By Ava Casab (‘23)
I’m not a vocal person: when given the chance to speak, I much prefer to stay silent. It makes it much easier to watch what’s happening around you, to notice all the tiny details of everyday life. Like, for example, the fact that there are exactly 34 steps on the north staircase of the school building. Or the knowledge that there are exactly 21 blue doors in the building and 33 grey ones (not including the doors inside the main office).
It might not seem like there’s a point to memorizing these weird facts. I didn’t think there was much of a point at first, either. But eventually my silent watching brought benefits, the likes of which I never could have imagined.
It was 2:30pm on December 18th, and Mrs. Kerrels’ English class was chaotic. Winter break was set to begin in 45 minutes, and nobody could sit still. I was sitting in the very back, reading some book about finches or whatnot. It honestly wasn’t that interesting, but to me, a boring book was always better than social interaction.
Mrs. Kerrels was a good teacher. She was well known across the school for her spelling Kahoots and the first place prize for their winners- an entire bag of Jolly Ranchers. I loved Jolly Ranchers, especially the watermelon ones, but I never dared participate in the Kahoots, because I knew if I were to win everyone would bombard me with pleas for just one, please, you have so many! I was not willing to deal with a crowd around my locker.
Mrs. Kerrels snapped her fingers a few times, trying to get the classroom’s attention. Eventually everyone quieted down enough so that we could hear her.
“As you all know well, winter break is set to begin in… forty-ish minutes. I think this calls for a Kahoot, don’tcha think? But not a spelling one- I have a special one, about the school,”
“Why would we do a kahoot about the school?” one kid interrupted.
“Because,” Mrs. Kerrels replied, opening a drawer of her desk, “this is the prize,”
The class was quiet for one, two seconds, then immediately everyone started screeching. In her hand she held not just a normal size bag of Jolly Ranchers, but a mega-bag. The thing was twice the size of my head. My heart began racing. I was considering doing something I had never done before. I was considering participating in the Kahoot.
“So,” she continued, “the code is on the whiteboard. I trust you all know the rules. Good luck!”
And for the first time ever, I pulled out my phone, opened kahoot.it on Safari, and entered the code when prompted.
The Kahoot started off with some basic stuff, like who the school founder was and what year it was founded and all that. I was honestly kind of surprised how many kids seemed to not know this stuff. Not that I’d necessarily expected them to know, but you’d think they’d at least get one of those two right. I easily breezed through the first five or so questions, not really paying attention to my placement. It wasn’t until after question six that I started to get nervous about it.
“And in first place at the moment, we have… DapperDuck83! I wonder who that is,” Mrs. Kerrels said, a lilt in her voice at the end. I froze in my seat. Oh no this is not good they’re gonna find out it’s me eventually- the voice in my head just wouldn’t stop. But for once I continued through the Kahoot, answering the questions a full ten seconds ahead of everyone else, blocking out the nervous screams in the back of my brain in favor of the quiet whispers of a new presence in my head. It felt strong, and warm, and brave. It felt like confidence. And I, for what was probably the first time in my life, decided to let it loose.
How many steps are on the north staircase?
Not including the doors in the office, how many blue doors are there in the building?
How many grey doors (not including office doors)?
33, duh. Are these supposed to be hard?
The rest of the Kahoot passed by in a blink of an eye. Before I knew it, Mrs. Kerrels was asking for the identity of DapperDuck83. And then I was raising my hand, the classroom erupting into chaos, a mega-bag of Jolly Ranchers being thrown in my face.
I felt pride and fear, happy and terrified, as the bell finally rang. I threw my bag over my shoulders and dashed for the door, but I couldn’t make it a single step past the door frame, not with the huge group of people surrounding me.
“Hey, can I have a few?” one girl asked from my side, making grabby hands at the bag which I clutched closer to my chest.
“Dude, c’mon, share a couple, there’s like, at least a hundred in there!” another guy shouted from somewhere behind.
“Please can I have, like, three? I promise I’ll make it up to you!” someone else exclaimed.
I was drowning in a sea of voices. I could barely hear anything coherently. The air was suffocating, my brain racing to think of an escape route. The sweet tones of Mrs. Kerrels telling everyone to back off hardly registered in my head. All I knew was that I didn’t feel safe.
Biology dictates that there are three responses to fear- fight, flight, and freeze. Fighting involves physically harming whatever is scaring you. Freezing involves standing very still, like you’re shell shocked. The last of the three, flight, is simple. Run.
And so I pushed my way out of the crowd and sprinted down the hall all the way to the boys’ bathroom, threw myself in a stall, locked the stall door, sat on the toilet, and sobbed. I probably sat there and cried for what was a good eight minutes before I heard a knock on the stall door.
“Hey, dude, you in there?” a voice asked. At first I didn’t recognize it at all, but then I realized it was a dude from my English class. Henry, I thought. I hadn’t interacted much with Henry, maybe once in a group project. But at the moment, the soft tone of his voice was too inviting to pass up. I stood up, unlocked the stall door, and simply looked. Brown eyes met hazel ones and I couldn’t think straight anymore, throwing myself onto him in a hug.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Kind of.” I replied.
We sat there together for a bit, not talking or anything, just hugging. It was nice. I had never really done something like that before.
Eventually he broke the silence. “People, am I right?”
“Huh?” I replied.
“Social interaction, I mean. Like, talking to people. It’s the worst.”
“Ah, yeah, it’s not usually very fun.”
He brings his fingers up to his chin as if in deep thought. “I wish there was a way you could just stay at home instead of come to school, but like, still learn and stuff.”
“I was thinking robots, ones that look exactly like you, that you could send to school and they’d go to all your classes for you, and you’d just have to get them to record the lessons or something.”
“I wish I had a robot clone. I could force it to do my homework.”
“If you make one I expect a fifty percent share since it was my idea.”
“Do Jolly Ranchers count?”
“Depends. Do you have cherry ones?”
“I can neither confirm nor deny that.”
“Hm. I guess watermelon will suffice.”
“Nope, I am taking all of the watermelon ones for myself because they are the best. You can have the grape ones,” I say, ripping open the bag and tossing a light watermelon-pink one into my mouth.
“Why would I want the grape ones? Is there anyone on this planet that would voluntarily eat a grape Jolly Rancher?”
“You know Emma from math class? They’re her favorite.”
“Didn’t Emma try to pay you to write her English essay last year?”
“Actually she did. I declined because I have good morals.”
“You’re sitting there eating three watermelon Jolly Ranchers at once and denying me even one and you’re telling me you have good morals?”
“Yes I am.
It felt like hours that we sat there together, talking about Jolly Ranchers and robots and movies and TV shows, whatever came to mind. I’d never felt so calm talking to someone. Sure, I’d had friends in the past, but none of them really stuck around for longer than a year. I hoped, with all of my heart, that maybe this would be my chance at having a forever friend- that maybe Henry, in all his sitting-on-the-bathroom-floor-and-trying-to-steal-my-Jolly-Ranchers glory, would be that person.
“So. How are we going to get out of here without being seen with the Jolly Ranchers?”
“Don’t worry, I took ninja classes in second grade, I got this. Follow my lead!”
And if I snuck a cherry-red Jolly Rancher into the palm of Henry’s hand as we snuck out of the school with stealth like no seventh-grader had done before, nobody had to know.