by Andrea Gregory
Every night I watch my father get shot in the head by foreign terrorists on a hijacked plane. I’m in therapy for it.
All of a sudden no one is invincible. My parents are just people. And my dad is one of those people who flies all over the world for business. I’m scared, and I’m not allowed to watch the news anymore.
I make my mother check on him. I expect her to scream when she sees his head has been blown off. But she doesn’t scream. She looks over at him. She assures me he’s sleeping and not dead. It was just a dream. She wants me to go back to bed. She falls back asleep with me standing there. It happens almost every night.
I’m the worst speller at school. We are tested every week, and I’ve started cheating. I write the words out on a small piece of paper and keep it in my desk. Evidence of my wrongdoing. There’s talk of holding me back, what with the spelling and all the school I’ve missed. We went to Germany for a few months. I missed a lot of spelling tests.
I have more books than friends. During recess, I hide in the coat closet and read. No one notices I’m not outside playing. You would think I would be a better speller because of all the reading I do, but no. I like the Sweet Valley Twins books. They’re about twin sisters. I have a brother, but he’s younger and always has a runny nose. If I had a sister, everything would be different.
Do I have to go through things alone? We read a poem in school about how no man is an island. Am I an island?
I get caught. Not cheating on my spelling tests but reading in the coat closet. My teacher’s name is Norma. I think she thinks it’s cool to go by her first name. The problem is Norma really isn’t a cool name. She takes my book away and tells me to go play.
Everyone is teasing Julia outside. Someone calls her ugly. Someone calls her gross. She doesn’t brush her hair or teeth. I know this because we had a sleepover once and she came with no brushes. But everyone knows this because it’s obvious by just looking at her. She might actually have cooties. Now, she has to wear glasses.
One of the boys pulls them off her face. He holds them above her head and laughs as she tries to jump for them. Everyone laughs. No one is an island? Julia is an island right now. I yell out for them to stop. The boy throws her glasses on the ground and everyone walks away to play foursquare on the other side of the playground. I pick up Julia’s glasses and hand them to her. She’s crying. She says this happens to her all the time. It’s worse on the bus, she says.
I know all about the bus. They call me animal because they think I’m not human or something. I think when people tell you something long enough, you start to believe it even if you don’t want to.
I’ll show them animal. I bite Kristen on the arm. I bite down as hard as I can, leaning over the back of my seat as she tries to pull away. Everyone thinks it’s funny until she screams. I leave a hole in her shirt. I’m sure there are bite marks on her skin. But no blood. I never tasted blood. She says I’m going to pay for this.
Greg lives two doors down from me. He goes to a different school and rides a different bus, but we’re the same age. When our parents get together, we play in his finished basement. It has an old black and white television set that’s always on, but no one is ever watching it.
We color a lot. Greg’s mom lets us tape our drawings on the walls, and she doesn’t even take them down when I leave. Our pictures feel permanent.
Greg’s father is sick. We don’t know what that really means. The adults don’t either yet. Greg says he doesn’t want to talk about it. Then he says they still go fishing all the time, more now than ever. I ask Greg if he’s going to cry because he looks like it. He tells me no and calls me stupid. Then he stares at me, and I can’t tell what he’s thinking. He dares me to kiss him on the lips. We count to three and kiss for a fraction of a second.
I know what it’s like to feel like you’re flying. There’s a bike trail that the older kids made. Or maybe the older kids before them made it. It’s been there forever. It starts with a really steep hill. You go down it and get a ton of speed. Then you just have to steer. All the neighborhood kids line up. We take turns, cheering each other on. It’s a wild ride.
I’ve done it a million times, but this time I lose control going around the second bend. I fall off my bike and land in poison ivy. My knee is scraped. I think I’m crying because it hurts, but I’m embarrassed. The kids laugh at first, but then leave their bikes to see if I’m okay. Greg isn’t here. His dad’s in the hospital. I get up and run home, abandoning my bike in the bed of poison ivy.
My mother asks what’s wrong, and I just hold on to her as tight as I can. My dad’s at work somewhere. My mom says all I need is a Band-Aid, and she lets go of me too soon. I never want to ride my bike again. But she tells me that’s not how it works. She says everyone falls off bikes. I tell her the other kids don’t. She says they will. What matters is getting back up.
I wait until the other kids all get called in at dusk before I go get my bike. I don’t get back on. Not right now. Not this time. I walk it home with one hand on the handlebars and one hand on the banana seat.
Tonight I will dream about my father getting shot.
I have another spelling test tomorrow. I make another cheat sheet. I will get another 100 on it, and everything will look like it’s okay.
Andrea Gregory is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She is currently working on a memoir about living with multiple sclerosis. This is her first published piece of creative nonfiction.
Photo credit: Alone. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 9 Jun 2016.