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September 6, 2005

-- Journal --

Out of place in a new school

By Samantha Perez

Tuesday Ė Natchitoches , Louisiana ( 2:13 a.m. ) -- I cried yesterday. Itís only the second time I let myself cry since the hurricane hit. That doesnít make me weak, does it?  I hope not. ÖBut, I guess it was a pretty weak thing to do. I know it was, but Iím not okay right now. Iím really miserable.

I donít think I was made for boarding school. I really donít think so. I want to go to school so badly, but I donít think here is the place for me. I donít know what to do. Itís late right now, and Iím tired. I really wish I could go to sleep, and Iím about to cry because Iím so tired, but I have a roommate now. I canít sleep.

I had to be at LSMSA, my new school, yesterday morning. Counselors were going to meet with all of the new students, and we were going to have a schedule made. Mom had brought with us all of the important papers we could ever need, including my school transcripts, so it was going to be easy for us. We went into the auditorium and sat down. After a welcome speech, the teachers there said that there would be a placement test for incoming students.

A placement test?  I hadnít known. No one had told me. One test for math, they said, and one test for a foreign language. A student guide brought us down the hall and up the stairs. We reached the second floor, and he led us to a classroom in the back of the hallway. We all went in, but from there, a teacher separated us. The teacher was very tall, and he wore nice shoes, I remember. He told me and a few others to take the foreign language test first and ushered us out of the room.

Another girl and I walked down the hall until we found a classroom with a piece of paper taped to the window: Latin. We went in, but I didnít know why I had to take a placement test. Iíd already taken my two years of a foreign language. I wasnít planning on taking Latin III either. 

I sat down and a woman walked in. The door made a funny, suction-cup snapping noise when it closed behind her. She said her name was Dr. Hall, then she handed out the tests, just to the two of us. The other girl had just taken one year of Latin. She had a different test than I did.

Dr. Hall gave us a grammar book and a Latin-to-English dictionary. It seemed simple enough. She left the room to check on students taking tests for other foreign languages. I looked at the test for a while, trying to remember verb and noun endings I hadnít seen in years, but I kept drawing giant blanks. I flipped through the books, but they werenít helping me. This was bad. The other Latin girl seemed to know what she was doing.

After around 15 minutes, Dr. Hall came back in. She started talking to us about Latin and our old schools. I said that I wasnít going to take Latin III, and Dr. Hall decided that it would be best for me to just stop and take the math test instead. Good. I handed in my paper. It was hard remembering all those declensions.

Math test next.  I walked in, and the tall man asked what kind of math courses Iíve taken. I told him. I said I was in Calculus Honors this year. He said I needed to take two placement tests: one for Trigonometry and one for Pre-Calculus. His fingers fumbled their way through a pile of small packets, each with a shiny silver staple in the top corner. He handed me the Trig test first. Okay, I thought, Iíll try.

Iím not very good at math. I want to major in English. I respect math, though. My friend Leanne is a genius with numbers, but Iím not. I accept that easily; I get Aís in math, but I like words so much more. Words are fun and bendy. Numbers are cold.

I sat in one of the desks and the teacher handed me a sharpened pencil and a few sheets of scratch paper. I looked down at the thin packet heíd given me and the slip of paper that was an answer sheet. ďDo not guess,Ē it read.  I started reading the problems for the Trigonometry test.

Sine, cosine, tangent. I started picking at my fingernails. How was I supposed to do this without a calculator? I stole glances of the other kids. They seemed hard at work. I started feeling really unintelligent, but I was clueless so I raised my hand.

The teacher called on me, and I asked him, ďHow are we supposed to do the Trig test without a calculator?  I donít know the sine and cosine values of the numbers.Ē

Other kids lifted their heads to wait for the man to respond. Maybe I wasnít so dumb after all. I sat up straight in my chair.

ďYouíre supposed to have those memorized.  Donít you?Ē

I think if I had a little less pride, I might have turned red, but I didnít. ďNo,Ē I told him. ďWe were allowed to use calculators at my old school.Ē

His shoulders moved up and down in this unsympathetic shrug, and the other students gave me unpleasant looks. I slipped back down in my chair and started picking some more at my nails and started trying to remember sine values for angles.

A few minutes later, a girl behind me raised her hand. She looked like a mouse. Her hair was a plain sort of brown, and it looked brittle and unkempt. (Not that I can say much. I canít tame my curls.) She wore glasses, and her nose turned upward.

ďMay we use a calculator for the Pre-Calculus test?Ē She sounded really intelligent and arrogant about it. She paused expectantly, and I could almost hear the pursing of her lips as she waited. It was a scary sound.

