A young girl approaches her teacher and asks to be excused to go to the bathroom.  The teacher can barely hear her over the din of the classroom during groupwork, but waves her hand dismissively at her while she shouts across the room at a boy who is standing on his chair.

Out in the hall, in the sudden silence, the girl inhales deeply.  She clenches and unclenches her fists and she walks, tightlipped, to the girls’ bathroom a few doors down.  When she got there, she headed straight to the sink, gripping the cold porcelain tight while she tried to calm the racing in her head.

How could she have been so stupid.  She knows better. She knows she’s supposed to keep her mouth shut. Not speak until spoken to. Because when she just says what she wants to, she always says something so incredibly stupid.  And her best friend was always the first to point it out.

It was art class that she had just left.  A class she usually enjoyed.  Today there was a substitute, so art class really just consisted of pretending to use watercolors while talking to the kids at your table.  She tried to focus on her paper, entranced by the way the soft colors would appear on the paper as she dragged her paintbrush lazily across the page.  She was partly listening to her boy crazy friends talk about who they were crushing on.  She had actually turned twelve before all of her friends, but didn’t share their enthusiasm for the “hot eight grader” who loved to tease her best friend in the hall or the boys that they met at the Rec dance that weekend.

She was more interested in what would happen if she mixed the red and the blue paints together.

As she mixed the perfect shade of purple, she heard the same question being asked of each of her friends around the table, one by one.  Just as the subject started to change, she looked up.  She had been so enthralled in her work that she forgot her “be seen, not heard” mantra for a moment and asked, “Wait, what about me?”

When all eyes were on her with questioning looks, she suddenly felt a little lightheaded.  She couldn’t turn back now; the adrenaline was soaring through her veins at being the center of attention for this brief moment.  “You guys asked everyone if they had a boyfriend, why did you skip me?”

She felt her cheeks flush as the rest of the table joined in resounding laughter at the mere thought.  Her left hand clutched the rough fabric of her uniform skirt under the table while her right held her paintbrush upright and steady.

“Well? Do you?”

“Yeah, do you have a boyfriend?”

Before she could even process the sarcasm-laced question, her best friend scoffed.  “Of course not.”

“What if I did, though? You didn’t even ask. I could have a boyfriend that you guys don’t know about.”

The laughter got louder and it was as though her entire body was on fire.  She had panicked.  In any other situation, she would have been proud to admit she didn’t have a boyfriend. Boys were gross. She didn’t know what had happened to all of her friends, but they seemed to have forgotten about the whole cootie situation.  But the way her best friend had shrugged off the very idea, the way they all just assumed she didn’t, caused something inside her to snap. She was feeling defensive and at least wanted to convince them that it was possible.

Instead, they all just rolled their eyes at her as their laughter died down and shrugged her off the way you do a child who tells you they’re going to be a dinosaur when they grow up.  As if the very idea of someone wanting to date her was unthinkable.

Her best friend managed to get out a “uh huh, okay” between giggles before the conversation shifted back to whatever they were going to talk about before she opened her big mouth.  She couldn’t tell what they were talking about because her ears were ringing with anger.  At herself for speaking up, at them for being so cruel.  At herself again for not expecting that kind of reaction.  She hoped the teacher wouldn’t see her shaking hands or the tears that were starting to form behind her eyes when she asked to be excused.

When she finally let go of the sink, she didn’t bother to look up.  The mirrors were set a little too high for an elementary school and all she would have been able to see was the hate in her own eyes anyway. Instead she used her right hand to hold the hot water on while holding her left underneath.  She closed her eyes and focused her energy on feeling the water cascading over her fingers, her palm, her wrist.  She felt the water gradually grow warmer and was soothed by its heat.  When the water reached scalding she bit the inside of her lip, focusing on the feeling of her teeth digging into her skin instead of the scorching pain in her hand.  She held it there until her body overpowered her brain and jerked her hand away from the boiling stream.

There it was. She had it back. The will-power to stay quiet, no matter how much it hurt. The strength to withstand even the sharpest words and harshest looks.  She let out the breath she didn’t realize she was holding and wiped the few tears that had managed to escape off her face with the back of her hands.  She took a new breath in and held her head up, finally making eye contact with herself in the mirror.  As she smoothed the pleats of her skirt, she gave herself a curt not of approval at her new, steely expression.

She relaxed her shoulders as she headed back to the art room, pausing just before she opened the door.  She took one last breath and forced a casual smile on her face as she turned the knob and went back to her seat.

Next time, she wouldn’t be so stupid.

~ by Valerie Anne on 04/28/2011.

3 Responses to “Stupid”

  1. Twelve is indeed awful young to have so much self-hatred.


    Awful young.

    A very powerful and emotional piece. The notion that there is strength in self-inflicted harm? Yeah. I get that. At 12, you take your control where you can find it.


    Thank you for inviting me to read this, babe.


    • Thank you for reading it!

      And yes, at 12…at 14…at 17…when your life seems out of your hands…you take control where you can find it.

  2. […] to check out if you’re new here. Because my writing is all over the place. Sometimes I write fiction, sometimes I use prompts, sometimes I write Glee recaps [Gleecaps, if you will], sometimes I do […]

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