my afternoon doing more homework, and finish my day doing homework, only socializing during my meals.

Not taking a “real” sport, I am supposed to have my Wednesday afternoons free. As much as want to watch my friends play their sports, I cannot today because I have so many other things going on. After my flute audition, I have to walk to town, spend ninety minutes in a boring religion class, then walk home. That’s nearly three hours of my afternoon that I could be using to write my English paper or study for one of my tests this week.

I am not afraid of the ocean and I have gone swimming at the beach since that near-drowning incident. But, sometimes, I still have this moment of hesitation before I step in the water. Will this time be like most of the times I have been to the beach and I will be fine? Or will it be like that one time on the Cape where I almost drowned?

I am not afraid of school. But, I keep finding myself remembering that vacation and wondering if I am drowning. Not in water, but in schoolwork.


Pat’s Story

Pat’s story will begin in March


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Stay tuned. Episode 12 will be released on Friday, February 12.

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