Pema Sendak’s Dream:
Mrs. Shreve, the guidance counselor, has come to class to make a presentation about planning for college. I guess it’s happening in all the social studies classes today. “Even though you’re just in tenth grade,” she says, “you’d be surprised how quickly the time passes. The next thing you know, you’ll be Seniors, so there are some very important steps you need to take now to ensure that you’re ready in two years.” She’s put together a PowerPoint presentation and is reading every slide, word for word. Mr. Draper has left the room--free day for him. Of course, before he went he threatened us all with death and detention if Mrs. Shreve reported that anybody was disruptive.
I’m facing 45 minutes of total boredom.
I figure I’ve got three choices: One, sit here and listen as Shreve drones on. Two, fall asleep. Three, sneak out my iPad and go online. Choice one is impossible. After just ten seconds of focusing on Shreve’s presentation, my legs start wiggling and my skin starts crawling like it’s covered with ants. Choice two, the sleep option, doesn’t work because I drank three cups of coffee this morning.
Choice three it is. I take a quick look around to make sure Mr. Draper hasn’t slipped in to spy from the back of the room, then take my iPad out of my backpack. I put the screen setting on really low, stack a couple books on my desk to block Shreve’s view and go to my best friend and savior: Facebook.
Except that I don’t get to Facebook, not at first. My iPad is acting super weird: the screen goes totally black and then all white and then totally black again. Now I see the icon for Facebook, but it’s on a brand-new page. It looks really official, and down at the bottom it’s got this box that says Universal Password. What does that mean?
I doubt it’s going to work, but I type in my password: hellabella478. I hit enter and another box comes up asking me to confirm Universal Password. I type in hellabella478 again and hit enter. My regular Facebook page comes up, thank God. For a minute there I thought I’d really screwed up my...but wait a second. Something looks strange. My background picture of my dog has all these hash marks across it, and at the top of the page, in a sort of military-looking font, are the words Administrative Override Access. What is going on? Probably another change Facebook is trying out--why don’t they just leave things alone? Practically everybody on the planet is on Facebook, why do they keep changing things?
I see that my friend Abby has tagged me in a picture of the dance from two weeks ago. I comment, “Ew, why’d you post that one? I look drugged!” I want to see if she has any more pics from that night, so I go to her page to check out her photos. Except when I go to her page, there’s something weird again. Below what I just wrote, the comment box has Abby’s picture next to it instead of mine. It’s like I’m on her page not as me, but as her. That’s impossible. I type in the comment box: “I think you were smoking crack that night, ha, ha,” then hit send. I go back to my page and see what I just wrote, except it looks like Abby wrote it. No way. This is seriously messed up. How can I go on Abby’s page as Abby? I go back to her page and see that I can access her profile, her private messages, everything--as if I was Abby!
After a little more checking around, I learn what Administrative Override Access means. It means I can see everything. It means I can pretend to be anybody I want to be. It means that today’s social studies class is going to be the bomb!
First I go to Eliza Denton’s page. I take a look at her private messages and confirm what I’ve always suspected--she’s been trash-talking me to, like, a million of my friends. Okay, Liza--you want to be a bitch, go for it. Let’s just see how it goes for you when I write this p.m. to your boyfriend: “Tim, I don’t know what I ever saw in you. You’re really not much of a man at all. I mean, I’m totally willing to put out for you, but you just don’t seem very interested. I’ve screwed at least ten other guys while we’ve been going out just because you bore me so bad. Anyway, I’ve decided I like girls better anyway. Have a nice life.” Send. I change her relationship status to single. I post as Liza: “Looking for female on female action. YOLO.”
Let the games begin. I don’t even get a chance to go to my next target when I see the first of what I’m sure is going to be a jillion comments in response to what “Liza” has posted. It’s from from Samarra Jones: “WTF, Liza??”
I write: “You heard me, girl. Wanna hang out? #lesbo.” The bell rings. I have to go to geometry. Crap, just when I’ve got real work to do. I don’t want to interrupt it with something as stupid as math.
