December 7th, 2007
Mama told me the move would be good for me. She said she really believed it. She believed I would blossom and make all of these friends. But what I really want is to be back home with Maddie. I miss our daily adventures to bakery on 40th St when Mama was fast asleep. It was only a block away and when Mama was asleep, she wouldn’t wake up until we get in her face and jump on the bed until she falls off. So we knew every time Mama would fall asleep, it was our time to sneak out. I mean, I wouldn’t really call it sneaking out because it was as easy as walking out the front door. But we enjoyed every moment.
We would save up all our allowances for bakery day. We tried to go at least once a month. $2.50 for the biggest black and white cookie you could ever imagine. Maddie and I always got two. We would sit and eat one together. I would always get the vanilla and Maddie would always get the chocolate part of the cookie. The other cookie we would take home and hide under my pillows for a rainy day when Mama had us help her clean. Once we were all done, we would hide in my room under the covers and eat the cookie. Mama never noticed. But she promised that this change would be good. So I tried to make the best of it, but everything was so different.
In the city, Nate, Mama, and I would walk to school when it wasn’t raining. It was only a couple of blocks away, so it was never a big deal. Sometimes, it was my favorite part of the day. Getting to see what had changed day to day at the same time. Sometimes, we would see the old man shining shoes on the corner, and other days we saw a woman selling her artwork there. Sometimes we would see girls playing jacks by the park, and other days we saw dogs playing tag. Everyday in New York was different and an adventure, but, here, everything is the same.
Daddy handed me my bookbag and my lunch as he whispered in my ear, “Hope you’re hungry for pancakes.” Breakfast for lunch, what could be better? Oh, that’s right, New York, Maddie, and bakery trips could be way better, but I guess pancakes for lunch is what I’m going to have to settle for. Mama waited at the bus stop with Nate and me. I hardly would call it a bus stop though, it was just the end of my driveway.
As we waited, I held my cheeks in the hope that it would get rid of my chills. And I watched as the grass turned white with ice crystals. I was really enjoying myself, until I watched a big, yellow bus roll slowly down my street. Mama quickly straightened my jacket, kissed me slightly on my forehead, and forcefully turned me around, patting me to go onto the bus. The bus was filled with all sorts of kids sharing stories and laughing. Luckily nobody noticed me as I slid into one of the front seats and fixated my eyes on the trees we passed. I figured if I was going to be stuck taking the bus, I might as well try to get something out of it.
When we arrived at the school, teachers bombarded us and directed us straight to our classrooms. Nate and I were put in different classrooms, and, now I realize, I am completely alone. The other kids were already placed in neat rows, awaiting my arrival. You don’t know what fear is until you walk into a classroom and twenty-three heads whip up to look at you. My teacher, Ms. Mallory, squealed, “Kids, welcome our new student. Introduce yourself.”
I followed suit and stood in front of the class, “I’m Natalie, Natalie Honey.” I immediately scanned the sea of desks for an open one that was preferably not the open front and center one in front of me. But before I could finish, Ms. Mallory exclaimed that she saved me a seat right in the front and motioned to the empty chair. I sat down quietly and tried not to bother with the boys who made loud, inappropriate jokes around me. Etched into the desk were the same type of jokes the boys laughed about. I ran my finger across the etchings, and it was as if the joke was being slipped into my mind, because I giggled and didn’t even realize I had until Ms. Mallory asked me what was so funny. I turned my head to her, told her I was sorry, and began working on my do-now.
The question on the board read, “What is your favorite book and why?” It was almost too easy. I began writing quickly and letting out my emotions onto the pages. I scribbled so fast that my handwriting was almost illegible. Ms. Mallory then asked for volunteers and my hand shot up like a shotgun’s bullet piercing through the air. She called on me, and I proudly stated, “My favorite book is The Goblet of Fire from the Harry Potter Series.” My peers laughed, and my smile instantly disappeared as my cheeks drooped.
“Sweetheart, we are not talking about movies.” Ms. Mallory thought I was being smart so I decided not to fight with her and put my head down. Class went by slowly, and then, finally, it was lunch. I was excited to eat the pancakes Dad packed. I stopped at the bathroom to wash my hands before I hurried off to lunch and I almost forgot it was my first day because, then, I couldn’t find the lunchroom. There I was, wandering the halls, not being able to find anyone. You’d think in a big school like that someone would have noticed a small child walking around alone.
I turned the corner and bumped into who I thought was a teacher. “Aren’t you supposed to be at lunch?” I tried to explain to her what had happened, but I stuttered so much it would have been impossible to understand anything I was saying. She took me by the hand and led me to her office, where I assumed I was getting in trouble, but, instead, she sat me down in her office chair and asked if I wanted a brownie. I just stared at her. I didn’t know what else to do but stare at her. She asked again, “Do you want a brownie? They’re double dark chocolate.” I kept staring at her wondering why she’s still staring at me. Then I remembered my first encounter with Maddie, and, once again, I forgot to answer my new friend.
