David Lossing peered at me through his glasses, mad professor hair springing from his scalp. “The same kids have been running the class since middle school. Pick an office. I don’t care which. Just throw your name into the race.”
I’d only attended New Smyrna Beach High School for a year. I’d have to take David’s word for it. “Hey, wait a minute. This is my class we’re talking about, not yours!”
“That’s not the point. The point is the school is long overdue for a shake-up.”
My girlfriends clustered around us, all talking at once, agreeing with David.
Susan Sigler’s long, crimson fingernails danced in front of her Cincinatti Red’s T-shirt as she spoke. “Go for vice president. It’s just a figurehead position.”
“Then why don’t you do it?”
Susan let out a puff of frustration. “Hello, I’m co-editor of the yearbook. When would I have time to run the class?”
I eyed the others. Sue Ellen Henderson and Diana Knox, like David, were members of the class behind me. My gaze skimmed over Jackie Herold—she’d just landed a big-girl secretarial job after school every day—and smacked into Rhonda Reichel.
Rhonda threw up her hands. “You’re forgetting I have to study, commute all the way from Samsula to school every day, manage the track team—and don’t get me started on my career at the chicken farm.” Her nose scrunched in distaste. “Besides, everyone remembers you from being last year’s new girl peg-legging around school with a broken ankle.”
She had a point…
My mind hopscotched back a few months to my failed run at cheerleading. Diane Schneider and I had lived to laugh about it. What was the worst thing that could happen when you’d already endured an epic fail?
I filled out the form and returned it to the office
A week later, I heard during announcements I’d have to give a five-minute speech in front of the entire senior class.
Are you kidding? I stared at the offending speaker box in the corner of Mrs. Spurgeon’s journalism class. I’d spent long minutes last year trying to convince Assistant Principal Phillips that NSBHS’s mandatory speech class classified as cruel and unusual punishment. Martin County High School hadn’t required the course. I deserved an exemption due to emotional duress.
No dice, he’d said. The man had no heart.
I’d come down with daily headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and a host of real and imagined ailments just surviving Mrs. Clift’s minimum three speeches for the semester. Now I had to give the grandmamma of all speeches—five freaking minutes—in front of 310 of my peers. This made coming in dead last out of 100 girls at cheerleading tryouts sound like tripping on my shoe string.
Sue Ellen “Bat,” queen of the debate team—who would one day orate her way to a law degree and VP of Habitat for Humanity—advised, “Practice your speech in front of the mirror.”
But I did it—so many times my fifth grade brother, R.J., wanted to hurl my “fresh voice of a new era” into the Indian River between our house and the high school.
On the day of the assembly I edged into my chair on stage and fisted the fabric of my dress at my sides. Tremors sprinted up and down my rib cage.
If I live through this I will never do another thing David Lossing tells me to do, so help me, God.
I’d sailed past caring whether I won hours ago. My sole goal was to not emit any embarrassing bodily functions on stage.
Beautiful, sunny, brainy Dale Ann Clark, all business, outlined her presidential plans.
When my turn came, I stood behind the podium, gripping my note cards with both hands. I inhaled, exhaled five minutes worth of words, and jellyfished onto my chair.
Without committing social suicide.
By the time blood started flowing back to my fingertips and the frontal lobe of my brain, Ms. Eason announced we’d be voting for Homecoming Court along with class officers.
I filled in the class government ballot, insuring I’d get at least one vote, then pondered who to write down for Homecoming. Dale Ann. Definitely.
Two class periods later the PA kicked on with a blare of static.
The new officers of the class of 1976 were President Dale Ann Clark, Vice President Ann Fetterman, Secretary Chris Stevenson, and Treasurer Tina Chaney.
Every eye in the classroom landed on me as bright arrows of shock ricocheted around my body.
Mr. Cuthbert cleared his throat over the intercom, and part of my brain thought about how hilarious he’d been teaching American History in summer school. The other half panicked. What did a vice president do, anyway?
Mr. Cuthbert intoned, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the 1975-76 Homecoming Court. Dale Ann Clark—”
“Debbie King, Teresa Raulerson, Patty Martin, and Ann Fetterman.”
The classroom buzzed with the news. People smiled at me, slapped me high fives.
I sat dazed, shaking my head. What kind of glorious mistake had just gone down? I was the second grader who braided her own hair into Pippi Longstocking sticks for her school photo, the girl whose Cuban neighbors polished her shoes before they took her to the movies.
Gobsmacked, I wandered into the hall when the bell rang. I grabbed Susan by the elbow. “How. Did. This. Happen?”
Susan gave a no-nonsense shake of her head. “You were sitting on the stage in front of the entire class. We were voting. Easy peasy.”
Best freak accident of my life. Well, series of accidents—the broken ankle that gave me notoriety, then my lapse in judgement, letting David goad me into sedition.
The windfall of cool sparkled with wonder down through the weeks and months of my senior year. It soaked deep into the seams of my history, smoothing the ragged scars inside.
The day we were to vote for Homecoming Queen, each of the candidates paraded through the auditorium to her favorite song. I chose Janis Ian’s At Seventeen about an ugly, ignored girl—a weird choice for a girl being honored as attractive and popular. But the song told the truth underneath my skin. Dad had written it there when I was six and seven and eight and every other year. I banked on the student body believing I chose the song because I was seventeen.
Today, part of me pushes black beads across the abacus. The agent who blistered my latest literary baby. Migraines logged on the calendar. Red digits in my profit column. Dreams growing beards in my brain.
I gnarled young. And the storms we all weather wizened and sometimes warped me.
But I’ve known the wonder of being crowned cool.
My friend, Carol Rivers, said last week, I’m not the Eyeore I see silkscreened to my psyche. I’m better than that.
I want to prove her right—to count every white bead of wonder. My grandbaby’s first smiles. Meringue melting in my mouth. The scent of gardenias in the desert. The caress of my husband’s hand. Bright music of affirmation from those who love me.
Today I’ll walk in wonder.