The PE teacher called me out during attendance for wearing a dirty sweatshirt. She asked me, "Is that a favorite, honey? You won't let Mom wash it?" The sleeves of my sweatshirt were grey with dirt, but I looked at her like she was crazy. My sweatshirt was dirty because we didn't own a washer or dryer and I couldn't be bothered to wash it.
I imagined the other kid’s moms standing in their big backyards and pinning the wet sheets to the clothesline - while my mom was likely asleep. The act of collecting enough coins, hauling all our clothes to the laundry mat and losing a whole afternoon at the Wash 'n Fun made the task seem insurmountable. The way I looked at it, I was lucky to wear clean underwear daily. A dirty sweatshirt was the least of my worries.
We were required to run the mile weekly. Generally I was in the middle of the pack of girls, but on one day something just clicked. Coming around the final lap, I had managed to stay with the lead runners. My legs burned and my lungs were on fire - but as I rounded the corner for the final 20 feet, it occurred to me that run would be my personal best. I was thinking that the PE teacher would see my time and realize that underneath my dirty clothes, I someone special. And that’s when I tripped.
I fell hard. I scraped my knees and the palms of my hands and managed to chip my front tooth – but the worst part was that I got one of my infamous bloody noses. There was so much blood that it was hard to tell where it was coming from. I had knocked the wind out of myself, which in itself was excruciating – but nothing was as bad as being the center of attention. I just wanted to crawl away and hide. One of my friends was the nurse’s aide for that period and she ran behind the school nurse, pushing a wheelchair. The nurse wheeled me back to her office, while my friend Julie trotted alongside and held my hand.
After the nurse cleaned me up, she called my mom and told her what happened. My mom told her she’d be down to pick me up in within a half hour. I waited on one of the cots for my mom to come. When Julie came in to check on me, I tried to thank her for being so nice – but when I opened my mouth to say something, my voice caught and some weird noise came out instead. I started to cry. It was so awkward that she just quietly backed out of the room.