Friday, March 25, 2011

Perfect Circles

"Please sit down," I pointed to the yellow chair and she slumped into it, her head bent.  I could see the blond roots sprouting from her black hair. She crossed her arms, an impenetrable fortress.

The pose was classic eighth grade. She made my job easy today by wearing a black tank top. I noticed no vertebrae screaming out like prayers. This wasn't an eating disorder. And if she was cutting, it wasn't on her arms.

Yet, she was in my office, clutching a twisted pink paper. She had never been here before. Something had changed. Or snapped.  "Kassie, please read me the referral form."

Her eyes were red-lined with tears and smudged with eyeliner. She held my gaze long enough that I wanted to check my teeth for errant lettuce."Haven't you already read it?" she mumbled, "Can't you just give me ISS?"

This was the part where I was supposed to give her a lecture about respect. Instead, I allowed her to dangle. "Read it, please."

She sighed and began: "Kassie Miller threw a donut at me after I intercepted a note. She knows that notes are not acceptable in our learning environment." She placed the note in her lap, and studied her scuffed Chuck Taylors.

"What happened? Have you lost your mind? I'm not even going to ask why you had a donut in algebra."

Folding the referral form, she laughed, "I guess because it was funny."

I pictured the soft cake, perhaps pink with sprinkles, flying through the air. As it made sweet contact with Mrs. Sombrowski, did the frosting coat her glasses? Leave crumbs under her pearly pink nails?  It was kinda funny. She'd be milking this one in the teacher's lounge for weeks.
I settled my features into a frown. "There's nothing funny about assault, young lady." 

She sat up straight, the chair legs creaking."What would you know about assault?"  Her eyes flashed, indignant. "What would you know about anything?" Each word was vinegar, lingering in the air.

Bingo. Finally, some emotion. I stared at her, and let her swim in her words for awhile.

She waited, then bit her lip as I let the silence grow between us. The clock ticked. One minute. Two. "What?" she said. "What do you want?" 

I had her. I rolled up my sleeve, taking care with each button until I exposed seven perfect circles, almost the shape of donuts. "Hey," I said, "Look at me."

She turned, and raised her eyebrows. The circles, haphazard plums and grays, crept up and down my forearm, twisted and violent.

"Do you know what these are?"

She shook her head, but I saw it. Deep inside, she knew.

I pointed to a circle above my elbow. "Cigar burns. From my Dad. This one's for letting the dog pee in the house." I rubbed my forearm. "This one? That's for bringing home a B. In algebra." Inch by inch, I covered each donut, until all she could see was my sleeve, my daily mask. 

I sat down, crossed my arms across my chest.  "So yeah. I know a little bit about assault. I suspect you do, too."

It was a guess. But survivors tend to recognize each other, and I decided to take the risk.

Her eyes pooled with fresh tears. Her entire faced turned in on itself. Heaving. Degraded.

She pointed to the intercepted note, resting on my desk--the scribblings that started it all. Pressing it into my hand, she whispered,  "Read it. It's all there."

This is my fictional contribution to The Red Dress Club. We were inspired by a picture of a truly decadent donut. I wear the Red Dress, so I welcome constructive critique.

I will probably continue this story next Friday.


Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

I hope you do continue the story. I would love to know what the note says.

Jessica said...

So good, I missed your TRDC pieces while you were gone.
I was swept away in this piece and that young girl. Your descriptions were perfect and the dialogue was seamless. Such a great piece.

Victoria KP said...

This is great. I love how you show things about your characters without spelling it out--like the blond roots sprouting under the black hair and the slouching in the chair.

I also like how you found some humor in what could otherwise be a very dark piece by describing the doughnut flying through the air and hitting the teacher.

Galit Breen said...

I hung onto every last word in this piece. As a former teacher, i thought you handled the teacher voice perfectly. And when you got her attention and buy in. I literally teared up.

My favorite line was: "She made my job easy today by wearing a black tank top. I noticed no vertebrae screaming out like prayers." just one example of the tight imagery and development.

Truly amazing!

Formerly known as Frau said...

Great piece I hope you continue it...very well written I wanted more!

amygrew said...

I would love to read the rest of the story. I loved the description of the girl; black tank, blonde roots showing under black hair, red rimmed eyes with smudged eye-liner.


Alisha said...

Awesome. Very compelling.I wanted more.

Kristi said...

You had me at "Her pose was classic eighth grade." Being a teacher and a mom of teens I knew I had to keep reading. You were so authentic in your storytelling. Having the teacher share the story of her scars to connect made me tear up.
I really want to read the note that she was passing! A sign of a great story is you left me wanting more.
I, too, used a teenager in my donut post.
So glad I stopped by from TRDC..please come see me if you get the chance! :)

erin margolin said...

This seemed effortless to me. You did the teacher thing very well--but how many teachers would actually reveal themselves that way? I had very few "human" teachers and the ones I did have? I loved. Fiercely.

I wonder what the note said. I wanted this to go on.

Vinegar. LOVED THAT.

You have such a way w/ words. I'm always enthralled.

tsonodablog said...

One of the most compelling pieces I've read on The Red Dress prompts. Your descriptions are vivid. I truly loved the insight the teacher possessed. I want to know what that note says!
Very nicely done, Nancy.

Leighann said...

