Flying down the winding back road on the way to town, I was tempted to check and see if the wheels were actually touching asphalt. Marica, my step-mom, drove like that whether she was behind the wheel of a tractor, lawn mower, or currently, the Mustang. Effective for getting us to church on time on Sunday mornings or beating the crowd to town for lunch, not so great when where I needed to be was a brand new high school for the first day of my Junior year.
A large high school with 900 something students. My last high school wasn't particularly small, but it was no where near that big. There were multiple levels and buildings connected by walkways. After registration, I'd nearly lost all my nerve thinking about this day.
Nausea began slithering its way in between the angry butterflies in my stomach who had denied me breakfast. The awkward way I was breathing gave away my anxiety. My jeans were getting damp from my sweaty hands; I couldn't stop the nervous swiping. Marcia reached for my left hand, and made me even more nervous by driving one-handed while looking at me. Reassuring me, she squeezed my hand and smiled. "You're gonna be fine."
No, I wouldn't. Because if I made it to school in one piece, I was the new kid. Again. In my hometown, but an outsider. The only other students I knew were a handful of kids I'd become acquainted with at church youth group when I'd been visiting my dad during the summers. They didn't count. I hadn't seen them in two years and they knew I was weird. They weren't weird.
The first two years of high school I'd flunked every other class, skipping school to get high and hide between the isles of the top floor of the public library. And while I can say I never stole a cigarette from my mother, I had no qualms with smoking ones my friends had lifted from theirs. We were awkward and full of angst, me and my small group of friends. Rebels united by the tumultuous homes we came from.
Walking off the plane that summer, I was a born-again good kid. As aimless and lost as a sailboat without a sail. I'd left the bad attitude with my broken-heart mother, turned in my rebel status, and had no cause to my name. The clothes in my suitcase were black, as was my eyeliner, my hair was purple, and my taste in music was bad. I'd returned to Georgia in a state of vast emptiness.
That summer both my sisters were living at home and occupied two of the three bedrooms in the house. So the couch became my bed. I had fallen out of a life of turmoil and into the whirlwind madness of wedding planning for my older sister. Marcia took a vested interest in helping me change my appearance. A woman on a mission, she bought me expensive jeans and tried hard to find me a style that we could both live with. With her help, I toned down the black eyeliner and donated my Johnny Cash wardrobe. And after a few hours in a shampoo bowl, my hair was brown again.
With every passing day, my tension and apprehension lessened. There was no screaming in my dad's house. I didn't hesitate leaving my room, for fear of being harassed or ridiculed. I stopped worrying about wearing pajamas around the house for fear of being looked at like a piece meat or fondled. The peace, it was indescribable. Of knowing that this summer, there was no end. There would be no long, heavy drive to Harts-field Jackson to put me on a two and a half hour flight back to Colorado and hell. There was nothing to dread. For the first time in my entire life things were so calm, it felt almost wrong.
All summer I had begged my dad to just let me get my G.E.D. Every time I'd asked he had refused, saying that as long as I lived with him, I would finish my last two years of high school. But I kept pleading, "I've failed almost an entire year! I'll never graduate on time!"
His response, "Try."
Now pulling up in the drop off area in front of the school, it loomed over me. On shaking legs, I stepped out on to the sidewalk. Marcia smiled like I was entertaining to watch, being so nervous. She was so confident that I had nothing to worry about. I frowned. Her confidence confused me.
I swung the heavy door of the Mustang shut and began walking towards the double, double doors. So many students were pushing their way in and out. No one looked at me. I had no class schedule yet. My sail-less sailboat was rocking.
I could spend the next two years here, like the previous two. But there was no one I was trying to piss off. I wanted to graduate, to make my dad proud. But I was afraid I wouldn't be able to.
But he had given me an out. If I would just try, then in two years if I didn't graduate, no one would say anything. So, I could try.