Kristen Dickerson’s Dream:
The Long Hallway
Yesterday when I read my essay about my grandmother aloud in class, when I struggled so hard to keep my voice steady, Pema Sendak told me to shut up and write something else. Oh, she didn’t use those words exactly. She was slightly more polite.
“Pema, do you have anything to say about Kristin’s essay?” Ms. Warren asked her, and Pema scrunched up her face so we all knew she had a negative comment, but she just said, “No, nothing.”
“We value your opinion, Pema. I’m sure Kristen would like to hear your suggestions.”
Pema glanced at me and then back at Ms. Warren. “I’m not sure she wants to hear what I have to say. I mean, she’s talking about, you know, something pretty…”
“Talk directly to the writer.”
Pema sighed and turned to me. “Kristen,” she said.
“Pema,” I said.
“I don’t want to offend you or anything, but, to tell you the truth, your essay was boring.”
“Be constructive and specific,” said Ms. Warren.
“What can I say? The topic. I mean, come on--we’re in high school. We’re young. Grandmothers, nursing homes, beds--yuck. I mean, I can tell you care about her and everything, but, I’m sorry, I don’t really want to hear about that stuff.”
I tried to be professional. I tried to look Pema in the eye, nod that I appreciated her criticism, but I couldn’t help the tightness that rose from my chest and into my throat. I couldn’t help the tear spilling down my cheek.
Pema said, “You see?”
Ms. Warren got up from her chair in the circle and walked over toward me. “Oh, Kristen,” she said. I could feel the disgust in the room.
I choked out, “I’m fine! I just need to go to the…” I got out the door and ran to the bathroom, not so much sad as horribly embarrassed that exactly what I didn’t want to happen had happened.
I came back in ten minutes and everyone was silent, embarrassed. Even Max, my boyfriend, couldn’t look me in the eye. I just sat and endured the rest of the period. Joel Barrows, our Sped kid, stuttered through his pet dog essay. Jenna Clarence read about her boyfriend’s truck. Dawn Grose told about trying to figure out the restrooms in China. They all head their readings and critiques. I didn’t say another word.
Today before English starts I go right to where Pema sits. I hold out my hand. “Come on.”
“Listen, about yesterday…”
“What?” she asks, and finally I just grab her hand and pull her up--not hard, just with enough force to let her know she’s not getting away. I march down the hall, pulling Pema behind me. She babbles as we go.
“Look, I know you’re pissed at me for saying that stuff about your grandmother and everything. But I wasn’t insulting her. I wasn’t even really talking about her; I was talking about your essay. I mean, it’s cool that you love your grandmother. I totally get it. But do we have to hear about it? I mean, I suppose there’s a time and a place for that stuff, like maybe at her funeral or something. Where are you taking me, anyway?”
By now we have walked through most of the known hallways in the school. We stand in front of a blue door that has no number over it. Everyone assumes it’s just a janitor’s closet. I open it and pull Pema inside.
The hallway in front of us is lined with mirrors. “Where the hell are we?” Pema says. “Kristen, we’re not supposed...what is this?” Still firmly holding Pema’s hand, I begin to walk forward. “Kristen!” she says, frightened.
“Pema, walk with me.”
She tries to get out, but the door has shut behind us. All she sees are mirrors, no doorknobs, just mirrors on all four sides of this long, narrow room. She’s breathing hard, like one of my gerbils when its first introduced to its cage.
“I don’t like this, Kristen. I get claustrophic.”
“If you want to get out, we have to walk first.” Pema swallows hard and reaches for my hand.
“This room is 75 yards long, Pema. My grandmother is 75 years older than we are. Each yard stands for one of those years. Do you understand?” Pema doesn’t say anything. She’s hypnotized by her reflection as we walk, how it’s changing yard by yard. I stay the same, but Pema ages as we go.
“Now you’re 18. Look, you’ve got another tattoo. Now you’re 19. Cut your hair, huh?” As we move foot by foot, yard by yard, year by year, Pema’s reflection morphs. Her hair swirls around her head in various styles, lengths, and colors. Her clothes shift. For a split second she’s naked, then fully clothed and wearing a winter coat, then naked again, then a bathing suit, then naked, then jeans and a sweater. Pimples sprout on her face, recede, sprout again.
“What is this?” Pema gasps.
