by Ronda Steinke-McDonald
Senior Skip Day
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Though all the other parents know about it, and all of their kids will be attending the fun beach day at the Smith’s house, it turns out I won’t. Period.
I am a stranger among them, come to alter myself, to become a sincere, meaningful person. A year and half earlier in the middle of my junior year in high school, I left my dad, my best friends, my boyfriend, my cheerleading squad, and my selection for a senior year honor program to come to this shabby, little motel of a church school. The lessons we learn here are inferior to those I’d had up north, the Christian character of my classmates is negligible, and my place in society has been turned on its head. These are not lighthearted days.
It’s now May of 1979, ten days before graduation. Our Junior-Senior Banquet (we are too Christian to have dances) is Saturday and tomorrow is our senior skip day. I mention this excitedly at bedtime to my mom who shares a double bed with me in our small, musty room of the dumpy apartment we share with our roommate Amy. Immediately my mom signals there is a problem. “Is this a school sponsored event?”
My mom used to sell drugs and had to leave town with her criminal boyfriend when I was 14; we didn’t see her for more than a year. Since I agreed to come live here with her 18 months ago, she has recast herself as a righteous mom and is determined to help me fulfill my vision of having a fresh start in life. Until two months ago I wasn’t allowed to date anyone, I can only wear modest one-piece bathing suits in this beach town, and may not do anything normal at any time.
Though all the other parents know about it, and all of their kids will be attending the fun beach day at the Smith’s house, it turns out I won’t. Period. I don’t even verbalize a protest because she is insane. Soon she is sleeping, while I fight the urge to hold my pillow over her face so I can, in fact, go to the senior skip day and have one last day of youthful joy before I go to prison for ending my mother’s life. My dread of having to embody this final abnormality is overwhelming; I exhaust myself resisting the urge to finish her off.
Upon waking, dread descends immediately. I reach over and pick up my large, heavy Bible from the nightstand asking God to give me something to sustain me as I randomly open the book for guidance.
“Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest unto your souls.”
Ah, there it is. Humility is the path forward. An unexpected veneer of peace settles on me. I dress calmly and walk the two long blocks to the miserable, little school. Along the way I hatch a plan that once I explain everything to the principal he’ll send me home. I go directly to his secretary who has me wait in the chairs across from her desk. Here I am a target for my awkward, overly tall, spinster math teacher who sticks her head in the room to call me a turkey and rhetorically ask me why I am here on Senior Skip Day.
“Really, Mary, why are any of us here? To what end do we invest our energies in these myriad futilities?” would be my non-rhetorical reply, but I say nothing. Now the secretary’s phone buzzes and I’m summoned upstairs. I fly up the steps and burst into his office. I’m in love with my principal and think we’ll get married in a few years when I graduate from college. The difference in our ages is the same as that between my grandparents, which is an omen of legitimacy. He and I are cut from the same cloth, we seek God. I’m certain he is going to save me from the pain of this burgeoning humiliation.
I lay it out for him in a non-stop sentence, concluding with “and if you say it is okay, my mom will let me go to the Smith’s or at least come home.” And I smile at him with my whole heart in anticipation of the salvation he is about to bestow.
But the Spirit of God leads him in another direction. After a considered pause he says, “Well, your mother is asking for obedience. And until you explained all this, I didn’t even know there was a skip day, so now I know why the kids were doing donuts in the parking field and took off laughing as I pulled in.”
“If I send you home there is no obedience, only avoidance. I know this is hard to hear, but I think you have to stay in school today.” And when he says it, not because it’s him and my crush and all, but because of a deep truth dawning on me, and remembering the verses from Matthew 28, I know it’s the right thing to stay and so I do. I stay through the whole miserable, “never got any better than being mocked by the math teacher” day.
The next night at our banquet quite a few of the 12 seniors in our graduating class explain to me exactly what my problem is, but I’m not really listening with a mind that thinks anything they value matters. Instead I laugh the evening away with my inconsequential escort and my one true friend, Kerry. Together we wear our misfit badges with pride in this palace of hypocrisy and shame. Humility is the path forward.
Ronda Steinke-McDonald is a writer, artist, and lecturer on social and emotional well being. Originally from the Downriver area south of Detroit, Michigan, she now resides in Jacksonville Beach, FL.