Copyright © 2012 Jo Jenkins
All rights reserved.
D, T, A and J
with all my love
BAD DAY AT SCHOOL
What do I say to people who ask me what’s wrong with my face? How do I reply to strangers who ask me if I was involved in an accident, pity evident in their voices and insensitive gazes? What do I do when children point and gape at me while their mothers tell them in embarrassed whispers that it’s rude to stare? Well, the sad truth is that usually I do nothing at all. I am mute.
But my body speaks its own language. I shake and blush, ashamed of myself. I wish for the ground to crack open and swallow me up. I wish I could be rude and tell them to mind their own business, to teach their brats some manners or snarl that there is nothing wrong with my face. And have they looked in a mirror recently? But I can’t.
Well, not always.
This particular day started badly and continued to get worse. I’ll treat you to the worst bit first.
After morning break our first lesson was French. French is not my favourite lesson. I always try to sit in the middle of the class next to the wall without windows. Somewhere quiet and unobtrusive. Not at the front where everyone can see me. Not at the back, where Mr Dupont is on the lookout for trouble; but instead with my scar against the wall and my good side facing the class.
There I sit for forty five minutes hoping if I keep my gaze slightly forward and down I won’t get noticed, that I won’t be asked to conjugate a verb in front of the class or request a strawberry ice-cream and a glass of orange juice and c’est tout from the friendly French waiter Marcel.
This particular day I thought my luck was in. My favourite spot was free. I scooted in and sat down. Mr Dupont was late. Trop tard.
As any of you who have spent time in a secondary school will know, a teacherless classroom is like a vacuum, a void in the space-time continuum. Something needs to fill that gap or the whole class will implode, dragging desks and chairs and books and kids into a black hole of boundaryless mayhem. Of course that won’t really happen, but that’s the way it feels.
A teacherless classroom is always the best opportunity to establish a pecking order, to separate the in- from the out-crowd, to sort out the bullies from the victims. It is a dangerous place. It is Lord of the Flies.
That day restless energy levels were high. Stacey, Kylie and Claire, at the back of the room, were seeping oestrogen from their pores. It was as apparent to the boys as their everlasting lipstick (which infuriated the teachers since no amount of scrubbing removed it – ‘Its my natural colour miss. I can’t help it if I was born with lips the colour of Strawberry Sherbet, Miss. And neither can Claire. Or Kylie, Miss. It’s not our fault, Miss. Blame our genes’). And the boys were primed. They were out to impress.
I sat as quietly as I could, flicking through my French textbook, pretending to ponder Chapter Seven (Asking for Directions) without looking like too much of a swot.
Elisabeth and Sal were sat on the other side of the room chatting and swinging back on their chairs. They looked relaxed, checking their mobile phones for text messages and glancing about the room watching for trouble.
And trouble came. A gauche. In my direction.
‘Hey Elin,’ shouted Jason Williams. I turned around in my chair to look at him. He was sat with a group of boys at the back of the class. They were well known for being troublemakers, spending the majority of break times in detention. On the whole they tended to leave me alone, preferring to target the posh boys with their vitriol. They fought boys simply for being the sons of doctors and lawyers and for living in large houses and speaking grammatically. But today they sat on the tables at the back of the class calling my name and pushing up their lips with their fingers.
‘Come and give me a kiss Elin,’ Jason said. Stacey, Kylie and Claire laughed.
‘Leave her alone Jase. Don’t be cruel.’ But although Kylie’s words implied that he should stop, her playful tone encouraged him to continue.
I blushed furiously not knowing how to respond, and willing Mr Dupont to arrive. If he came now the episode would be forgotten and I could get through to the next break without drawing any more attention to myself.
Mr Dupont didn’t arrive. I looked up towards Elisabeth and Sal for help. They were both avoiding my eye contact and I was sure I could see a faint smile play across Elisabeth lips. I guessed it must be a nervous reaction. I remained silent, head bowed and as still as a statue, but the boys did not let up.
Jason got up from his seat and sauntered across the room towards me, his finger still pushing his lip up in a mocking impression of me. He stood behind me breathing heavily. He smelt of stale cigarettes and cheap aftershave.
‘Come on Elin. Just a little kiss. You can’t be that fussy. Surely you don’t get too many offers.’
I could hear the girls at the back of the class snorting with laugher.
‘Aw Jase, you’re terrible,’ one said.
Still I sat there, my cheeks radiating embarrassed heat, my shoulders hunched and stiff. I dared not move. I hardly drew breath as I fought back tears. Jason leant forward. His lips were close to my ear and I could feel his hot breath on my neck. He began to make kissing noises. Slurping and smacking in my ear. I felt him spit on my neck as he leaned in closer.
‘Jason,’ someone shouted, ‘don’t really do it. She’s got a mouthful of metal.’
‘And her nose is always running,’ shouted another.
‘I’m going to throw,’ a third voice added to the commentary.
Jason laughed then. Deep and low at the back of my neck. ‘Come on Elin,’ he said. ‘Pucker up.’
Then he came closer to my ear. ‘I might just be the best offer you’ll ever get. I don’t suppose you can afford to be choosy. Just a little kiss.’ And he sniggered, pleased with his own cruel wit.
But what made me snap was not what he said, it was not the cruel laughter building around the classroom. It was his hot breath on my neck and the flecks of spit that hit my skin. It was the smacking sound his lips made as he kissed the air near my cheek.
My body responded in a primeval away. There was no thinking involved. Outraged by the physical assault on my senses, I lost control. And that’s when I did it. I snapped. I swung around in my seat with so much force that I didn’t even register I was moving until my fist made contact with the side of his face. It was as if time stood still for a moment and I was only jolted back to reality when the force of my punch reverberated up my arm. The crack my fist made as it hit Jason’s cheek rang in my ears. It was echoed by a gasp that swept around the classroom like a sonic Mexican wave. Jason’s head snapped backwards in surprise and he fell to the floor.
I stood up, shaking, and looked at Jason lying at my feet, holding the side of his face. He made no noise. He was pale and looked stunned. For a few seconds the classroom lay in silence before Mr Dupont made his timely entrance.
He attempted to interpret the scene in front of him. There I was, stood over Jason, angry, red and shaking. My fist still held in the air. Jason on the floor beside me, wide eyed and transfixed. It was not a scene Mr Dupont had ever imagined he would find in his classroom.
‘What on earth is going on here?’ he demanded.
I didn’t answer him but Jason took the opportunity to stand up. He shook himself, trying to regain some composure.
‘She’s mental, Sir,’ he said. ‘She just attacked me. Just look at my face, Sir.’
It had begun to swell just below his left eye. I felt horrified and, although I’m ashamed to admit it, at the same time I was thrilled to see the satisfying red mark spread across his cheek.
Mr Dupont looked at me. ‘Elin, can you explain what happened?’
I said nothing. I still couldn’t speak. I could barely breathe. I could feel my heart thudding in my chest as if it was about to burst out and take flight.
‘Elin, answer me. What is going on?’
‘I tell you what’s going on,’ said Jason. ‘She’s got a screw loose. She’s a mad witch. There’s obviously something wrong with her. Just look at her. She’s not normal.’
The adrenaline was still pumping through my veins and I found my voice. I found myself shouting at him. Shouting and weeping.
‘I am normal you moron. I am normal. I am normal. I am normal.’
And then I turned and ran out of the classroom.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jo Jenkins is a pseudonym to protect the author’s identity.
The author is a practicing clinical psychologist with many years experience helping people who feel different to think better of themselves.
Girl Perfect was inspired by that work, but none of the characters are based on real people and no patient confidences have been broken in recounting Elin’s story.