Mid September 1989
My life is a horror movie. Give or take a scene.
I feel the eyes of Park West’s most popular girls pointing daggers at me from the back of the classroom. I’d love to ask them what they’re looking at. I’d love to ask them what their problem is. But because I want to live to see another day in this hellhole of a high school, I just do my best to listen to Mrs. Lubbock talk about The Civil War.
“During the Civil War Lincoln freed the slaves.” Mrs. Lubbock says as she continues her lecture. “And he did so in an effort to help Black people have a better life in America.”
Okay, I hate to correct a teacher. But that’s only part of the story. And I can’t have my fellow classmates go on being miseducated by our wonderfully substandard New York City public school system when I can do something about it. Besides, me pontificating about the Civil War will eat some time off the clock. When this period is over, half the day will be gone. Then it’ll be one year, nine months, thirty-three days and two hours until I can kiss this shithole goodbye on graduation day.
“Mrs. Lubbock?” I ask raising my hand.
“Yes Matilda?” She asks.
“Er…President Lincoln didn’t free the slaves to help them have a better life, he freed them part of a strategy to win the Civil War.”
Mrs. Lubbock gives me a curious look on hearing my statement. When she flashes me a smile I realize I’m not in trouble. “What would that strategy have been Matilda?”
Is she actually interested in what I have to say? “Well, Lincoln wanted to preserve the Union above all else. And one of the strategies he used to undermine the Confederacy was freeing the slaves.”
I hear a chorus of huffed sighs and sucked teeth on hearing my presentation of the facts about American History. Mrs. Lubbock smiles proudly after hearing me speak. “But they got a better life after they were freed.”
I’d love to tell her that the results of that could be debated. But I don’t want to push my luck with the teachers around here. “We had to fight for it.”
Mrs. Lubbock is about to reply to me when the bell rings. Students start scrambling for the door as I ease out of my seat and start stuffing my notebook in my backpack. Just as I’m putting my American History book in my bag, I catch the cold look in Shantelle’s eyes. The faster I get out of here the faster I can get to the cafeteria. And maybe school security will actually give a shit about me when I get there.
I’m about to make a beeline for the door to make my escape when Mrs. Lubbock calls out to me. “Matilda, could you stay for a minute?” She requests.
Me and my big mouth. I shuffle back over to Mrs. Lubbock’s desk while the rest of the class files out of the classroom. As Shantelle and her girls get to the door, she looks me dead in my eyes and whispers that she’s gonna fuck me up. Just what I need. The threat of an ass kicking before I get my fish sticks.
After Shantelle leaves, Mrs. Lubbock closes the door behind her and turns to greet me with a kind smile. “That was a very intelligent observation about the Civil War Matilda.”
My eyes fall to the floor on the compliment. “Er…I just thought I could say something about the subject.” I say. “My Dad’s a professor and he teaches this stuff at the college where he works at.”
“So this class is just a formality to you.”
I’d have to say so. He’s been drilling Black history into me since I was seven years old. I’d love to tell her about the impending ass kicking I’ve been threatened with, but we’re having such a lovely conversation. “Yeah, that’s what my Dad tells me.”
“Since you know so much, I’d love to hear more from you.”
I’d love to say more in class but it’d just get me more grief from my fellow classmates in the cheap seats. “I just wanted to say something about the subject.” I say playing with the cuffs of my jacket.
“Well, don’t be afraid to speak. We’re not going to hurt you.”
That can be debated. If I say what I really want to, Shantelle and her friends may silence me permanently. “I don’t know…”
“Matilda, I know you’re uncomfortable about speaking, but you have to find your voice.”
I give her a look. “What do I need a voice for? I get good grades-”
“Your voice is the only way you’re going to make it in this world. It’s the only way people are going to know who you really are.”
That’s my problem. People know who I am. Matilda Kelley Crowley, the middle class girl next door. And because I am the middle class girl next door they can’t be they all hate me. “They know who I am-”
“I wouldn’t even know you were here if I weren’t taking attendance. You’re so quiet it’s like you’re invisible.”
I’m a middle child. Being invisible is what we do best. “I usually don’t have anything to say-”
Mrs. Lubbock takes my hand and gives me an earnest look. “I believe if you want something bad enough you’ll tell the world. And you’ll tell the world why you want it.”
“I guess I have to fight for it.”
Mrs. Lubbock gives me kind smile that makes me think she actually believes in me. “Just think about what I told you.”
I check my watch as I rush towards the door and hurry down the hall into Staircase C. I’ve got two minutes before the late bell rings. If I’m lucky Shantelle and her girls are already in the cafeteria. And maybe I can avoid getting my ass kicked today.