I wonder…. In the hallway, I quickly type in my math teacher, Gordon Bluthen. If he’s on Facebook, I figure there won’t be too many with that name, and I’m right. There he is. I pull up his page and post to his status, “I have to confess that I’m fighting the urge to have sexual relations with my students. I know it’s inappropriate, but I’m finding them more attractive every day.”
I’m late for Mr. Bluthen’s class, so he tells me I’ll need to stay a half hour after school tomorrow to make up for my tardiness. “Yeah, we’ll see about that,” I say under my breath on the way to my desk. We’re only fifteen minutes into the lesson when the phone on Mr. Bluthen’s desk rings. He stops explaining whatever craziness he’s got on the Smartboard and answers it. “Hello? Right now? I have a class. I can’t very well….” I look down and pinch my finger as hard as I can to keep from laughing. “What is this about? Fine. I’ll be right down, but what about…?”
The person on the other end apparently hangs up because Mr. Bluthen just stares at the phone. Then he says to the class, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am urgently needed in the office. The guidance secretary will be down in a moment to watch the class. Just...confer with one another about last night’s homework. I should be back soon.” Maybe not, I think as he leaves the room. The class immediately gets loud when Mr. Bluthen leaves, and the bored-looking guidance secretary doesn’t seem to mind the noise when she arrives five minutes later. As long as we don’t break anything or draw blood, she’s just going to stay up front and read her magazine.
I spend the rest of the period having the time of my life, especially since a bunch of kids have taken out their cells and are checking Facebook, too. Across the room, Deedee Briggs and Monica Banks are looking at Monica’s tablet. I go on Dan Frazier’s page and post, “Deedee B’s got a hot bod.” I wait a second. When the two start giggling, I know the message has hit. They type back: “Who wants to know,” which makes no sense, but that’s Deedee for you. I just reply, “Let’s do the nasty” and move on to more interesting places.
By the end of the day, I’ve canceled every class, witnessed three fights caused by the messages I’ve sent--one between guys, two between girls--and started threads of pissed off and/or highly disturbing posts numbering in the hundreds. Since I had no regular teachers, I have no homework, but I know exactly what I’ll be doing all night.
No one will be safe from my fun.
Reality Check: Dream 7
ü Under investigation for cyber-bullying that may have been a contributing factor in a suicide: Pema Sendak, Meredith Sutton, Hillary Monk, Ben Langley.
Abigail Kolinkowicz’s Dream:
My list is absolutely ridiculous:
1. Finish Extra Credit novel for English; do the write-up.
2. Write thank-you notes to Grammy, Aunt Sarah and Uncle Bill for birthday money.
3. Finish scholarship application for Asthma Association.
4. Finish scholarship application for Daughters of the American Revolution.
5. Write college essay.
6. Get secret psych. gift for Anna.
7. Put in 20 hours of community service.
8. Apply for camp counselor position for the summer.
All due by the end of the month. Plus my homework every night, plus my little sister telling me she never sees me anymore, plus my parents nagging me that I need to put in more hours at the grocery store, plus my friends telling me I’m too stressed out to even hang around with, plus I’m vaguely in love with Gavin Vale and he might be interested but I can’t take time for a relationship right now, plus every day I think of five other things to add to the list. Plus my mother telling me if I don’t get more sleep I’m going to end up sick, and I already am sick but nobody tells me how I’m supposed to get more sleep when I have all these things I have to get…
Vanilla? I look up to see a stranger, a beautiful blond guy standing beside the library table where I’m sitting. Suddenly, I’m embarrassed that he’s seeing the mess--my books spread out around me, my to-do lists sticking out from various pages. The stranger doesn’t look much older than I am, maybe 20. He’s dressed all in black, making his hair seem even more blond, practically angelic. And he smells like vanilla, my favorite smell in the world. “Hello,” he says, and he places his hand on top of my head. It feels warm. The comfort from it seeps down through me, like when I’m outside on a winter day and someone hands me a cup of hot cider.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“Come with me,” he says. “I have what you need.” He has a Morgan Freeman voice, deep and soothing. Even though a part of my mind is saying, Whoa, girl, a strange man just walked up to you and put his hand on your head and told you to come with him, I trust this stranger. As I look around, everybody seems totally okay with what’s going on. The other people in the library, including the librarian, look up at this handsome guy talking to me, holding his hand out to me, and then they go back to whatever business they’re working on. I take the man’s hand and stand up.