She passed the plate full of brownies to me, and I took one, biting into it. It was the most delicious thing I had tasted in months. Creamy chocolate with crunchy baked flakes covering it. She grinned like she knew exactly what I was thinking. Where am I? Where is the lunchroom? Who are you? Where did these brownies come from, and why are they so good? She knew it all.
I looked down at the plaque at the front of the desk that read “Mrs. Brown, Guidance Counselor.” Well, I guess that answers my question. She asked me multiple questions like if I was new, where I was from, about my brother and my classes. She was very talkative. She reminded me of Maddie. She even had the same brown hair Maddie had. Mrs. Brown then went on to something I was more interested in–books.
“Do you read?” She asked as she stared down at my hands holding The Chamber of Secrets. “Yes,” I said, “Do you?” Instead of answering my question, she gestured to the bookcase behind her full of all the books in the world. I jumped out of my seat and read the spine of almost every book on the shelf. The Catcher in the Rye, Harry Potter 1-7, Smile, The Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. “You can borrow one if you would like,” she said. “Not now,” I said, “Too early in our friendship for us to be sharing books.” I winked at her and she winked back.
For the next twenty minutes we ate our lunch and talked about our siblings. She had one older brother and one younger brother, and I could barely handle one. When the bell rung, Mrs. Brown brought me back to class, where Ms. Mallory was awaiting my arrival. The other kids laughed when I walked in until Mrs. Brown handed me another brownie and told me to have a good day. The class grew silent and watched my brownie, and I walk swiftly to my seat.
April 17th, 2013
I hadn’t seen Mrs. Brown in almost a year so I knew I had to go visit her. Right after school, I asked mom to drive me there. When I walked through the doors, the big school I once knew looked so small to me. The steps were short and steep, and the chairs only reached to my knee. I wandered into the front office and knocked on Mrs. Brown’s door. She slowly opened it and peeked through to see who it was. Our eyes met and she flung open the door, embracing me as quickly as possible. She squealed, “How have you been?”
“I’m doing great. I missed you.”
“You know I was just thinking about you. Take a brownie.” Mrs. Brown and I talked about our current favorite books, and I told her about my new friend, Iris. How she is just like me and what she has opened my eyes to. On the night I went to Iris’s house, she and I watched scary movies and talked about what New York was like. Iris had never been there, and I promised her we would go one day and meet Maddie. Mrs. Brown was thrilled to see I was finally making friends. “You know, I worried about you, about you making friends your own age,” she said. “But I knew when the time came, you would grow up before my eyes.”
February 6th, 2014
“If you love something let it go,” Mama whispered in my ear. People tell you to let go of the things you love, but by letting go of these things, doesn’t that make you love yourself a little less? I had to let Mrs. Brown go a few days ago. Today, I visited her funeral and, as I approached the casket holding onto Mama, my legs began to buckle and shake. I slowly raised my head above her and saw her pale white face sitting there lifelessly. Her hair flowed down past her shoulders and was placed neatly into position. I couldn’t help but cry because, not only did I have to let go of something I loved, but it seemed as if all the love that was engraved in her had been ripped out faster than she could blink.
She passed of a heart attack. She always joked she would have one someday due to all the brownies she ate, but Mama tells me sometimes the things you mean to be a joke will come true. Tears dripped down my cheeks and fell onto her hand, which was holding a bright white rose. She looked like an angel.
After the light chatter in the room resolved, people took their seats as others came up to talk about how Mrs. Brown had influenced them. Everyone was crying silently, so silent, you could hear a pin drop. Each story filled in the gaps of her life as the small group of people gathered together, laughing over the joyful stories and crying over the sad ones. After almost everyone had spoken, I gathered enough courage and stability to take my turn at the podium. I walked calmly as eyes followed the back of my head. I reached into my pocket to pull out what I had written the day before, gripped it tightly, then gently let go. I decided I needed to be as spontaneous with my speech as Mrs. Brown had been in her everyday life.
I cleared my throat and opened my mouth. When no words came out, another tear streamed down my face, and I cleared my throat once again. This time, when I began to talk, the words flew out of my mouth. I began, “When I was seven years old, I moved here from New York. On my first day of school, I quickly realized I was an outcast among my classmates, and teachers easily forgot about me. I was lost, figuratively and literally. Mrs. Brown welcomed me into her office with open arms and brownies, always brownies.” The room chuckled.
“She showed me what it meant to be an outcast. And if you think you are one, there is another outcast just like you, you just haven’t found them yet. She let me open myself up to her like I was never able to do before. And, suddenly, I was only half lost–I still didn’t know where the lunchroom was.” The room full of fresh faces smiled with pain that filled each teardrop. “And so, I will never forget what this new life looks like because of her. Almost six years later and I have a friend named Iris who is the result of Mrs. Brown telling me to go out there and do what I never knew how to do. Be myself.”