Memoir, Continued...

Like A Regular Kid...

Over the summer, I have changed into a new person. When I ended my sophomore year, I was a wiry, immature kid with not many friends and barely any social skills. But I have learned a little bit about myself. I made friends with Jason, Andrea and Joe, and learned that there were people in this world that thought I was “cool.” I made friends with the homeless people, and learned that there were people who thought I was wonderful, and who loved having me around. I almost succeeded in getting myself moved out of my parents’ home, failed, got in huge trouble instead, and learned that I could survive anything.
Right before school starts, I began wearing a red bandana headband around my head. To this day I have no idea why I decided to wear it, except that Al, one of the homeless guys, always wore one. Maybe it was a symbol of solidarity with him and the other homeless people who I was barely ever able to see anymore. At any rate, that bandana changes many things for me at school. Because I wear a bandana, people who have never noticed me before suddenly start noticing me, and thinking I am cool. Even my gym teacher from last year… a man who seemed thoroughly annoyed by my lack of athletic skills and the lack of acceptance I got from the other kids… now greets me when he seesme in the hallway. “Hi, Hippie Girl,” he calls, or, “Smile, Hippie!”
I am in a different gym class this year. My teacher was Mr. Mozack, a more easy-going guy who doesn’t really care one way or another if I participate in gym. Last year I reluctantly participated in all of the horrible sports that were foisted upon me. My strategy had consisted mostly of holding perfectly still, doing nothing, trying to remain unnoticed, so nobody would kick a ball my way or expect me to whack a hockey puck. (I did, somehow, get a reputation for having a mean underhand volleyball serve, a secret weapon for whatever team I happened to be on!) This year, in Mozack’s class, I don’t even bother to pretend. I just sit on the sidelines and watch the other kids play, wearing my spotless gym uniform and my bandana. Mozack doesn’t seem to mind; he seems mildly amused by me. One day, he assigns people to teams by pointing at them and then pointing to the side of the gym they should go to. When he gets to me, he grins and points up at the ceiling. The other kids laugh along with me as I head to my usual spot on the sidelines.
Maybe my bandana has magical powers!

However, some random school rule apparently mandates that nobody can wear bandanas. The administrators are constantly telling me to take it off. Usually I just pull it off until I get out of their site, and then put it back on. But one day one of the administrators sees me wearing it and tells me, “If I see you wearing that thing again, you’re going to have in-school suspension.”
I keep it off. I’m not ready to be that rebellious!
That day in gym class, one of the girls in my class, a girl with long bleach-blond hair whom I’ve never had any other classes before, asks me, “Where’s your bandana?”
“I can’t wear it anymore or I’ll get in-school suspension,” I say.
“Aw, man, that sucks!” says the girl. “That was, like, your trademark!”
The girl, whose name I find out is Carla, talks to me just about every day after that. She thinks its funny that I just sit out of class every day, instead of participating in gym. She tells me that she would sit out, but she got in huge trouble last year, and got kicked out of school, and had to go to the Life Skills and Educational Alternatives Program. When she tells me about LEAP, it sounds pretty cool, and I wish I could go there. She says it was basically just one classroom, and kids worked independently all day long, and all the teachers gave her special privileges because she was nice to them.
Sometimes, Carla does sit out with me. We spend all gym period talking, or we play Dirty Hangman. Dirty Hangman is just like regular Hangman, except you spell out dirty words or swear words.
We find out we have the same lunch hour, too, which happily means the end of my sitting all alone at lunch! Now I sit with Carla and her friends, who happen to be the stoners of the school. Me and Carla barely ever eat lunch, except when the cafeteria is serving Stuffed Shells or Fried Chicken. The rest of the time we subsist on sodas and junk food from the vending machines. Or we order things piece-meal from the cafeteria. For instance, if the hot lunch being served is Salisbury Steak, mashed potatoes, carrots, and bread pudding, we’re likely to go through the line and order plates full of mashed potatoes and several servings of bread pudding. The lunch ladies have trouble figuring out what to charge us for these weird meals, and often let us take the food for free.
Being Carla’s friend also means I finally have a reason to use my off-campus lunch privilege! I always had it before, but I never really had anywhere to go. Now, after me and Carla finish eating lunch, we walk with the other stoners to a neighborhood playground, where everyone except me smokes cigarettes.
School is no longer a miserable experience for me. I feel almost like a normal kid.

Adding to my normal kid experience is the fact that I have made friends with those girls in the park… the ones who helped me escape from the bicycle cop, at the end of the summer. They are a few years younger than me, but I have always been young for my age, so the difference is barely noticeable. One girl in particular, Lena, becomes like a best friend to me. I go to her house every day after school, and spend most of my weekends there too. During the day, we ride our bikes all over God’s green earth, in sun or rain or snow, often ending up at the park, where the neighborhood stoner kids hang out at the same band shell where me and the homeless people watched the bands play on the Fourth of July. It is a convenient spot for me, because the homeless people still hang out there. Many of the stoner kids have befriended them. So, I can actually visit with them, while blending in with the other kids for safety!
Ironically, Lena is not allowed to be at the park either, because over the summer her mother caught her smoking there. So whenever we go there, it is a huge conspiracy, and we have to concoct stories to tell her parents about where we were. (Since we barely ever go to my house, all I ever have to tell my parents is, “I was hanging out with Lena.”)
Lena and I like to go into the Mexican grocery store in town, and buy Cokes in glass bottles, and little packaged cups of flan. We like to go into the regular grocery store to get free samples and to steal pieces of candy from the bulk bins. We like to climb up onto the windowsill of the bars and watch the people get drunk at four o’clock in the afternoon. We try to dye our hair with food coloring. (It seems to work, except when we get caught in the rain on our bikes, and the food coloring rinses out of our hair, leaving rainbow streaks down our faces!) We go to the thrift store and search for random items of clothing that nobody but us will think is cool. At night we lie in her double bed and listen to her stepdad’s classic rock records over and over, all night long.

Towards the end of the first semester, my school has a poetry slam. I have recently written a long, rambling poem called “Crazy Eyes,” which is supposed to be about my experiences of hanging out with the homeless people and then being taken away from them. The thinly-disguised girl in the poem is “wild, lonely, hungry, free,” and always seems happy, even when she is seen eating from Dumpsters and hanging out with bums. When she is taken away from the streets, she becomes miserable, and cries all the time. The poem ends with the lines, “But street kids don’t die, they multiply. Ain’t that what you used to say? And you know, kid, you’ll be okay… someday.”
My English teacher is blown away by my poem, and she enters it in the school’s poetry slam, which has been set up by the Writer’s Club… a club I actually attended myself a few times during freshman year, but had trouble sitting still and paying attention for. My whole English class gets to go to the poetry slam instead of having regular class, just because I’m going to be in it. I read my poem aloud. The audience claps wildly, and I end up winning third place. For a while I am famous around the school, with kids I don’t know coming up to me in the hallway to congratulate me and tell me they liked my poem.
I am happy… blissfully happy… and I wish it would never end!


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