I still can’t believe my mom moved us out here. I was fine with the problems at my old school because at least it was familiar, and everyone knew, so it wasn’t like I was forced to pretend with them. But now, at 6 months pregnant, I have to start all over again with a whole bunch of people who don’t know anything about anything. I asked my mom to be rid of this when it first happened, but our religion doesn’t ‘believe in that kind of thing’ even under special circumstances. So, here I am, stuck trying to fit in in a world where I am an outcast.
I push myself out of the car and head to the counselor’s office to pick up my schedule. At barely 4 foot 8, my enormous belly takes the lead, and people just naturally move out of my way- almost like they might catch it if I touch them. Good. Move. I don’t need friends here- I just need to get through these next 4 years and get my diploma. When I get to the office, I’m not the only one who is in need of a schedule. As I look around for someone who looks like an adult, the room starts to quiet down, and I start to feel more and more eyes on me. Then, I begin to hear their thoughts pinging off of me-
How old is she?
How pregnant is she?
I would never want to be pregnant and a teen.
Yea. Me neither.
Why would someone want to be pregnant as a teen?
I don’t know. Maybe find a teen who wanted to be pregnant and ask them.
Does she know how hard her life is going to be?
Do they know how hard my life already is?
My parents would kill me if I got pregnant.
If you only knew that…
“How can I help you?”
I snap out of my mind vacation to see an older lady wearing a floral print blouse and gray slacks in front of me. She smiles gently at me, trying to hide her pity; she knows. Great.
“I’m here to see my counselor for my schedule. I’m new to the school- Arely Amador.”
“Oh yes!” She tries really hard to act surprised like she doesn’t know me, but she knew me the moment I walked into the office. I saw her pity. I figured either my old school or my mom would have called ahead to let them know what they were getting; no doubt, my counselor will want to talk to me all the time just to ‘see how I’m doing’.
“Well, your appointment is at 8:30, and you’re a little early. Mrs. Parrish has 2 kids before you, so just have a seat, and she will be with you shortly.”
I nod and take the first open seat I find that’s farthest away from everyone. Unfortunately, it’s right by the opening to the front office, so everyone who walks through there gets a front-row view of Liberty High School’s newest addition- The Very-Pregnant Freshman!
Over time, you get used to the stares and looks and literally feeling what everyone is thinking about you. It’s not so much that you get used to it as you just become numb to it all. Numb to everyone thinking they know everything about every situation- including yours. There’s no point in getting upset because they’re going to assume whatever they want anyway.
Because when a person notices a pregnant teen, they first feel disappointment- ‘How could she just throw her life away like that?‘ They’ll wonder. Then, they question the teenager’s parents’ parenting skills- ‘How could they not raise their child better?‘ As if everything is a direct reflection of who raised you. Finally, they begin to foresee that the child the teenager carries now will make the same mistake as them and the cycle will repeat forever. I see it on every person who walks in that notices me. Some are students, and some are teachers. They aren’t the worst because they usually try to just look away immediately. The worst are the parents, who can’t hold back their shock that their child has to go to school with such a delinquent. After about the 5th shocked parent, I put my backpack in my lap trying to cover my belly, and just stare ahead at the poster ahead; although, even that doesn’t help much.
It’s a big yellow poster with kids of all different colors laughing and chatting in a park or somewhere that has trees. In blue letters, across the top, I see-
“Plan for your future! Juniors and Seniors set up your College Advisory Meeting with your counselor today!”.
Across the bottom, a little red, white, and blue, “Go Patriots” logo with a soldier man with a funny hat stars back at me.
I can’t help but think that I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to that meeting with everything that I will be dealing with, but it’d be nice to think it could be possible, and this cycle won’t repeat. But, at the moment, it’s also hard to hope for something greater than just small moments of peace to deal with what I’ve been given to deal with. It’s like my mind never shuts…
“Arely… Arely… Good morning Arely…”
I look up and see two women in front of me. On my left, there’s a tall blonde woman wearing a knee-length red dress with black pumps with pity written all over her face; it is a beautiful face though. Her makeup is flawless, and something I wish I could do, but my mom says makeup is “against our religion,” like everything else. Her blonde hair is pinned up in a half pony with large curls spiraling down. She does look like very pretty; like she spent most of her morning making sure she looked perfect for school.
On my right, is what can only be described as her complete opposite- this woman is wearing black slacks that are loose fitting, so you can see all the wrinkles, a purple paisley print shirt that is cute, but certainly doesn’t go with the pair of black converse that are on her feet. Her hair, which I’m pretty sure is also kind of purple, is completely straight and probably wasn’t brushed this morning. Makeup? None. You can see every last flaw on her face, but somehow she is still very pretty. I can’t help but think that if it wasn’t for the sort-of-nice clothes she was wearing, she would look just like a student. I start to imagine this woman in standard dress code clothes- those ugly khaki pants, wrinkled of course, and a dark purple polo…
“… Arely? Good morning… Arely?”
I snap out of it again. “Good Morning.”