I keep walking forward. Pema’s reflection is 25 and pregnant. We step forward and her belly seems to pop like a balloon, though it’s not as thin as it was before it started to bulge. I lean close to whisper back to her, “Pema, don’t you see? It’s you. It’s just you.” I can feel her shaking beside me. She grips my hand more tightly.
“That’s not me,” Pema says. I can barely hear her. She’s in her thirties now, almost half-way down the long room. “That’s my...that’s my mother.” The woman in the reflection--whose hair changes much more subtly, whose fashions stick to the same lines and colors moment by moment--is tired. Her body has stretched and collapsed with two more pregnancies, but, after each one, she is larger than she was. Pema groans beside me. Though she looks like the same 16-year-old who started this journey, she’s feeling the sensations of her reflection-body.
“Stop. Let’s stop,” she begs me.
“We can’t, Pema. We’re going all the way to the end. We can’t stop.”
“I feel so heavy. My legs--they ache. Please.”
“You can make it. Look. We’ve walked over 50 yards.” I look over my shoulder at where we’ve been. Pema tries to look back and walk forward at the same time, but her neck is stiff and she stumbles against me. In the reflection, a gray-haired, stooped woman shuffles along. Though her clothes still shift on her body, the changes come more slowly. The outfits become drab and shapeless, until finally, the reflection wears nothing but a hospital gown that changes only every few seconds. Three yards from the mirrors at the end of the room, Pema collapses.
I take both her hands and slide her along the floor. In the mirror, we see an old woman, deflated, her skin and limbs hanging like tattered banners. She moves along the floor. Pema and her reflection both bump against the wall. Their mouths quaver together. I lean down next to Pema’s face to hear what she’s saying. Most of the sound means nothing to me--random noise, ghosts of words. Pema’s face twists in pain and frustration, and she finally gasps out a word I understand:
Reality Check: Dream 56
ü Title of Kristen Dickerson’s final personal essay: “Hiking the Appalachian Trail.”
ü On her teacher recommendation for Kristen Dickerson, for the question addressing “Reaction to Setbacks,” Ms. Warren marked the column “Below Average.”
Joel Barrows’s Dream:
Coffee and Cards
The day feels normal. I walk through the hallways. I try not to get in anybody’s way. I see one girl I know, McKenzie Silver, and I start to raise my hand to say hi but she turns down another hall. She must not have seen me. Other than that, I keep walking. I’m headed to where I always go first thing in the morning, Room 154. I know what most people call it. The Sped room.
I don’t like the word “sped.” I know it’s just a shortening of Special Education. Well, a shortening and a smooshing together, like “spork” or “brunch.” But to me, “sped” sounds too much like “tard,” short for “retard.” I’ve been called that before, but if I get called that and a teacher is around, the kid who called me that gets in trouble. But if someone calls me a “sped” and a teacher is around, the kid might get a funny look, but he doesn’t get in trouble. But the way the kid says “sped” is the exact same way he would say “tard,” so it feels the same. I don’t think it’s any improvement.
The day feels normal until I open the door to Room 154. I mean, some parts of the room are normal. The room looks pretty much the same. Mrs. Tingey is there, sitting at the round table where she’s usually sitting in the morning, her cup of coffee in her metal mug. But more of the round tables are set up, too, and other people are in Room 154 who usually. Mrs. Shreve from the guidance office. Mr. B the janitor with his belly so big it looks like it’s going to burst someday, and for some reason I think that what’s going to come flying out is jellybeans. Two of the older ladies from the lunch line. They remind me of my Aunt Sarah and my Aunt Bess. That’s what I call them in my mind when I see them at lunch. I don’t know their names, which I should because they’re very smiley and pleasant people doing a hard job. Over on the side sits Mr. Wahlburg.
Next to him is Miss Tingdale, looking really fresh and pretty like she always does when I go into her class. Even when it’s super cold outside she reminds me of spring, and sometimes when she looks at me and smiles, even though I know she smiles like that at everybody—I mean everybody—I can’t help it, the way I feel a little tingly in my privates.
All my favorite people from the school are there when I open the door into Room 154. No kids. Just the adults. And the thing is, what makes the day so great and weird is that they’re all sitting at the round tables where I usually have to be tutored on my math and my reading and my writing and tracing my maps for Mr. Draper who is not here and he is not one of my favorite people, not at all. The thing is, Miss Tingdale and Mr. Wahlburg and the ladies I call Aunt Sarah and Aunt Bess in my mind, they’re all here playing cards. Playing cards!
