In retrospect, I should have lied to Ms. Henderson when she asked me what was wrong. I mean, I'm a teenage girl and we, as a group, are supposed to be moody, right? It's what Ms. Henderson, who was my English teacher, would call a "stereotype", like saying that the Irish are drunks or that my classmates are stupid, privileged lazy white kids who have parents that hire stereotypes to trim their hedgerows. Anyway, I could have just bullshitted the poor woman and told her that I was curled up in tears on the bathroom floor because I had cramps, or that my appendix had ruptured or "some boy" had told lies about me on Myspace or something, anything other than the truth.
"I hate this place", I told her between sobs," I wish I was dead."
Ms. Henderson, whose first name was Nancy and graduated from this very school, Charles Fort High, less than ten years earlier, got kinda nervous-sounding and looked around to make sure no one else was in the room.
"You know," she half-whispered, " sometimes I hated this place when I was your age. A lot, sometimes. But you have to remember that you are much smarter than the kids who pick on you. One day you'll look back and none of this will matter because you'll be somewhere else, doing something that you care about, doing something you love with your life."
"Oh, yeah?", I sneered at her, "you are smart and you came back. You hate this job. I can tell. I see you crying in your car in the mornings."
That was true. Everyone knew Ms. Henderson was really sad. Some of the kids would make little "boo-hoo" noises and pretend to wipe their eyes when she walked by in the hall. I think it was those kids she meant when she said I got' picked on'. I don't get picked on, I get ignored, which I guess is better; I mean, like, it doesn't usually make me cry or anything. Except maybe sometimes. A lot, sometimes.
But I knew I'd made a mistake when I mouthed off to Ms. Henderson. I thought she was going to break down and get all sobby on me, but instead she gave me one of the clumsiest hugs I ever had from a woman and said something really weird.
"Cindy," she told me, "of all my students, you are the one that I wish I could see grow up."
What the fuck was that supposed to mean? I mean, I'm almost seventeen. How much more grown-up do you get?
What I didn't know was that Ms. Henderson had quit a really good job at some big-ass Ivy League college, had given up her career and moved back here to Columbia to take care of her mother,a widow who had some kind of old-person disease and needed a lot of help- I also didn't know that her husband had left her - they had been having arguments about putting Nancy's mom in a home and it came out that Mr. Henderson had been fucking Ms. Greentree, the science teacher, which was kinda creepy because Ms. Greentree is really old, like over forty or something, plus she always acted extra-special nice to Nancy, like they were Best Teacher Friends Forever, while the whole time she was boning Nancy's husband. Ms.Greentree is pretty gross, if you ask me.
I did know that Ms. Henderson's- Nancy's- mother had died a few months ago, right before school started, but I didn't know how just how sad Ms. Henderson-I mean Nancy- really was. Nobody really did. Later, we heard that she was taking four different kinds of pills just so she could get happy enough to drive to work and cry in the parking lot. But I didn't know that then.
The evening after Nancy caught me crying, she went home and found out her divorce had been finalized. She filled up her tub with bubble bath, popped a bottle of champagne and used it to wash down a celebrity-sized handful of pills. Her death might have been ruled an accidental overdose if she hadn't used her lipstick to write "I hate this place" on the bathroom mirror in giant red letters.
Anyway, when I found out what she had written on the mirror , I felt like I shouldn't have told Nancy what I did. I started crying a lot more than I used to, which meant that I stopped getting ignored as much as I would have liked. Instead, I got a lot of attention from doctor-types who asked me about my feelings and why I cried all the time.
I didn't tell them that Ms. Henderson had quoted me in her suicide note. It made me feel crazy when I thought about that and when you are talking to a psychiatrist, the last thing you want is to feel crazy.
Well, I must have passed some kinda test or something because I didn't get put in the looney bin or anything, I just got some pills to "try for awhile". The pills made me cry more than I already was, so they gave me some other pills, but those made me really tired all day, so then I got yet another prescription and that one made me feel pretty happy except that I couldn't sleep very well, so they gave me another pill for that and by the time I graduated from High School I hardly ever cried anymore and I was sleeping like a baby. Even when my father died of pancreatic cancer, I didn't cry- I mean I did, a little, but I talked to a doctor I barely knew and he gave me some new pills that made me stop crying long enough to get through the funeral.
But I had spent so much energy on not crying that my my grades had slipped- and I was kinda bored with school anyway- and my mom was sorta messed up after dad died- so I decided to postpone college and stay at home for a year or so to help out my mom with the house and dad's stuff and all that. I took some classes at Howard Community and got a part-time job as a substitute teacher. It turned out that I liked my job, so I made plans to go to a "real" college and finish school, but then my mom's diabetes got really bad and I decided to stay home for a little longer and keep helping her.
She died two weeks ago. I have started crying again and I am finding it harder to get up in the morning and go to work no matter how many pills I take- substitute teachers aren't supposed to call in sick as much as I do, so I guess I'll probably lose my job soon. I will miss my students, some more than others.
I hate this place.