Saturday, October 17, 2009
An excerpt from my new book Fear of Falling
Fresh off "the worst year of her life," sixteen-year-old Maddie Hickman has sworn off love and her once-beloved self-help books in favor of editing the school paper and "banging out weepy poems." When she receives an anonymous letter from a gay student who's been physically threatened, Maddie is forced to step out of her self-imposed isolation, face her own personal problems, and take a stand. But how far is she willing to go? Will her best friends Peter and Susan stand with her? Can friendship survive past and present personal problems as well as challenging parents and unbending school administrators? And just how far are the three friends willing to go?
From Chapter 5
Fear of Falling
I turn to Mrs. Leahy. “Mrs. Leahy? Do you have a minute?”
She cocks her head. “Where have you been all week?” I understand what she’s really asking. I tick the answer in my mind: Not hanging around after school, clacking out sad poems. All my editing for the paper was done in between “meetings” at Susan’s house and the three pounds of homework from AP History. Thank God the school paper is published triweekly.
“Sit,” she instructs. “Listen, I think it’s great that you’ve been busy with other things besides school.” She smiles. “So, what’s up?”
I look at the spine of The Great Gatsby on her desk. Then a deep breath. “I’ve decided to write the article about being gay in high school.”
Confusion or maybe anger flashes across her face as she looks away. Then her tiny hands flutter to her desk and she purses her lips. “Well.” Her face flushes while she looks from me to the door and back to me. “Where are you going next period?”
“I have History.”
She knows, just like I do, that Mr. Morgan is the kind of teacher that says if you’re taking AP History and are late, you’re obviously the kind of student who has a good reason. She gets up and closes the door so silently that there’s not even a click when it shuts. Like she’s trying to be quiet because a baby’s sleeping or something.
“Listen, Maddie. That letter you received. We’re dealing with some serious stuff. Very. I don’t want you involved.” She suddenly looks young, like a student almost. Her eyes are wide and slightly watery, just the way most of us look the first few periods of the day. Her hands rest on the desk; she’s holding her left pointer finger with her right hand. “To be quite honest with you, I’m not sure if an article is a good idea.”
She sighs and shakes her head. “I’m not sure how much of this I should get into with you…”
I don’t blink or move.
Another sigh. “Mr. West thought he might be able to figure out who the student is. And he told me he’d take care of it, that he would keep everything anonymous. He told me not to worry. Of course I did, but … listen, this isn’t your responsibility—”
“Anonymous wants me to help him.” I’m angry now. I stand.
“I know, Maddie. But this isn’t your battle to fight.”
“But he came to me!”
“You aren’t the adult here.”
I step back like she punched me. “What do you mean? God, Mrs. Leahy, you’re the one who tells us to write how we feel and not be afraid to share it with people. That the written word can change people and society. You’re the one who lectures us on bigotry and homophobia. I mean, why shouldn’t I fight this fight? Why shouldn’t I fight for the freedom, the right to publish this article? Why shouldn’t I fight for Anonymous?”
“Maddie, this is a public school, and it might not be the place to—”
“Oh, my God! If this isn’t the place, then—” I throw my hands up. “So what do you want me to do? Forget that this kid called on me, asked me to help him? You always tell us to do the right thing and stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves. To be a voice and spokesperson. I don’t get why I can’t just—”
I swear I see tears brimming. “I’m sorry Maddie. I really am. But this … this situation. It’s really out of my hands. And yours.”
She reaches for my arm but I pull away.
“You have to let this go and focus on yourself, Maddie. You have a lot going on as it is, and—”
“Forget it, Mrs. Leahy. Forget it.” I slam out of the classroom, surprised at my own anger, and that I even let her see it. I pat my pocket; at least I didn’t show her the draft.