They’ve got their mugs and some of them have little plates beside their stacks of cards, and on the plates is another one of my favorite things: coffee cake with the cinnamon swirls twisting through the cake like little streams and the crumbly layer on top. In the middle of every table sits a round one of those cakes, all of them with a slice or two taken out. The one near Mr. B the janitor is half gone. Over on the stove—we have one of those in Room 154—are three other cakes, totally un-eaten, and I have a feeling that more of them are baking in the oven. The room smells as happy as any room could smell, with coffee and coffee cake and the smell of Miss Tingdale’s perfume just barely around the edges. It’s flowery, a little bit, but not too heavy.
When I open the door, everybody turns and smiles at me. They don’t get up and crowd around me or reach out or even say anything. I wouldn’t like that. They just smile and go back to playing their card games. The room has a nice hum of people talking and the sound of cards shuffling and the little clink of a forks and now and then a card getting put down on the table.
Somehow I know just what to do. I never know just what to do. But somehow, today, I do. I feel like I’ve been here lots of times before. I go over to the counter next to the stove. I reach up into the cupboard and I get down a mug. I pour myself a cup of coffee from the pot. I stir in some milk and just one teaspoon of sugar. I taste it, pulling in just the tiniest bit of coffee through my lips so I don’t burn my tongue. It’s perfect.
When I look up, Miss Tingdale tips her head toward the empty seat beside her. I walk over and sit next to her, with Mr. Wahlberg at our table and also Mr. Griegel who’s a really nice substitute teacher who comes in about twice a year. He always wears sweater vests and the one he has on today reminds me of Christmas so it’s perfect, too, like everything else in Room 154 today. A couple other people sit at our table. I’ve seen them around the school. They’re old and just have kind faces and now that I hear them talk I see that their faces aren’t a trick; they are nice people even though I don’t know their names.
This is the day. The only thing that changes is the food. Around lunchtime, it switches from coffee cake to fresh rolls and meat trays. The coffee keeps coming all day long, but we have punch, too. The talk is about the weather and, of course, the card games (the lady sitting across from me whose name I never find out wins the most but nobody minds), and a little bit about politics and a little bit about religion but mainly it’s the people around me saying, “I remember this time…” They tell stories about their pets and their families and their travels.
I join in sometimes. Nobody minds when I do. I even dare to tell them about when my grandmother, who was my absolute favorite person in the world and who used to take me to the church card socials…I even tell them about her funeral. Nobody minds when my voice gets a little choky. They don’t look at me like I’m a kid. Miss Tingdale puts her hand on my arm for a second. We deal the next hand of cards. That’s how it goes until it’s time to take the bus back home.
Reality Check: Dream 57
ü Recommendation #5 of Joel Barrows’ Individual Education Plan: “Joel will contribute at least one comment when placed with peers in small group work.”
ü Number of excellent ratings for Miss Tingdale on ratemyteacher.com: 515. Number of above ratings from the same home computer: 514.
McKenzie Silver’s Dream:
The Big Forgetting
We’re in the computer lab, supposedly doing research on countries. I have Venezuela. I don’t care about Venezuela. The Wikipedia page has stuff about oil and how most Venezuelans are Roman Catholic and other facts; none of them make me care one bit more about the place.
So, along with most of the other kids, I’m looking at important things like Facebook and Youtube and my cousin’s blog. I just switch to the Wikipedia thing when Mr. Draper comes around to look over my shoulder and ask how I’m doing. Good, I tell him. He does another sweep of the class before he goes to talk to the new librarian. She’s young and pretty and I think just got married, but that doesn’t bother Mr. Draper. He flirts with her anyway.
I see Meredith and Hillary both looking at Hillary’s computer screen, then over at me.
I try to resist typing Youtube into the address bar. I don’t really want to know. But I can’t help myself. I go to Youtube. I could still turn back. There are thousands of things to look at, millions. I don’t have to go to that video, or the half dozen others including parts of it. I can just ignore them. I can look at the latest clips from X Factor or the epic fails vids or….
I feel my phone vibrate. “Hey, slut, drink much?” the text says. I don’t recognize the number, but across the room Meredith has ducked behind her computer. Hillary has her head down, too, trying to hide her laughter.
