In the movies, it always seems like high schools are made up of different groups. For example: the Jocks, the Preps, the Mean Girls, the Nerds, the Loners, the Stoners, etc. But what about in real life? Well, I suppose to some extent there are these groups. But what about in a small town? What about in a place where everyone knows each other, where there is a unique bond between everyone?
Lila Burrows moved to Oak River hoping that her life could start over. She had always been very shy and very sensitive, and living in a large city had not been good for her. Moving to small Oak River was to be a new beginning; a way to make new friends and forget about her life in the city. Her new high school would be small, and she would be more at home.
She was wrong. As time passed, from grade nine to grade twelve, she saw that life in a small town could be even worse than life in a city. Lila began to realize that though she was not living in a movie, there was no escape from the cliques and stereotypes. She discovered that these were a real part of life, even in a place where it seemed improbable. It was a gradual realization, that took three years to form and when Lila was finally able to see how her school truly appeared, it scared her.
"You guys," said Miss Scale, the art teacher. "Please be quiet! I'm trying to read the announcements." She glared at the group of girls sitting in the front right corner of the classroom and then commenced reading the announcements. When she finished, Miss Scale left the classroom to speak to another teacher. As soon as she left, the girls began to talk.
"She is such a crab," said Chleo, her voice filled with spite. "We were just talking. Not like it's going to kill her or something. Gosh."
"Oh I know! She could have waited until we finished, or at least not have yelled at us," agreed Kamryn.
They quickly stopped speaking when Miss Scale walked back into the class. She sat down at her desk, glancing up at Chleo, Kamryn, Sandi, and Pace. Miss Scale was not stupid, and knew that she was not liked by those girls. Marking her papers, she decided to try and enjoy the momentary silence which would be sure to end soon. Every day, no matter what, harsh gossip ensued. Miss Scale hated it, but what could she do about it?
Miss Scale, Nicki, was a new teacher in town. She started young and full of dreams, as many new teachers tend to do. Nicki decided that she would be a friend of her students; someone they could relate to and talk to and who would understand them. That is where she went wrong though. She tried so hard the be a friend, that when it came time to lay down the law, the students wouldn't listen. Eventually, she lost control of all classes, being only able to yell to get them to listen. Eventually, she became one of the most hated teachers. It was sad, but bound to happen.
"Miss Scale," said Chleo, "I'm just going to eat my orange and then I'll get started."
"Chleo," replied the teacher, "you should have eaten it at home. My class is not your kitchen. You've been in this classroom half an hour and have not done anything yet. You can eat your orange on your own time."
Chleo nodded and put her orange back into her purse. Then, as soon as Miss Scale was bent down over her work again, the girls began to whisper. "All I wanted was to eat my Christmas orange. Is that such a hard thing to ask?"
The other girls frantically began to whisper back that Miss Scale was being horrible unfair. They all agreed that she had something stuck up her butt and that she should go home until it could be removed. Then, they all got busy sculpting, avoiding eye contact with Miss Scale.
Meanwhile, Lila was seated several tables away and taking all of this in. She could not believe how immature the girls were behaving toward Miss Scale. While even Lilah had to agree that sometimes Miss Scale was unfair, they had no right to be so rude. It disgusted her but what could she do? She was shy and a loner in a school where everyone else was outgoing and had known each other since pre-school. Shaking her head, she picked away at her sculpture.
It was to be two hands forming a heart. This sculpture, her first, was to represent her longing for love, friends, hope, and peace in her school (though she did not realize this last representation until much later). Every scrape of the tool, every chunk that fell from the plaster brought her closer to completion. Lila hoped that when she finished it would look like the image in her mind. However, no matter how hard we work at something, it does not always turn out well in the end.
Oak River High was a block of plaster that needed to be chiselled. The gossip, hate and problems needed to be scraped away. Who could do this though? Certainly not Lila; she was shy, quiet and alone. It was something that needed to be done by a group. A group that all believed that ORH had the potential to be something beautiful and real. Bring down the layers that surrounded it, like excess plaster, to reveal the inside. It would be a long process, but Lila hoped; just like she hoped her sculpture would turn out okay in the end.
The Spare. In some cases, it is the best time of the day for a high school student. It provides relief and escape from the hardships of the school day. It gives a break, a chance to nap, go home, or eat. However in some cases, the spare can be most inconvenient. This was the case of Lila, Chleo and Sandi.
Their spare was located in between periods one and three. This meant that for one hour, they were stuck in the library because it was too short a time to run home for anything. One hour, everyday, these three girls sat at the same table near the fiction section bored out of their minds. It was okay for Lila at first because she loved to read, and loved books, but after only three months, she had read them all.
So, with nothing much else to do, these three talked. They talked about their pasts, got to know each other, and discussed school. Lila, who had previously been known as the shy bookworm, was seen as a funny girl with strange thoughts. Chleo, while one of the most beautiful girls in the school, felt herself to be fat and ugly. Sandi was classified as an 'emo', and while she did have a dark history, was fun and happy. Sadly though, for all the laughs and stories these girls shared, there were also some talks that disturbed Lila.
"Mrs. Lorne is such an daft idiot," said Chleo, her voice low so that the librarian wouldn't overhear their conversation. "That woman honestly cannot teach. Right Lila?"
"Mhm," agreed Lila. It was true, she could not teach, but she was not a daft idiot. Lila felt bad for not speaking up about this, but what could she do? When a shy person finally makes friends, she's not going to say anything to make them think twice about talking with her.
"She can't control her class," continued Chleo, "skips huge parts in the math text, and doesn't remember anything. It is getting ridiculous."
The girls were silent for a few minutes. Sandi wrote something in her notebook, Lila doodled, and Chleo fiddled with her mp3. The silence was broken when Dodge, a guy in their grade, came over and pulled up a chair.
