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From Peak to Pit

by

Max Hawkins

A stack of papers slams down on the desk and I am snapped out of my reverie.

"Hm, what was that?" I say.

"I said this is the last straw, Leah, Iíve given you chance after chance and you seem to just throw it back in my face."

Mr. Raider. I call him Stu because he resents it. He is my principal.

And I am in his office again because I slipped roofies into my math teacher, Mr. Doringís, coffee mug. 

Iím innocent, really. Not guilty, at least.

I swear.

"The only option now is expulsion. I donít want to do it, frankly, but multiple suspensions havenít gotten anything into your head. And at this point, youíll be lucky if you donít get jail time."

I sit in the same mahogany chair that Iíve been in forty times this year. Forty one if you count today. Stu doesnít know this, but every time Iíve sat in this seat Iíve carved a tick mark into the chestnut of the front of his desk with a paper clip or some safety scissors or whatever Ďpotential weaponsí Iíve had on me. Memory of past incidents, I guess.

Tick mark 2: Filled in every answer on the Chapter 3 test "Screw you."

Tick mark 14: Replaced Mr. Doringís lesson plan with "A Guide to the Kama Sutra."

Tick mark 28: Sent anonymous letters to the school newspaper suggesting that Mr. Doring had a homosexual relationship with a janitor.

Tick mark 35: Released a mother skunk into the math room closet. Mr. Doring never wore his blue striped shirt again.

Iím not a bad kid, really.

Iím carving away at tick mark 41 as Stu tells me that the ambulance just took Mr. Doring away. He was still unconscious. What I donít tell him is that just after Mr. Doring passed out, while other students were running to get help, I lugged him over to the black board, propped his back up to the wall, and took a picture of him with his right finger up his nose and his left hand on his crotch. I donít tell Stu because Iím saving this for tick mark 42, when I mail this picture to the town paper.

What you must understand is that Iím innocent. No, really. At the very least, Iím not guilty. Before tenth grade, I was angelic. I was Janey B. Goode. I had straight Aís since grade school. I participated in school sponsored car washes. I went on trips to the elementary school to teach kids Why We Shouldnít Fight and Why We Shouldnít Do Drugs and Why We Shouldnít Rig An Electrical Current To Our Teacherís Chair. No, really. 

When I was a saint, the teachers loved me. I remember Mrs. Sheffield, my sixth grade history teacher telling me that I was the only student, in her twenty four years of teaching, that she believed would be the first woman President of the United States.

And here I am, off declaring war.

Itís not my fault though. I had every intention of achieving a 100 average in my tenth grade math class. Ninth grade, I fell short with a 99.7 because I had to stay out of school for a week after my appendix was removed. I received the homework we had in the hospital, but I ended up missing an important lesson on how to factor three variable equations. I received a 98 on the next test and never let up on myself because of it. Honestly, I was excited for tenth grade; it would be my chance for redemption.

And then Mr. Doring had to go and ruin everything.

I donít know whether it was because I corrected a problem he did on the black board on the first day of school, or because he joked about my glasses on the second, but you could say that we never hit it off. Unless you count the time I elbowed him in the ear. But that was an accident. I swear. 

It wasnít my fault he needed stitches.

Nevertheless, right from the start he would constantly joke about me. Berate me. Not directly, of course. He didnít have the balls to do that. But he would say things like, "Are there any questions on the homework?" I alone would raise my hand and he would say, "Are there any good questions on the homework?" He would say things like, "So who did something over the weekendÖ" and then he would look right by me and go "Öthat was interesting," or "Öthat was exciting," or "Öwho has friends."

And he thought this was funny. Like heís a freaking comedian. Like I give a damn what he thinks. 

After every joke, his little band of groupies would chuckle. Chortle. Guffaw. Every laugh sounded like pig or a horse or a sheep. Every laugh was a series of short, curt expulsions of noxious gas from their throat. They were balloons farting out air. It was the sound you made when youíre punched in the stomach unexpectedly. Over and over and over again.

The verbal abuse was bad enough, but I was a trooper. If Mr. Doring thought he was the first to tease me, then he was brutally incorrect. 

But donít screw with my grades.

Mr. Doring thinks his Chapter 1 test was difficult, then heís 0 for 2. I nailed every answer on that test. To the decimal. I didnít even need my calculator. Heís handing back our tests and Iím sitting where I always do, front and center. Heís across the room giving back an exam to one of his groupies. The idiot student looks at his grade, emits a whooping call, and gives Mr. Doring a high five. Mr. Doring comes to the next test, smirks, and tosses it across the room, Frisbee style, to my desk. I donít give him the pleasure of attempting to catch it. The paper bounces off my head and lands face down, and he says, "Sorry, Iím sure it didnít cause any more brain damage."

Chuckle, chuckle. Snort, snort.

I turn the test over and see a 64.

64.

64.

64 out of 100.

I got every answer on that test right. But I didnít put a zero in front of the answers with decimals; a practice that any real mathematician would admit is superfluous. And yet, Mr. Doring took 4 points off each time.

64.

I take a deep breath and tell myself that everything will be alright. I try to stay cool, but my cheeks flush crimson. I try to stay calm, but my teeth clench. I try to act normal, but underneath my tranquil facade my heart balls its fists, stamps its feet, and lets out a feral shriek. 

And that was that.

My old grandma had a saying. " Leah, if youíre going to jump off a cliff it might as well be the Grand Canyon." Don't be wishy washy about anything, she told me. Either left or right. Either up or down. Choose. Now. Go or stop. Pass or fail.

Sink or swim.

