“Psst. Over here.”
I glanced furtively to my left. Jamie was one row over, dangling a folded square of paper over the edge of her desk. A note. How could I grab it without attracting the attention of my math teacher, the man whose sporadic, jerky movements had caused many a piece of chalk to fly haphazardly into the face of an unsuspecting sixth-grader? I watched carefully as he called on someone at the other end of the classroom, extending my arm slowly and snatching the paper from Jamie’s fingers.
That test was BS, it read in her round, bubbly handwriting. Can you believe I got a 78? My mom is gonna KILL me.
I quickly flipped my own test face down, hiding the big red “100%” from Jamie’s view. I know, I scrawled underneath her words. Totally ridiculous. SO unfair. Before the teacher had a chance to turn around, the note was back in her hands.
The bell rang and I swung open my desk, looking for my language arts notebook. The test fluttered to the floor. I got down on my hands and knees to grab it, but I wasn’t quick enough. Someone else got there first.
“You dropped this,” Jamie said coldly, shoving the paper into my desk.
I closed the lid and looked at her guiltily. “Thanks,” I said quietly, averting my eyes.
“Seriously, you got a hundred?”
“Yeah, I guess I got lucky or something.”
She laughed, that awful unkind laugh that made me want to crawl under my desk and stay there until my 13th birthday. “You didn’t get lucky.” Her tone was accusatory. “You always get hundreds on everything. God, you’re such a freak.”
I didn’t reply. Jamie was so much smaller than me, but she had the power to make me feel like a tiny ant ready to be squashed by her giant foot. We walked next door to language arts, neither of us saying a word, tears brimming in my eyes. I hated the thought of her seeing me cry. As I took my seat, her voice filled my ears. “God, you’re such a freak.” I was. Oh, yes, I was a freak. What on earth was wrong with me?
My LA teacher started rattling off spelling words at the front of the room. Words I knew; words I could spell in my sleep. What a freak. Sixth graders aren’t supposed to know how to spell all these words. Disappointment. One s, two p’s. Obviously. Me. I was a disappointment. I was a freak. I was never going to fit in anywhere. Not me. The freak.
I scribbled down the twenty words on the yellow paper in front of me. Then carefully, oh so carefully, I erased six of them and rewrote them. Wrong.
We passed our pretests to the right. Mine went to Jamie. She rolled her eyes and started doodling with blue ink on her palm.
She didn’t even correct my pretest. She just handed it back to me, refusing to meet my gaze.
I got a 14/20 for her. That was a 70%. A black mark on my record, and I did it so she wouldn’t think I was a freak. But she didn’t care. Jamie could always find some reason to torture me, this one was just easy and convenient and barely required her attention. I groaned, letting my head fall down onto my desk with a loud thud. How stupid was I?
I wasn’t ready to stand up to her, not yet. I was twelve, and lonely, and hopelessly manipulable. It would be almost a year before I would decide I’d finally had enough. But that Friday, I sat down for my spelling test and I spelled every single word correctly, and I thought, well, freak or not, this was one thing nobody could ever take away from me. I would never again give up my words.