Waiting on the Sidelines(5)

By: Ginger Scott

I’m 317. The lockers are clustered in groups of 100. There are the ones, twos, threes, fours and fives. Fours and fives are saved for the juniors and seniors, and the others are spread among the underclassmen. My location was pretty good. Right outside the cafeteria; I would have plenty of time to stop there before and after lunch. It’s the only section without a sidewalk cover, though. Already the metal of the black combination dial was burning hot. “Just like the damn Oldsmobile,” I thought to myself.

I tested out the combination to make sure I could handle it. It opened easily, so I pulled out the heavy load of books and kept only a notebook and my algebra book out so I’d be ready for my first two classes.

I still had 30 minutes to myself. The bell doesn't ring until 7:30. A few people started to arrive. As I walked between the middle rows of buildings I came to the main area called the quad where the buildings form this large square cut-out filled with picnic tables and grass. You can see a few sad garden experiments along the north wall of buildings, the work of the agriculture club. Some things seem to be growing, but for the most part it doesn’t look like it’s been tended to in months. In the middle of the square is a large bronze statue of soldiers. There’s one from each branch of the military, and they’re all bowing their heads and holding hands. Most folks in Coolidge either end up teaching at the school, farming, leaving or joining the military, so the dedication of the bronze statue a few years ago was a big occasion for the town. Right next to it is the school’s flagpole. Every morning, members of the school’s Junior ROTC program, which is some type of pre-training military program in high school, hold a ceremony, marching in unison and unfolding, connecting and raising the flag. They take it down every day at 3:30. I stopped to watch as they prepared for today’s ceremony, their faces so serious yet so very young. I think how most of them will be graduating next year and will probably be sent to the Middle East for battle.

Ahead of me was the office, full of activity and packed with parents and students who missed orientation. I was glad that I was at least able to avoid that cluster. I was so intently watching the crowds and daydreaming that I didn’t realize the grassy area had ended, marked pointedly by the beginning sidewalk. My toe slammed right into the edge and I flung far forward, my hands bracing my body as I slid several feet across the concrete.

I could feel the heat on my cheeks instantaneously. I knew that my hands were burning and I was pretty sure there was blood. I didn’t want to look at my hands and knees to see how much, but rather stood up and grabbed my backpack and looked around to see who witnessed my fall. Several older girls were just entering the quad and I saw Tatum lean over and giggle to a friend, but they immediately climbed on top of one of the picnic tables and began talking to one another. I may have been a source of amusement to her, but at least my show was very temporary – she seemed to move on.

Finally, assured nobody else saw, I took inventory of the damage I’d done to my body, satisfied that the damage to my ego was in a range I could handle. My hands were skinned and bright pink, small scratches from my wrists to my palms. My knees fared far worse. The right knee had a flap of skin bunched in a line, like I had peeled a puffy sticker from my kneecap and left it there to dangle. The blood wasn’t dripping, but it was there and it was only a matter of time. The left knee was a little better, though not much.

I knew I had to clean things up. Deep down, I blamed the slipper-style shoes I was now wearing and skirt. If I were wearing my normal clothes, I don’t think this would have happened. I walked to the nurse’s area, right next to the bustling office, and asked if she had any band-aids and alcohol pads.

“Oh honey, what happened,” said a large woman wearing jeans and a paisley button-up shirt. She had a badge on that said ‘Nurse Carol’ – but that was the only thing about her that looked like a traditional school nurse.

“I fell, out in the quad. I’m fine, I just need to clean things up some,” I said, a little sheepishly.

“I should say so, you’re about to drip blood on my new carpet,” she pulled my backpack to get me through the lobby of her office and into a small station in the back. There was a sink and a cabinet on one side and a padded table on the other. She told me to take a seat and started to pull out bandages from the cabinet.

“I really don’t need all of those,” I protested. The last thing I needed was something that would draw even more attention to my blunder. I just wanted to find a way to cover it up with makeup and move on. But I guess that really wasn’t an option.

“I tell you what? You just let me do the nursing now, and if things feel better around lunch time, you can rip off my band-aids and pretend none of this ever happened, OK?” she said in a way that felt like my mother.

“OK,” was about all I could muster.

I winced as she cleaned things out and then put some ointment and bandages over each knee. My hands were cleaned and didn’t have any serious damage. In a matter of minutes she had me back up and on my feet, heading out through the crowded office area. I kept my head down, hoping I could just get back to the quad without anyone noticing my giant wounds. And because I was looking down, the first thing I saw were his shoes.