“There you are. I am Mrs. Parrish,” Parrish- red dress, “your counselor. And this is Ms. Cook,” Cook- looks like a student, “our English language specialist.” Wait. Language specialist? “Welcome to Liberty High School. Come join us in my office”
I push myself up from the chair in one quick move, something I’ve mastered this past month, and follow Mrs. Parrish into her office. Mrs. Cook trails lazily behind, just like a student but with an air of confidence, like she’s done this before. She shuts the door and takes the seat next to me. Mrs. Parrish sits behind her desk and begins handing me stacks of papers and packets. She goes through the usual things that I’m sure all kids hear- dress code, computer rules, code of conduct rules, discipline, attendance, yadda yadda yadda. Sign this; sign that. Then, she begins crafting my schedule based on what my old school sent, and only now does the odd-looking Ms. Cook say anything.
“Your records show that you are an ESL student- meaning English is your second language. Does this sound correct?”
I nod slowly.
“Well, I am the campus coordinator and teacher of that program here, so it’s nice to meet you Arely.”
I nod again. Ahhh… I get it. She’s the lady who is going to stick me on Rosetta Stone for hours on end thinking it’s going to fix the fact that I don’t say much. The schools think I can’t speak English very well because I don’t speak very much at all especially not these days. So, I’ve been coasting along in the ESL program all my life not really living up to my full potential because they let me. I write average papers, read just the right amount to satisfy the teachers, and do just enough to get a B or C, and that is good enough for me… but not good enough to get out of the language learner program. I really should focus.
“….will be in my language learner level 2 class. It’s my advanced class which I think is better for you because I think you know more than your scores say about you.”
What does this woman know about me? I just got here. No. Focus.
“We’re also going to put you in my 30-minute homeroom class, so you can have a familiar face. And you will see me or my aide, Mrs. Gonzalez, in your Biology, Algebra, and other English class.”
Other English class? Aide? Mrs. Gonzalez? Focus.
“…classes, so we will be seeing a lot of each other. And, hopefully, we can get your scores high enough that we can get you out of the language learner program for next school year.” You won’t. But, her optimism is nice, so I’ll let her think it’s possible.
The noise of the printer brings us back to the other person in the room and stops me from going on another mind vacation.
“Alright,” Mrs. Parrish says as she hands me another paper, “here is your schedule, and Ms. Cook has a senior outside that will show you around the school and get you to your first class.”
She gets up and heads to open the door; I stand up too because I understand our time together is done, but then she stops and turns to me.
“If you need anything,” she says as she squeezes my shoulders, “anything at all, don’t hesitate to come down and talk to me.” She gives me one final squeeze as she turns me out the door, and I could have sworn I felt her let a big sigh of relief when I was finally out her door. That’s what teachers do. They tend to say nice hopeful things like this to teens they think are troubled, like me, and it’s normally just to try and make you feel better. You can always tell they’re not really ‘there’ for you and are just trying to be nice.
Ms. Cook follows me out, then says, “Arely, this is Bella.”
I turn to see a girl, a little taller than me with short dark brown hair and glasses wearing the standard dress code clothes- pants that are not jeans, she chose blue today, and a solid color polo shirt, white. The clothes really take away from her looks, but I’m sure that happens to all the girls and will happen to me eventually. I, fortunately, get a pass with some of the dress code rules, for now, since I’m very pregnant and all, so I’m wearing my long dark black skirt with a looser-fitting pink V-neck shirt- no polos for me! I’m certainly not going to like having to dress like this after this baby is out of me. Focus, Arely, Ms. Cook is still talking…
“… has been here all 4 years and will graduate this spring. She will be showing you around and can answer any questions you have.”
Bella and I follow Ms. Cook back down the hall to the front office where she turns and hands Bella two yellow passes “For when you’re done showing her around,” and then turns and looks at me, “No matter all the things that happened before, you are here, and this is a new start for you. Don’t worry about anything else except what you want for your future. If you need anything, just ask me. I’m here to help you. And I’ll see you 3rd period.”
And, with that, Ms. Cook leaves out the door, and usually, I would have believed that her words were just nice things to say, like Mrs. Parrish, but, in that moment as I watched her walk away, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe Ms. Cook was actually trying to be sincere. Maybe she would be there to help me. Or maybe I was just being hopeful. Her words were nice, and maybe she meant it, but I’ve had too many adults in the past pretend to be something to cover up who they really are, so I’m not so sure she is going to be any different. But, who knows, people surprise you in both good and bad ways.
I’m brought back again by an unfamiliar feeling. “Hello? ¿Hola? ¿Arely, si? Hello?” I look down, and Bella is in front of me with a hand on each shoulder trying to get my attention. “¿Estás aquí? You here?”
I tense at finally realizing she is touching me. “Si… yes…” I nod and take a step back which gets her to drop her hands but doesn’t do anything for my nerves, and she just continues talking anyway.
“Soy Bella. I’m going to show you around.” She doesn’t notice my tension. Clearly, she has a job to do, and she will do it. “And then, I will take you to class. ¿Si quieres en ingles o español?”
“English is fine,” I say as I walk past her towards the exit everyone else seems to be going through. Maybe with a little distance, I can relax again, but Bella doesn’t hesitate as she follows me out and immediately begins to tell me all about Liberty High School…
To be continued…