He leads me away from the table. “I should probably put this stuff…” I start to say, gesturing toward my clutter on the table.
He shakes his head gently and says, “It will wait.”
Something feels odd as I walk through the hallway with my stranger. Granted, I don’t make a habit of strolling through the school holding hands with a blond, beautiful man in black, but that’s not creating the strange lightness. I’m walking past the chem. lab and not feeling a clench in my stomach about next week’s test. I’m walking past Gavin’s locker and not wondering if I should leave him a note and, if I do, how subtle it should be. I’m walking through the school hallways past a thousand reminders of why I need to be anxious for the days and weeks and months ahead...yet I’m not feeling anxious at all. I’m walking in step with this gorgeous man and I’m feeling totally relaxed.
After a lovely stroll through the garden of the school, we turn in to the gym. All of the artificial lights are out, but the light from the overcast day outside comes through the windows. The gym is dim and quiet, almost like a church. I hear my favorite sound: peepers in the spring. The vanilla scent of the man suffuses the whole gym, and even here, in this space devoted to competition, I feel peaceful. Mats of all kinds are spread out around the gym, piles of thin, blue ones; thicker crash pads for gymnastics; and, in the middle of the room, the giant pole-vaulting mats.
We’re not alone here. Others dressed like my man in black--men and women, equally calm and gorgeous--have entered with students. I recognize some of my fellow stress-mates: Kristen Dickerson, Roya Sundarum, Manny George, all looking tranquil. My stranger leads me to the pole-vaulting mats and tells me to lie down. My former mind makes one last, weak attempt to assert itself, and I say, “I have so much to do.”
He says in that Freeman voice, “You have one thing to do, only one.”
“What is it?” I say as he’s pulling a soft, warm blanket up to my chin.
“Sleep. Sleep. Just sleep.”
And I do. All around me, the others are being put down for their naps, too, and the community of slumber gives us all permission. We are gone, gone, gone.
An hour and a half later, we wake to the sound of Coach Callahan’s whistle and her familiar voice yelling, “All right, sleepy-heads, that was fun, but now it’s time to get down to business. Let’s clear these mats out of here and get on with the day. Hup, hup, hup!”
I don’t mind her energy. In fact, I can match it and then some. I’ve never felt so refreshed in my life. I practically jog to the library and hit my work with the focus of a laser beam. By the end of the day, I’ve crossed the first five items off my list and am headed to the Senior Center to log some community service hours. My mind is sharp, my heart is efficient, my soul is grateful to whatever higher being sent me the power nap of my life!
Reality Check: Dream 8
ü Abigail Kolinkowicz’s cumulative GPA: 4.3.
ü Scholarship money awarded Abigail Kolinkowicz from The Asthma Associate and The Daughters of the American Revolution: $1500.00.
ü Winner, 42nd Annual Carnegie Speech Contest: Abigail Kolinkowicz.
Gavin Vale’s Dream:
Credit Where Credit is Due
“Let’s see now, let’s see now, how are we going to handle this?” Mr. Draper leans back in his big black reclining chair. He’s got one of those binder clips, the ones that hold together tall stacks of paper, and he keeps opening and closing it--click, click, click. “So. You missed three days total--one class discussion, a quiz and an oral presentation.”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t skipping,” I tell him. “My mom needed…”
Mr. Draper holds up his hand. “You know what? There’s an old saying about excuses and certain other body parts that I’m not going to repeat right now, but the upshot is this: Everybody’s got ‘em, and they all stink.”
“No, no, really; I’m not interested,” says Mr. Draper. Click, click with the binder clip. “My domain is my classroom. That’s what I know; that’s what I control. The record shows you simply were not in my class for three days. I don’t care why. The absences are excused, so you can make up the points, but now we just have to figure out how. Period.” Click.