A numb part of me, like a self-destructive robot, makes me type the key words: kenzie party animal. In a moment, there I am. I stare at the image of my face. My eyes half-closed, my mouth half-open, my hair plastered to the side of my head. I look exactly like what I was the night Scott Blodgett took the video: smashed out of my mind. I don’t bother to hit the play button; I’ve seen it more times than I can count. Unfortunately, the number of times I’ve watched the video doesn’t come anywhere close to the total views: over 700. And that number doesn’t come close to the views I’ve replayed in my own head.
The Youtube post is my only memory of that night. I know it’s me stumbling around, grabbing Ian Emery and other random guys at the party, letting them grab me, doing a strip-tease, falling down the short set of stairs off the deck. I know it’s me singing “Jingle Bells” in the middle of September, slurring all the words so I sound like a two-year-old. And I know it’s me lying under Phil Edwards as the crowd yells, “Do it, do it!” over and over. I don’t own the memory, though, no more than any random person who looks at me on-line does, because it never started in my own head. It only started when Mary called me a week ago and said, “OMG, Mckenzie, have you seen the vid from the party?” She told me how to look it up, and then I saw for the first time what should have been in my head because I did it, but it wasn’t because I was too drunk for it to register. Youtube is the memory, and everybody has it.
My phone buzzes again. I don’t want to look. I know it’s going to be just another variation on the messages I’ve been getting ever since Scott uploaded the video. Whore, slut, skank, bitch. On my phone and on the messages posted below the videos, I’ve read all the names I’ve been called. I’m sure this will be nothing new. Still, I have to look. My father used to say, whenever I got my allowance and couldn’t wait to spend it, that the money was burning a hole in my pocket. I never really felt that way about my allowance, but my phone is literally like that. If I don’t check it, I’ll go crazy. It’ll burn a hole in my pocket.
I check to make sure that Mr. Draper is still talking to the librarian. He is, laughing at some joke he’s just made. The librarian’s smile looks forced. I pull out my phone and put it on my thigh, out of sight, but just when I open it to see the message, it blinks off. Around me, I hear others give a shout of surprise, and I wonder, for a second, why they’re all reacting to my phone dying. Turns out they’re not. Everyone’s electronics have just shut off, too. The whole place starts buzzing with the sound of both the teachers and the students asking what’s going on. There’s a lot of clicking, too--fingers punching keys, trying to get communication back.
“All right, everybody, calm down, calm down!” yells Mr. Draper. “I’m sure this is just a glitch that will be fixed soon. In the meantime, we just happen to be in a library that still happens to have a bunch of information accessible through technology other than computers. Yes, boys and girls, we might just have to resort to--wonder of wonders!--reading a book!”
Groans and boos. As Mr. Draper tries to get us up from behind the computers and into the other part of the library, I hear the librarian ask him, “What do you think happened?”
He says in this deep voice, like he actually has a clue, “I don’t imagine it’s anything significant. We’ll get past it.”
Just then, everything switches back on, except on every screen appears a guy wearing a pure white mask. He speaks in an accent I can’t place. Indian? Middle Eastern? He says, “Welcome, America, to the regime of the Tabula Rasa.” I recognize the term tabula rasa from my psychology class--blank slate.
The voice goes on: “Mighty America, so dependent on your machines--you have been wiped clean! Tabula Rasa has infiltrated every computer, every network, every connection! Mighty America, you will learn that your arrogance has made you weak! You will learn, America, that you are not so mighty after all!” The screen goes blank for a second, then the face comes on again and repeats the message: “Mighty America, so dependent….”
All around me, people are trying to get past this crazy masked guy. When they do, they’re finding out what he means--it’s all gone. Contacts, photos, videos, programs, information of all types: Wiped clean.
“My God,” says Mr. Draper. His face is pale and he doesn’t seem to care about impressing the librarian anymore. He’s just kind of staring off into space, in shock. “This is...this is going to be worse than 9-11. People are going to die.”
Even though I know Mr. Draper is right, that this is a huge loss for our country, I can’t help looking at the Tabula Rasa guy on the screen in front of me, listening to him say his crap for the third time about how our arrogance has made us weak...and in my head I’m saying thank you.
Reality Check: Dream 58
ü Typical post on the Facebook page RIP McKenzie Silver: “I can’t believe you’re gone. Why, why, why?”