The teacher said she could use her calculator, and she pulled one out of her purse. Who carries a calculator in her purse? Sure, Iíd asked to use a calculator, but that didnít mean I had one with me. Maybe she knew we had a test. How come I didnít know?

I mumbled something to myself about how she was being allowed to use her calculator, and the girl heard me.

ďIím on the Pre-Calculus test,Ē she told me briskly.  ďYou donít need it for your test.Ē

I think, this time, I did turn red.

I guessed for most of the test, even if he did say not to. I tried my best. I set up the Law of Sines for so many of the triangles, but I didnít have my calculator to get an answer. I didnít know what to do. I bet Leanne could have done it, but Leanneís better in math than I am. The girl behind me finished her test and turned it in. Sheís smarter than I am.

Most of the class had moved on to their foreign language test by the time I turned in my Trigonometry test and traded it for the Pre-Calc one. This test was worse, and I started getting nervous as person after person left the room. The teacher already knew I was stupid because of the calculator question. But that wasnít my fault, was it? We were allowed to use them at my old school, and besides, Iím not good in math. 

I turned in the Pre-Calc test only a few minutes after he gave it to me. I didnít know what to do with it. It was strange to me, and I needed a calculator. I wanted to cry when I turned it in, but I didnít. Theyíd understand when they made my schedule, I thought. I could have done it with a calculator, but I didnít have one.

I went back to the auditorium where my parents were waiting. They had filled out health and contact forms while I took the placement tests. Mom asked how it had gone, and I wanted to cry again. I almost did.

ďI didnít have a calculator,Ē I said. Dadís a math person. He started questioning me about the problems on the placement test, and I started feeling worse. Iím so unintelligent compared to these kids. I must be! They can do that kind of math without a calculator? Iíd never be able to. Not ever in my life!

The teachers came back and separated the juniors (most of the new students) from the seniors. Schedule time. There were only a few seniors. The girl who was allowed to use the calculator she brought was with us. Her nose seemed to turn even more upward. Another student guide led us down to the office and told us to sit in a small meeting room. Ants were on the tables there.

After a few minutes of waiting, a teacher came and collected us. He brought us to an empty classroom and we filled out a form about the credits weíve already earned from our old schools. Then, the teacher called the calculator girl to him, and they began to discuss her schedule.

She talked properly and importantly, as if everything she had to say was grand and completely correct. She knew everything, it seemed, and maybe she does. I donít know. I learned her name was Becca. I talked with some other refugee students, while Becca spent over an hour trying to plan seven classes.

The other kids left for lunch just as the teacher asked me to come to him. My Mom and Dad were with me, and my mom handed him my transcripts. I even had my old schedule for this year with me, the classes I was taking at Hannan.

He started looking at the classes I need to take in order to graduate. He said that I didnít do well enough on my placement tests to earn a full credit for Trigonometry or Pre-Calculus.

But I had As at my old school! I didnít understand.

I started getting really upset, but I tried hiding it. I pointed to the grades on my transcript, but nothing happened. I started wishing I were at Hannan, my school, not this school. Am I really that dumb? I guess I am now. I just needed a calculator. Maybe I am just dumb. I mean, Beccaís not being put back in classes she already took. I was second in my class, but Iím not worth much against these kids. Theyíre better than I am, and they know it. Theyíre smarter, and they have houses and nice clothes, and I donít. I never did, and now everyone knows Iím so poor and dumb. I stared at my transcripts.

The teacher started filling in my schedule, and thatís when I cried. Looking back, Iím so glad we were alone in the room.

ďI want my house back!Ē I was bawling. ďI want to go home! I want my friends, Mama! I want to go home

Dad hit my shoulder gently.

ďCome on,Ē he said, but I donít remember his exact words. I think he said, ďStop, so we can make the schedule.Ē

Whatever he said, it had the same effect.

I wiped my eyes, and the teacher continued. I could tell that he felt sorry for me and my family. He put me in his own British Lit class so that he could help me personally. Pity, pity, pity. I hate it, but I didnít say anything. I knew that if I tried talking, I would just cry. Mom wanted me in Physics again, and I signed up for Creative Writing: Poetry. My eyes were red, and my nose was itchy. Dad handed me his handkerchief. Then he got up and left the room.

The man finished making my schedule and was checking to be sure everything was working out when my Dad walked back in. His eyes were red. I think I made him cry.

A few of the other seniors walked back into the room. I felt embarrassed. I never cry, and their first real impression of me was of my red nose and blotchy face. Great. Iím so amazing nowÖ.

The teacher finished his work, and I left the room. Mom was crying now, too. She gave me a hug, but Iíd managed to stop my tears by now. No more crying. See what crying does? It makes them cry. My mom and dad donít need to cry now, not because of me. I wasnít helping like Iím supposed to.

