Tuesday, September 5th, 2017.
Today is my first day of high school. It's 6 AM, and I have a headache. I stand at the corner of my street, checking through my backpack to make sure I have everything. One binder, two folders, four new notebooks, several pens, pencils and highlighters, and a bag full of gym clothes.
The school bus pulls up to the curb. The door opens and I step inside, giving the driver a small nod as a greeting. All of the seats are empty, I am the first pickup. I quickly take a seat near the front as the bus starts moving. I figure it would be the best chance I have to make eye contact with one of my friends. If any of them have actually decided to talk to me yet. But given how everything ended between us, I'd be surprised if they're even speaking to each other.
Students enter the bus in groups of four or five, talking and laughing. As they walk down the aisle, people who were my lab partners or on my team in Gym during middle school say hi to me. I give them a small smile or a tired wave in response. I glance around the bus as we pull away from the final stop; It looks like I am the only one sitting alone.
We pull into the bus lot, passing the large sign sitting in front of the high school. 'Maple Ridge High - Welcome freshman class of 2017!' The large black letters spell out. Someone sitting near me is wearing way too much cologne, the smell makes my headache worse. I try to open my window, but the little latches are stuck and won't budge.
The older students are allowed to roam the halls until the bell, but the ninth-graders must report to the auditorium. As expected, we fall into various cliques: Jocks, Preps, Cheerleaders, Class Clowns, Gamers, Anime fans, Hipsters, Artists, Theater kids, Band kids, Goths, Emos, Stoners, Nerds, Skaters, Country kids, you name it. I stand among the groups, alone. I spent the last weeks of August watching cartoons. I didn't go to the mall, the pool or the lake, I didn't call or text anyone aside from family. I have entered high school with no one by my side.
I am just an Outcast.
I spot my old friends, but I don't see the point in trying to talk with any of them. Our clan has shattered and the pieces are absorbed by the other cliques. Jocelyn is with the Jocks, discussing their favorite sports and comparing bruises from summer activities. Zack drifts between the Artists on one side of the aisle and the Theater kids on the other. He was always the most extroverted of our group, and he's got plenty of personality to be with two groups. Mikey moved up to New York over the summer. No real loss, he was mostly Jocelyn's friend.
Some kids are laughing so loud behind me, I know their laughter is directed towards me. I hesitantly look over my shoulder. It's Riley, surrounded by a bunch of people wearing clothes that look way too expensive to have come from any of the malls around here. Riley Lambert, my ex-best friend, now a part of the Preps. We did practically everything together, and she was the one I trusted the most. If there is one person I'm dying to tell the truth about what happened, it's Riley. A strange burning sensation grows in my throat.
We make eye contact for a second. "I fucking hate you." She mouths silently, her smile quickly disappearing. She walks away, her new friends following. I suppose that could've gone better, but I'm not going to think about it. It's over now. The principal starts making his way towards the stage. I need to sit down
I quickly grab a seat as teachers walk across the aisle, informing students to take a seat and stop talking. The girl in the seat next to me turns her head and smiles. She's got fair skin, long blonde hair, dark blue eyes, and what I'd guess was a few thousand dollars worth of braces. I don't recognize her. "Hi, I'm Amanda." She says. "I'm new here. Are you also?" I don't have time to answer her question as the lights dim and the assembly begins.
We find our lockers and receive our schedules once we get back to homeroom.
Pd. 1 - Physical Education 9
Pd. 2 - Earth Science
Pd. 3 - Introduction to Business/Digital Photography/Health
Pd. 4 - English 9
Pd. 5/6 - American Studies
Pd. 7/8 - Algebra 1
Pd. 9 - Lunch
Pd. 10 - Art
The gym is on the other side of the school. I get lost and end up being late. My first year's off to a great start.
If there's one thing I've noticed so far, it's that my classes and my teachers are…interesting. In a good way or a bad way? It's too early to tell.
Earth Science, which we've learned about probably a hundred times now, already seems lame. At least our teacher, Mr. Walters, seems like he enjoys teaching this stuff. Oh well, I was never big on science.
I'm not sure what 'Intro to Business' is or how I got put into this class. It wasn't an elective I signed up for, but it seems like an easy class. We sit at computers, the teacher posts the lesson plan, we do the work. Everyone else is more interested in playing games or watching YouTube than working. How thrilling.
My English teacher, Mrs. Lucas is…a character. She has unkempt hair that falls onto her shoulders. The hair is black to her neck and then patches of bright red on the ends. Wonder what she did to piss off her hairdresser.
Mrs. Lucas wastes close to ten minutes taking attendance because she won't look at us. Her head stays bent over her desk so her hair flops in her face. We're told what books we're gonna be reading, then we get journals. She wants us to write in them every day, but promises not to read them. I write about how strange she seems.
I'll admit, I've always been a bit of a History nerd. But when it comes to American History, it's always the same thing every year. They tell us we're going to get up to present day, but we always end up stuck somewhere in the Industrial Revolution. We managed to get to World War I in seventh grade - that was pretty neat.
