Waiting on the Sidelines(4)By: Ginger Scott
Silence. And just before the door closed I heard Tatum give me one final wound. “We should tell people she’s a boy. They’d totally believe it, classic prank!” she roared, laughing so hard she could barely get the words out.
Tatum is not a friend.
Staring at the racks of soccer shorts and team logo T-shirts, I felt my mom put her hands on my shoulders.
“OK, kiddo. What do you say we go for a bit of variety this year,” she says. “Maybe even branch out into some colors?”
What I say next blows her mind.
“Actually, I was thinking of trying on some of the skirts. I think I need to dress more grown up, don’t you think?”
My mom, who has begged me to wear dresses and skirts every school year since I can remember, looks at me with equal parts elation and worry. Elation seems to win, however, because before I know it we’re fully enveloped by the junior girl’s section and I have a pile of ruffled, colorful garments on the floor of a dressing room.
I leave with eight or nine full outfits. Some of them shorts, but not from the boy’s section. As we’re checking out, I feel a pang in my gut from the guilt of giving in to peer pressure. I’m disappointed in myself. But I still wouldn’t change a thing.
2. First Day
I usually arrive first for the first day of school. My dad does deliveries for Marches Grocery in the city and starts his day at 7 a.m. The warehouse is in Coolidge, a good hub for the produce that comes in through Mexico and Southern California. My dad handles the specialty runs, which are basically special orders from the chains in the Phoenix area that are running low on certain items. Every day my dad loads a big truck based on requested inventory and drives into town from store to store, almost like Santa Claus. This, of course, is another reason we make so few trips into the city as a family. A few thousand miles a week and the last thing my father wants to do is follow his own daily tracks up the interstate.
Given my anxiety about starting high school, I’m okay with getting up early. In fact, I tried to talk my brother, Mike, into driving me when he left the house at 6. Mike’s eight years older than me, and he just started working at the nearby junior college. He’s an assistant in the kinesiology lab, which is a fancy way of saying P.E. Mike also managed to land a job as an offensive coordinator for the college’s football team. He played there when he went to the school and was always a favorite among the coaches. My parents were just thrilled he found a way to make a living. I think they were also looking forward to his moving out soon.
When I asked him for a ride, I could tell it hurt my dad’s feelings a bit, so I quickly changed my tune. “Actually, it’s okay. I don’t want to break my good luck tradition with dad,” I said. I could tell immediately that I had mended things. My dad reached for a hidden pack of GEM chocolate donuts in the pantry.
“Here, shhhhhh, don’t tell your mom,” he half-whispered. “You can eat in the car on the way.”
At 6:45, we pulled into the parking lot. The janitor was still pulling back the gate and locking it into position. I felt relief knowing I could slip from the Olds unnoticed and start scouting the locations of my various classes before others arrived.
As I walked to the back of the school where the lockers are located, I could hear the band practicing on the baseball field. The director was yelling at another man who looked like some sort of administrator. Something about how they used to march on the football field before his precious Bears started winning games and how he was single-handedly destroying the arts by relegating them to a baseball diamond.
I scanned the crowd and saw Sienna standing just above third base, her feet wet with freshly mowed grass bits. She tilted sideways a bit and gave me a wave, just enough to not draw attention and ire her already angry teacher.
Among Sienna’s many artistic talents was music. She played six instruments at last count. She elected to play saxophone for high school band because the teacher said he had just graduated four players. Sienna figured this was her best shot at first chair. Her competitive spirit was just as alive as mine.
I turned to the endless row of lockers and knelt down to pull the folder from my backpack that they gave each of us at orientation the week before. Orientation felt more like the cattle runs I see out on the big ranches than a real first high school experience. We had two hours on a Friday evening to squeeze through rows and rows of cafeteria tables with our parents, signing forms to participate in sports, registering for school lunch programs, taking flyers from every club on campus and reviewing our schedules with counselors who really didn’t care how happy we were with our classes but just wanted to make sure we didn’t have anything overlapping a lunch hour. But I studied the folder full of papers from orientation extensively, still wanting to be prepared. I checked and rechecked against my brother’s old year book to make sure the teachers I had were the ones with the honors program. I also made sure my lunch hour lined up with Sienna’s and Sarah’s. Pulling it from my backpack, I opened it to the small Post-It note I pasted on the inside with my locker number and combination written down.