For The High School Sophomore


United States
43° 24' 8.622" N, 71° 59' 15.1908" W

For The High School Sophomore, Failing Math Class
At fifteen I drew a map of my high school
and stuck gold stars on all the girl’s bathrooms -
this is the best one for crying, for hiding, for skipping class because you are afraid of the wrath of a teacher whose class you skip too often.
I used to sit in the stalls and draw hearts on the scars on my knuckles.
At fifteen I was afraid to raise my hand, to break the spell of invisibility.
I thought nobody could see me
and I liked it that way.

But today, on the edge of eighteen, feeling golden
I went to the bathroom that used to be the best room for hiding.
I went to wash my hands and check my makeup,
not to run from any demons except the fullness of a lit class lecture.
And I expected to be alone,
but I wasn’t.

She was on her knees in a stall,
high school sophomore, sobbing and coughing and gagging.
When I came in she started gasping
and scrambled to her feet.

Here she was, hiding like I had for so many years
and I was banging on the stall door.
Because I have always been the unfunny tall one,
unable to connect or understand or relate.
I have always felt like an alien, gasping words in a foreign tongue
before an audience of unforgiving strangers.
It isn’t funny; it’s scary.
And when you are tired, kneeling on the tile floor of your high school bathroom,
vomiting lunch and flushing,
you understand more than anybody
that hell is not in the afterlife:
it is a place we visit on earth.

So I was banging on the stall door,
praying she was a stranger.
She said, “leave.”
And I said, “God, I can’t.
Hell is a high school bathroom.
Will you talk to me.”

She was fifteen, blonde with scars on her knuckles and makeup stains on her cheeks.
I said, “Listen to me.”
I said, “You are brave simply for existing.”
And she cried, and she cried, and she cried.

She said, “I’m only fifteen and I’m sorry.
I didn’t mean to end up here, with a stranger staring me down.
I didn’t mean to be so dirty and worthless,
But I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
I gave her a tissue.
She said, “I’m failing math and English class and I have a D in science and my friends can’t stand me, and lunch is awful alone; no one ever invites me to parties, and boys think I’m fat and I’m ugly and I’m lonely, god, I’m so lonely and no one can save me and nothing’s worth saving.”

When I was fifteen I used to practice writing suicide notes in my diary.
It was never serious,
it was just an idea to play with when I felt unwanted:
letters from the deepest cracks of high-school society.
God, it was like looking into a mirror.
I saw the blush in her cheeks, the brightness behind her eyes, and the fading scars on her thighs.

High school sophomore, you know you will not be this girl forever.
Beyond the unfinished homework and the test scores is an entire world worth seeing.

She said, “I am in love with a boy and he doesn’t love me.”
I said, “It’s the same for everybody.”

“I don’t want to live, but I don’t want to die.
I guess I don’t want to do anything.”
She was fifteen and as wild as a poisonous berry.

I told her I could hear god in her raw throat and see infinity in her eyes.
There isn’t much you can say to a girl who doesn’t want to die,
but at fifteen I didn’t feel like doing anything either.
I told her, “A year from now you will see things clearer than you ever have before.
A year from that you will be back in the bathroom, looking at the floor and seeing ghosts.
There isn’t a lot you feel like doing, but right now you don’t need to.
I feel happy for you.
Soon you will be lifting yourself from the floor of the bathroom, and walking swiftly in the direction of your dreams.
At the first sign of change you will feel your insides exploding.
It is beautiful; there is so much to learn about living,
so much to learn about humans and strangers and the feelings that keep us connected.
What is happening now is not worth forgetting.”

And she said “I’m scared because I skipped class for the first time two months ago, and now I skip an average of eight classes a week. Last month I smoked weed for the first time and now I feel guilty. My best friend hates me. I don’t know what to do because I keep crushing delicate things with my fists. There is a scar the shape of a cross on my wrist, but last week I burned my bible.”

I smiled and looked in the mirror.
I told her,
“At fifteen I was just as lost as you are. I’m still lost, for the most part. I still want things I don’t need and feel emotions too deeply, but I’m learning. And I learned a lot more by burning on the floors of bathrooms than by sitting in classes. Keep your face forward. Trust everyone. You are living in the world like a wildflower, and you will be just as beautiful.
God, high school sophomore, you will find everything you are looking for.
Just remember nothing matters
as much as you think.”

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