We moved into my dorm last night. I had a private room, and I was happy. I was alone in the suite because everyone else was gone for the extended weekend ó since today was Labor Day. (We always went to our camp in the Violet Canal for Labor DayÖ but not this yearÖ.)  Mom and I had gone to Wal-Mart and bought things I need: a dark blue comforter for my bed (it was only $20 for a whole bed set!); a trashcan; some hangers; etc. Since I had no roommate to split a price with, Mom and Dad left me to set things up in the dorm, and they went back to Wal-Mart to buy a small refrigerator so I can have milk.

They came back with it around 45 minutes later, along with a giant rug and two mini-file cabinets for my work. They set the refrigerator atop the file cabinets. It was a perfect fit. I was shocked, though. I asked how much it cost, but Mom and Dad wouldnít answer me. I knew it was a lot though. The refrigerator alone was at least $50. I canít believe they spent so much on me now. We need this money so much for other things. I wanted to cry again. They are doing so much for me. I wish I were good enough for them. I let them down too much, and I cry. The calculator girl with the mean nose didnít cry.

My momís parents came to help set up my room. They had come down from my auntís in Arkansas , where they had been staying, to see me and my mom. They helped me set up my dorm room, and they hugged me a lot. My grandma said she loved me, but soon it was time for them to go. 

After my parents and grandparents left that night, it scared me how quiet it was. Outside my window, two students were making out. I closed the blinds. I took my shower, alone in the suite, and I put on my pajamas: my Hannan P.E. shorts and a t-shirt. I walked on my rug ó itís blue and matches my bedís comforter ó and flipped one of the metal lines of the blind. They were still making out.

It was late, and I was worn out from crying, so I slipped into bed. The frame creaked a lot, and it was cold in my room. I snuggled underneath the sheets, and I held the stuffed monkey I brought with me from home. It was dark, so I turned on the desk light.

Back in bed, I cried again because I was scared and it isnít right in this place. I feel really alone, and I miss Shelby . Just by listening to the calculator girl speak, I feel stupid. Iím not worth much against these people. Itís why Shelby left me for someone else. He just woke up and had stopped loving me Ö and now I know why. There are so many better people than Iíll ever be. Most of the other new kids are from Ben Franklin, where students are very intelligent. I donít belong here.

I need Shelby to talk to, but he doesnít really care about me anymore. He says he does, but why did he stop loving me? Was I so bad? Iím not emotional or pumped full of estrogen and Harlequin romance, but I let myself need him so much Ö and I need him a lot right now. He said I was selfish for needing someone when everyone is hurting, but he doesnít understand. Iím trying to hard to be here for everyone, but why is it that no one is here for me?

I woke up on Monday, and I went to the auditorium like I was supposed to. New students received the final copies of schedules and then books. After that was done, I went back to the dorm. Mom and Dad had bought me a wireless card for my old laptop, and now I could connect to the internet. I signed online, and it felt nice talking to people I know, especially my best friend. Iím glad heís trying to be here for me, but he lives in Texas and itís hard. Iím glad heís there for me, though. No one else is, and things are just getting worse. I wish he were here, though.

I was called to the office about an hour after Iíd come back from the auditorium. I thought it was to collect a book or something, but when I got there, one of the workers said to me, ďYou have a roommate coming in. Sorry Ďbout that.Ē

Iíd asked to be aloneÖ.

Iím so grateful they took me in, and I know I shouldnít have been making demands, but I canít sleep around other people! I walked back to my room really nervous. I was still tired. How was I going to get to sleep now? I decided that all I could do was try, and when my roommate came in ó from Ben Franklin ó I tried being really nice. 

Her name is Agata, and she and her parents are from Poland . Iíve only known her today, but she seems like the other Ben Franklin girls here. Maybe a bit nicer than they all are, but sheís still uptight and speaks as if sheís a diplomat. Iím just her roommate. She doesnít need to speak to me formally, does she? I speak eloquently when I need to, but Iím her roommate now. But maybe Iím supposed to speak this way all the time too. Maybe then I can be like Becca and be smart. My nose can turn upward, and my hair can turn brittle, brittle brown. My parents could then be proud of their daughter.

I donít know what to do. Iím really tired right now, but itís almost three in the morning now. I tried sleeping, but I canít do it. My roommateís fast asleep, though. Apparently, she can adjust well. Tomorrow I have my first classes. Iím going get into bed. Maybe listening to some music will help.

I wish this were easy. I wish Shelby were here to make things better. He always was there for me when he loved me. I kind of need him back now.

I donít think I belong in this place.

Read Samantha Perez's

Hurricane Journal

Comment on Sammy's journal

 


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