He says, “This is what you’re going to do.”
Here we go. Mr. Draper is infamous for his makeup work. Basically, if you miss class, you’re going to have to do three times as much work as the kids who were there. Ernie Drown once told me he came to school with strep throat just so he wouldn’t have to do Draper’s makeup assignment. It’s ridiculous; it’s unfair; and, from the smug look on Draper’s face as he starts to describe the assignments to me, it’s a type of torture my teacher deeply enjoys.
“I don’t want you to waste your breath.”
“I have this.” I pull from my pocket what looks like a credit card, complete with the magnetic strip on the back. It’s designed with our school colors—deep blue background, yellow letters that spell out “Balance Card.”
Mr. Draper leans forward in his chair and drops the binder clip. “I don’t take bribes, if that’s what you’re suggesting. At least, not small ones.” He laughs, but it sounds a little forced.
“This is new, Mr. Draper. The school board just approved its use. You see, I brought something to their attention. I told them that…”
“The school board? You went to the school board?”
“Don’t interrupt, Mr. Draper. Yes, I went to the school board and reminded them about our school’s mission statement, particularly the part about balance.” I take out my iPhone and read. “‘Bradford School district strives to help students lead balanced, healthy lives.’ This card, Mr. Draper, is a mechanism that I created, at the school board’s request, to help fulfill the mission statement.”
“Wait a minute. This credit card is supposed to…”
“It’s not a credit card. It’s a balance card. Here’s how it works: Let’s take, for instance, the three days I was out of your class. I was not skipping. I was not sick. I was helping my mother move her mother into an assisted living facility for two of those days, and then I went on a college visit the third day. Those are worthwhile activities, don’t you think?”
“That’s not the point. Worthwhile or not…”
“Actually, that’s exactly the point,” I continue. “After submitting my days’ activities to the school board and having them verified, they have awarded me 50 balance points for those days. And now, I simply pull up my grade on the portal.” I fiddle with my iPhone for a second, then show it to Mr. Draper, whose face reads sweet, complete confusion. “There’s my grade in this class, with zeros for the missing days. I just swipe my balance card through my card reader on my phone, type in where the points should be applied…”
“Wait, that’s not something you can mess with!” Mr. Draper shouts.
“I’m not messing; I’m balancing. There. The zeros are all filled in, full credit. And look--the three days only added up to 40 points, so I still have ten balance points left on my card. Nice, huh?”
Mr. Draper turns to his computer and starts typing. “Well, that’s cute, Mr. Vale, but I am simply going to override that change and…”
“You can’t override a balance card change, sir, not without going to the school board yourself.” I reach over and pick up his binder clip, snap it a couple of times. “Sheesh, that’s a powerful little thing. Careful it doesn’t bite you. Have a good day.”
I turn to leave. Mr. Draper sputters, “Now just a minute! You can’t…”
“Oh, I can. I did. Good-bye, sir.”
Walking out the door, I feel so satisfied, so complete, so utterly balanced.
Reality Check: Dream 9
ü Total hours Gavin Vale spent making up three class periods of Mr. Draper’s class: 6.5.
ü Total hours Mr. Draper spent reading and grading Gavin Vale’s makeup work: .05.
Ernest Drown’s Dream:
A Different Note
I press on the latches of my trumpet case, one at a time--click, click. I lift the top of my trumpet case to find my trumpet, silver and shining. No surprise there. Today is Wednesday. On Wednesdays, my day begins with band. The clock says 7:55. I’m five minutes early, which, for me, means I’m on time. “To be early is to be on time,” my father always says. I am my father’s son.
This is Wednesday. This is band. This is my trumpet.
Before I remove my trumpet from its case, I take out the mouthpiece. I have two in the case--a 3c and a 3f--but I’ve outgrown the first one, the 3c; I haven’t taken it out for two years. I take out my 3f mouthpiece, hold it up to look through it to see that it’s clean, then put it to my lips. The metal is cold. I blow through my mouthpiece to warm it. I take out my silver trumpet and put the mouthpiece where it belongs. I blow air through my trumpet. I play a couple of sustained notes. This is what I do. This is what I do on Wednesdays, when I have band. It is my routine.