Mr. Doring had ruined my class average. The hope of a perfect GPA was down the drain. A 64, I thought to myself, the College Board would notice that. To me, logic dictated action. If I was going to fail, I was going to do it in style. If I was going down I would take Mr. Doring with me. 

My goal for a 100 average was ruined through no fault of my own. So I had taken it upon myself to make a new goal to achieve.

I was going to make Mr. Doringís life miserable.

Tick mark 1: Super glued everything on Mr. Doringís desk to the floor. This was small potatoes compared to my later offences, but I needed to start somewhere. I raided Mr. Doringís desk after school while he was in the bathroom and secured everything I found to the white tile of the room. The highlight was when I found his car keys. I kept those. 

Tick mark 7: Sprinkled a mixture of bird food and laxative all over Mr. Doringís car. From what I heard, the car wash removed most of the crow excrement, but they had to paint over the stains.

Tick mark 37: A friend on the yearbook committee gave me access to all the photo negatives. I altered Mr. Doringís. When the yearbook was released, angry phone calls came in demanding to know how the school could have let him grow a little Hitler mustache right before his photo was taken. 

Keep in mind, I was very careful about all of this. Though I was often a suspect for these Ďmysterious acts of vandalism,' there was never any evidence to tie me directly to the scene of the crime. In juvenile court, all you need to establish is reasonable doubt. The judge eyes my soft, parted coffee hair, my wide brimmed black spectacles, the dusting of freckles across my nose, and heís mine. My perfect attendance record. Spotless, squeaky clean. 

I admit, tears in my emerald eyes, that yes, I may have a grudge with Mr. Doring. Yes, Iíve been in arguments with him. No, I donít like him very much. But I would never, could never do anything like this.

I swear.

Juvenile court isnít held in spacious chambers like in the movies. Itís in a cramped, sterile, confine with only a desk dividing you from the judge. In this room I play the victimized girl, shaking, voice wavering, and I can feel the judge grow the lump in his throat. Iím innocent. At the very least, he says, Iím not guilty.

The roofies offense is what did me in. What I didnít count on were my classmates. I had been careful, but a sneaking suspicion had circulated that I was behind the pranks. Nobody said anything before because to them, most of the incidents were funny. Even to the groupies. But the roofies are what did me in. Something about seeing their teacher, head cocked back at an awkward angle, mouth wide open, cavernous. Arms dangling and swaying. It got to them, and so they got to me. I carved my forty-first tick mark and then I was expelled. The judge wasnít much better. I was able to plea bargain away time in a juvenile detention center in exchange for going to an all girls, private boarding school. It was a government funded place complete with state-appointed psychologists and lockdown at 10 PM. I was stuck in with all the chemically imbalanced girls. Manic-depressives who burned their houses down while their parents slept, nympho whores who couldnít say Ďnoí and ended up on the street, cocaine and heroin addicts, whose parents sent them off before they could overdose. These were the girls I was grouped with. The first day, when Dr. Harold B. Ledder asked me if I thought I had a problem, I told him yes. 

"Harry," I said, stretched out over the maroon recliner, "I think Iím too smart for my own good."

I had jumped the Grand Canyon. And lying in a chair next to Dr. Harold Ledder on the third floor of Andrea C. Woodockís School for Underprivileged Girls, I realized that I had hit bottom.

Seven months later, on an overcast October Wednesday, my new school traveled to my old one to take on their ladiesí field hockey team. I was never on my old schoolís team, back then I detested sports. I had joined my new schoolís team because it was a way of turning over a new leaf. Dr. Harold Ledder liked that sort of thing. The judge sentenced me to spend time at Andrea through eleventh grade. Then, with recommendation I had a chance to be reevaluated to reenter public school. I was fitting in nicely at Andrea; I had the straight Aís, of course, but I was also participating in extracurriculars. Field hockey in the fall, softball in the spring.

Year round I counseled girls on Why Life Is Worth Living and Why You Should Feel Good To Be You. Dr. Ledder said he would definitely consider recommending me for reevaluation. Stone by stone, I was climbing my way back up.

On the overcast Wednesday, our team won 6-4. After the game, I was walking back to the locker room and saw Mr. Doring standing on the sideline, gazing into the distance. His little ever-present smirk, what I used to call the "asshole smirk" was gone. His wrinkles looked deeper, his cheeks seemed to droop lower, his eyes appeared soft, human.

I walk up to him. He doesnít notice me.

"Mr. Doring?" I say. He turns. For a moment I see something in his eyes, recognition, hatred, suspicion, forgiveness, something.

And then it was gone.

"Oh. Itís you. Leah."

"Yeah. UhmÖI donít know how to say this, but IÖI wanted to say that Iím sorry for how things went. In my new school Iíve changed andÖI kind of see that it was wrong to do what I did. Iím sorry."

He stares at me. For the second time I see a flash of something in his eyes, relief, regret, rage, weariness, something.

And then it was gone.

"Yeah, wellÖI understand. I forgive you."

After I showered, I headed outside to meet up with my old friends. They are all shocked at how different I look, how Iíve cut my hair up to my shoulders, how Iíve opted for contact lenses. How I seem so happy. I tell them that I met up with Mr. Doring and that I said that Iím sorry. They are all proud of me. I tell them that it was strange how he seemed so sad. I wonder why. They tell me that there is a rumor going around that the night before, his house burned to the ground. That right now he has nowhere to live. That his life is ruined. 

I shiver in the brisk autumn air and say, "Wow, thatís too bad. Iím sorry to hear that." 

Because I had nothing to do with that. 

Iím innocent. No, really.

I swear.

Chuckle, chuckle.

Snort, snort.

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