I used to work with kids in crisis.
This piece is very powerful.
So so powerful.
This line "Each word was vinegar, lingering in the air. "

Ash said...

Ha-zah!!!! Love how this turned out. The Chucks, the recognition, her surrender. So good!! Honest girlie. I gobble up your words, enjoying every single one like that big ole pink frosted yummy donut.

More please.

Andrea (ace1028) said...

Not a thing to critique here. This was flawless. Perfect. SO real. So unrehearsed. I agree with Erin, if only there were more adults who would deal with kids in that way. And more supportive adults who would not question it and encourage us to NOT reveal of ourselves. (Social worker experience here) I loved it. I felt it. It was phenomenal.

JennieB said...

The pacing of this piece was really well done. It slowed as she let the minutes tick by, then picked back up as the secrets were revealed.

"Survivors tend to recognize each other." This rings so true, and to me, was the heart of this piece.

DaisyGal said...

the line about survivors recognizing each other, I actually said that to a student when I was an RD. I knew the signs of it from her behavior.

This story was very good, it flowed so nicely, the dialouge at a cadence that I could follow. Just adored it.

hope you do continue it.

Honest Convo Gal said...

This really is textbook showing, i.e., using your descriptions to let us figure out who your characters are not writing out some boring explication about them. I don't want to repeat whats been said, so I'll be brief. The only thing that I thought boardered on tough to believe was that the counselor would assume abuse on nothing but "recognizing it" in another. Still, this is an "A" piece. Just excellent.

Stephanie said...

I can't find anything to fix, but I find lots that I love. I love that she rolled her sleeves up and shared her secret with the girl. I love the imagery of the pink icing dripping from the teacher's glasses. I really, really want to know what the note says.

I've missed you!

Elaine A. said...

"Each word was vinegar, lingering in the air." Brilliant. I could smell it and feel it. And I could feel the pain of both characters too. Well done my friend.

K said...

Please continue it. I really enjoyed it.

Beth Zimmerman said...

Excellent work, Nancy! You are truly gifted!

Cristina said...

you must continue this because I need to know what's on that note. The flow of your piece was effortless...

I do agree with what someone mentioned.. a counselor probably wouldn't assume abuse without something more concrete than just a feeling.. and to go on and show her scars? that's absolutely a no-no in therapy, especially with kids.

Erin said...

The reason I went into psychology, when I was a kid I wanted someone who's been there done that, much easier to talk to!

Love that the counselor shared her experience!!

Christa said...

I'm new to The Red Dress Club and this was my first prompt in joining. I'm reading through each one and yours is absolutely wonderful. I, too, hung on each and every word and I want to know what was in that note! Wonderful writing - you are very inspirational.

Kim said...

Well this was just awesome. I do believe there are teachers like this out there. Giving people, in this way. I don't want to go on and on again but you write beautifully Nancy!

Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds said...

Such an interesting twist on the donut theme. Nicely done!

Mandyland said...

I know I'm supposed to give concrit, but I have nothing. Your story pulled me in from the opening lines and just kept going. Your visuals were stark and I love the way you described the burn marks as "donuts", a double prompt tie in!

Very good job!!

Cheryl said...

Hello my lovely!

I feel like there is more "you" in this story than in the Walt story. Also, am I nuts or have you written about a counselor before?

I love how you paint your characters, your descriptions are so telling.

I do agree with a PP: would a counselor really show her scars? I dunno.

But it sure worked well with the story. Really great job, my friend!

formerlyonlyamovie said...

Authentic, of course, since you're a teacher... This girl is definitely one of my students. You have it all spot on.
Well done, Nancy. xo

tanya said...

Wow Nancy, this piece was perfect. Having been a not-so-perfect teenager and now a mom of a 22, 20 and eight year old, I could connect on so many levels. I felt as though I were right there in the office with them. Excellent job, thanks for sharing-

Ashley said...

What a great spin on the prompt. I loved how she threw a donut and then the counselor showed her her "donut" scars. That was a really great description.
The only thing I would say that bugged me a bit was "What happened? Have you lost your mind? I'm not even going to ask why you had a donut in algebra."
I don't think a counselor would say "have you lost your mind?" or it seems out of place because the counselor knows this child is going through something difficult. But overall. Well done! Love what you came up with!

mama-face said...

I like that you left it up to us to write our own ending. Although I'd love to read more about Kassie.

K Pugliano said...

This was a fantastic piece from start to finish!

"Words hanging like vinegar in the air"- loved that line!!

Would love for you to continue this story line...I want to read more!

MiMi said...

Fantastic and sad too. Great story, Nancy!

Jenny said...




StarTraci said...

Where is your book of short stories? I love your fictional posts! I do hope that you continue this story. I am very interested in both of these ladies.

Really well written -- I especially loved that the counselor reveled for a moment in the thought of the teacher covered in donut.

Keep up the great work!

CDG said...

This was wonderful. Your characters are always so vivid and human.

The only line that bugged me, at all, was the "Have you lost your mind?" only because that seems like something a seasoned counselor might avoid saying.

But seriously? what do I know.

I'd love to hear more about that note!

Karen said...

I was drawn in from the first paragraph and I felt as if I was sitting in that office with them. I actually read your second piece (dispicable character) first and came here second. This one definitely shed some light and I'm glad I read it!