Once upon a time there was an eighteen-year-old girl who dragged her butt out of bed and hauled it all the way to school on a sunny day in May.
That was me.
Normal kids (like me) thought high school was cool for the first three days in ninth grade. Then it became a big yawn, the kind of yawn that showed the fillings in your teeth and the white stuff on your tongue you didn’t scrape off with your toothbrush.
Sometimes I wondered why I bothered. Normal kids (me again), we weren’t going to college, no matter what anybody said. I could read and write and add and do nails and fix hair and cook a chicken. I could defend myself and knew which streets were cool at night and which neighborhoods a white girl like me should never, ever wander in.
So why keep showing up for class?
Blame my fifth-grade teacher.
Ms. Valencia knew she was teaching a group of normal kids. She knew our parents and our neighborhood. Couple times a week she’d go off on how we absolutely, positively had to graduate from high school, diploma and all (like the GED didn’t count, which was cold), or else we were going straight to hell, with a short detour by Atlantic City to lose all our money in the slot machines. She made an impression, know what I mean?
Every kid who was in that fifth-grade class with me was graduating, except for the three who were in jail, the two who kept having babies, the one who ran away, and the two crack whores.
The rest of us, we were getting by.
I was getting by.
It had been a decent morning, for a Tuesday. No meltdowns at home. The perverts outside the shelter left me alone, and the Rottweiler on Seventh was chained up. A bus splashed through the puddle at the corner of Bonventura and Elk, but only my sneakers got soaked. It could have been worse. At least the sun was shining and some of my homework was done.
So I got to admit, I was in a half-decent mood that morning, dragging myself and my butt to school.
I had no clue what was coming
Copyright © 2005 by Laurie Halse Anderson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.