My American Studies teacher is Mr. Lewis, known as Coach Lewis to the jocks. Can't remember what team he coaches. Girls' soccer, I think? He seems friendly enough, but he doesn't seem too thrilled to be teaching History. I get the feeling this is going to be a class that consists of taking notes and working in packets, with the occasional test or quiz thrown in for grades.
After Algebra, also commonly known as Hell on Earth, comes ninth-period Lunch. God, I'm starving. Why did I have to get stuck with the last lunch period?
I don't have high hopes for the school food. But packing a sandwich or something slipped my mind while I was getting ready, so buying is the only solution. At least it will give me a chance to scan the cafeteria for a spot to sit.
The lunch consists of a chicken patty, tater tots, a small container of salad, and a cookie. I'm not sure how or if I can order something different, so I just slide my tray along and let the lunch ladies fill it. This tall senior in front of me somehow gets a cheeseburger, French fries, and a bag of chips. Must be on good terms with the lunch ladies, lucky him.
I grab a bottle of lemonade from the vending machine, trying to think of where I could sit. I don't want to sit by myself, that would feel awkward. I spot Riley and her new group of preppy friends, but they're too invested in their conversation to notice me. I see a few other people I used to consider friends, but they look away. There's the new girl, Amanda, sitting by the windows. I could sit across from her, start a conversation. Well, it's not like I have any other option.
Art is my last class of the day. The classroom is located at the far end of the building - I feel sorry for the students who have to walk all the way across the school to reach it. The room has large windows, designed to get every bit of light it can, the floor is covered with dry paint stains of various colors, sketches of plants and animals taped to the walls, the shelves crowded with dry clay pots. Something about it feels strangely…comforting. A radio perched on the teacher's desk plays a classic rock station.
Mr. Gallagher looks younger than the other teachers, maybe late twenties or early thirties. Tall, skinny, unkempt brown hair, the lenses of his glasses are splattered with little drops of paint water, his white t-shirt and jeans both stained with paint and clay. He's hunched over a spinning pot, his hands muddy-brown. He smiles and nods at us as we file into the class and sit down. "Welcome kiddos, to the only class that will teach you how to live." He says.
I sit at a table near his desk. Zack is also in this class, he's sitting a few tables away, closer to the door. I keep sneaking glances at him, trying to make eye contact with him. He doesn't look back. I wish I could sit with him. He knows art better than I do.
Mr. Gallagher turns off the wheel, wipes off his hands, and grabs a piece of chalk. 'SOUL.' He writes. "This little class, this is where you'll find your soul, your purpose. Where you can look at that part of you that you've never dared to look at before."
I look around the room. Raised eyebrows and confused mumbles wander through the room. This guy is weird. He must know it, he must've guessed what we're thinking. He continues rambling, saying that we'll graduate knowing how to read, write, and do math because at that point, we'll have spent thousands of hours learning how to read, write, and do math. (I could argue that.)
He rambles on. "Why not spend those hours on art? Painting, drawing, sculpting, you name it! Are words and numbers truly more important than self-expression? Who decided that crap?!" For someone who questions the value of words, he sure is talking a lot. I zone out for a while and come back when he holds up a huge wooden sphere that's missing the top half. "Anyone willing to tell me what this is?"
"It's a globe." A voice calls out from the back. Mr. Gallagher rolls his eyes. "No shit it's a globe. C'mon, give me a little creativity." Everyone's looking at him like he's crazy. "Was it a sculpture that some kid knocked over and he had to pay for it with his own money or they wouldn't let him graduate?" Another voice rings out.
Mr. Gallagher sighs and shakes his head. "Jesus Christ, you kids have no imagination. It's sad. This here's an old project I started years ago that got destroyed by some idiot movers. I contemplated just throwing it out, but then ideas struck. This broken globe could be used to show off some powerful visions. The opportunities are endless!"
What is he getting at?
"You will each pull a piece of paper out from the globe." He begins walking around the room, stopping at our tables so we can pull white scraps from the inside. "On the paper there will be one word, the name of an object. You will spend the rest of the school year coming up with ways to transform that object into a piece of art. You will sketch it, paint it, sculpt it, carve it. There is a catch, however. By the end of the year, you must figure out how to make your object say something, express an emotion, speak to every person who looks at it."
Some people groan. My heart quickens. Is he allowed to let us do this? It sounds like too much fun. I am the last table he stops at. I plunge my hand into the globe and fish out my paper. "Butterfly." Butterfly? How the hell am I supposed to make a butterfly express emotions? I'm tempted to reach in for another piece of paper. As if he read my mind, Mr. Freeman shakes his head. "You've just chosen your destiny, I'm afraid you can't change that." He says softly.
He pulls a large bucket of clay out from under the pottery wheel, breaks off fist-sized lumps, and tosses one to each of us. Then he turns up the radio and laughs. "Welcome to the journey, kiddos."