And so it goes as more people arrive and go through their routines--their talking, their joking, their taking out of instruments, their warming up (though few warm up as thoroughly as I do). And so it goes when Mr. Anderson comes in with his coffee mug and taps on the conductor’s stand with his baton. Tap, tap, tap. Though that’s the signal to get everyone’s attention, Mr. Anderson has to tap several more times for everyone to quiet down. I was quiet before even the first tap. I had been playing my scales, each one automatic, my fingers and my lips knowing what to do from repetition, but when Mr. Anderson came in and lifted his baton, I stopped playing and focused on him.
As I do on Wednesday mornings, band mornings. As I will do for the rest of the day, too--passing from one class to the next, performing my routine. I know someone could say that every day is different, just a little. I don’t disagree with that. Yet today’s Wednesday morning, compared to the memory of every other Wednesday morning behind me and every future Wednesday morning I see stretching out in front of me, feels exactly the same.
Not that it has to be.
That’s the thought that scratches at me like little hairs beneath my collar. Arriving, opening my trumpet, warming up, watching others arrive, I kept thinking about the possibility of breaking the routine. I could do something different. I could do an innumerable array of things different.
Mr. Anderson lifts his baton. We are about to start to play John Philips Sousa’s “The Invincible Eagle.” We are going to start the morning with a march, the epitome of predictability. I know the piece almost by heart. I lift my horn.
I don’t have to lift my horn. I’m supposed to lift my horn because the trumpet part starts at the very beginning of the tune. Mr. Anderson’s baton comes down and I play. I dutifully follow the promptings of the notes and cadence of Mr. Anderson’s baton. The tune isn’t hard. The tempo isn’t fast. The notes are no surprise. My fingers move; my lips adjust. Around me, the music forms. It’s not perfect. Someone keeps squeaking in the clarinet section, but the tune comes through as it always has.
I could throw down my horn. I could stand and shout to Gail Moore, “You’re an unholy troglodite!” I could swallow my mouthpiece. I could run up to Mr. Anderson, grab his baton and stab him in the eye with it. I could do any of these things. I have the power and the ability to change things, shift the routine, right now.
I do not. I keep playing, obeying the rests and the curlicues that indicate when I should play and how I should play so “The Invincible Eagle” comes out sounding just like “The Invincible Eagle.” Is this how I will live my life, not just on Wednesdays, not just during band, but my whole life?
We come to the end of the song. Mr. Anderson is making the final movements with his hands. In less than a measure, the tune will end with a definite “bump,” as marches do. Ba-da, ba-da, ba-da, bump. Silence. End of march. My fingers move in concordance with the notes. My eyes read, my fingers and lips obey. We are two seconds from the end of “The Invincible Eagle” when the thought occurs to me, This Eagle is not invincible. Mr. Anderson swings the tip of his baton in a tight circle with his right hand; his left hand clenches into a fist, all to signal the final bump to end the piece.
I hold the note.
Everyone else is silent. I hear the chairs shuffling against the floor as people turn to look at me. I see Mr. Anderson glaring, his baton and his left hand frozen in the position to end the march. I hold the note for five seconds, then ten, then another two, and then I let it trail off into silence. I put down my trumpet. Everyone continues to stare. My heart thumps in a way I have never remembered it thumping before. It’s intense and frightening. I like it.
Mr. Anderson’s look softens from a glaring to contemplative.
“Ernie,” he says.
“Yes, sir?” I answer.
“Could you hold that even longer, long enough for us to get ready to segue right into the next tune? What do you think?”
I say, “I think that would be a fascinating break from the routine, sir.”
And so it is.
Reality Check: Dream 10
ü Band grade and comment for Ernest Drown: “A+. Ernest is as reliable as a metronome!”
ü Note in Ernest Drown’s lunch, from his father: “Ernie, I know I rely on you a lot, particularly since Mom has been sick. I need you to stay steady for us all. Last night, your rebellion was perfectly natural and normal, but please, son—not now. Love, Dad.”