"This looks exciting," he said sarcastically. Previously, he had been sitting with Brad across the library. From the way they would look up at the girls every now and then, it was obvious that they had been talking about them. "Chleo."
"Yes Dodge?" replied Chleo.
"What do you think about the US dropping the nuclear bomb on Japan?" He cocked his head and stared at her, waiting for the reply.
Chleo's eyes popped open and she exclaimed, "US dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan! When?"
Dodge's mouth almost dropped open in disbelief. "World War II. You know..."
"No, I don't. Should I?" she asked.
Instead of answering directly, he shook his head and went back to Brad. The girls overheard Dodge saying, "All I wanted was to have an intelligent conversation. Guess not."
This did not please Chleo. "What did I say?" she called across the library. "How am I supposed to know about this? I haven't taken history yet; not until next semester. Am I just supposed to know this?" She then turned to Lila and asked, "Did I say something stupid?"
Lila threw away the care of saying what was wanted to be heard. For a moment, she did not care whether what she said lost her a friend. She could not believe that Chleo had never heard of Pearl Harbour. "Kind of."
"How?" asked Chleo, almost panicky and angry.
"Well it was kind of an important event in history. Haven't you seen or heard of the movie Pearl Harbour?"
"I've heard of it, but haven't seen it."
"Well," said Lila, "that's what it's about. Japan destroyed Pearl Harbour, and so the States dropped a nuclear bomb on them. It's all much more interesting and detailed than just that, but that's the gist of it. You've honestly never heard of this?"
"Wow. I mean...not even in school?" Lila was still shocked that Chleo had never heard of Pearl Harbour. Chleo shook her head 'no'. An awkward silence occurred, of which followed a long, angry rant by Chleo about how she was not stupid. Many death glares were sent to Dodge as she rattled on and on about how she had no way of knowing about WWII.
Lila knew that a small town would contain people who were not 'worldly', so to speak. She expected that they would be out of the loop in some matters, and that they wouldn't be up to date with some global news. Lila never expected though, to meet a girl who didn't know anything about WWII. Later on that day, she regretted saying that what Chleo had said was not smart. However, on another lever, it was as though saying 'Kind of', was a way of chipping away a tiny corner of the plaster.
How? Chleo, while a funny, intelligent girl, was one of the biggest 'gossips' in the school. Always saying harmful things about people behind their backs, always referring to the teachers as Nazis, and behaving as though she was the only one who knew better. Lila liked Chleo, but was scared that she would be pulled into the traps of gossip and popularity. If Lila had told Chleo that not knowing about WWII was not silly or stupid, Chleo wouldn't have been brought out into the real world for a moment. Living in a small town her whole life, clouded her mind. Only the mundane news of small town life made an impact on her; the rest of the world, minus celebrities and movies, did not matter to her.
By 'bringing her down a notch', which was not nice, Lila showed her that there is more. A piece of the plaster fell to the table and crumbled. A side of Chleo that Lila had never seen before was shown. Panic, fear. When Chleo left Oak River, what would happen? Would she be ready, would she be okay? Maybe, just maybe, Lila and Dodge helped Chleo to see how much more there is than Oak River.
From that moment on, Lila began to see a change in not only Chleo, but also herself. The sculpture was beginning to form. It was slow and tedious, but happening all the same.
English used to be one of Lila's favourite classes. It was about reading, so how could it not be? Her teacher, Mrs. Sanders, was amazing at what she did and made the class enjoyable. Well, it was enjoyable until grade twelve and Gibson came around. Suddenly, English class turned into a lame daytime talk show.
Gibson was a jock. That was one of the only words that ever came to Lila's mind to describe him. Normally, that would not be a problem, but Gibson was an egotistical jock. He figured that because he was a key player on the football team, that he had special rights in the school. For example, he seemed to think he was 'running' the school. He constantly bossed everyone around from grade eights to grade twelves to even the teachers. Just because he was powerful on the team meant that he was powerful in life and could decided whether or not the things people said were okay or not; if someone said something he did not agree with, he would let everyone know about. Finally, it seemed that he became a sort of...mafia leader of the school. He had full control over the football team. It was like they were his minions, there to do his bidding.
At first Lila tried not to think poorly of them because there had to be at least a few who didn't follow Gibson like little puppies, but as the season progressed she realized that it was all of them. They all walked through the school hallways, pushing smaller kids out of the way and speaking loudly. They would congregate in front of lockers that did not belong to them and would not move out of the way. They decided who was worth anything or not. They decided what was cool. Everyone but them though, thought the team was despicable.
It was in English where the opinions of the football team and everyone else would clash. Mrs. Sanders would mention the simplest thing, and it would start a class argument. Eventually it got to the point where Mrs. Sanders had to yell at the class to calm down. Eventually it got to the point where she and Gibson would almost be fighting over whether or not he should keep his opinions to himself.
Want to know the saddest thing in all of this? Throughout everything, Lila noticed the one football player who was not Gibson's minion purely by choice. Want to know the ironic thing? He was the one 'minion', who Gibson could literally command to do anything. For example, Gibson would say, "Hey Mack, volunteer to be Polonius," during Hamlet and Mack would actually do it.
Lila had watched the relationship of Mack and Gibson over the years. She recalled a time when Mack had been quiet and alone, just like her. Then, Gibson saw that Mack would probably do anything to have friends. Thus, Gibson 'adopted' Mack into his group. Quickly, Mack climbed the social ladder. He was being invited to parties and was on the football team. He knew though, that if he ever upset Gibson he would be cut off.
The arguments between the football team and everyone else was like a dry piece of plaster. It could not be kept damp, and therefore became hard to chisel away. The one tool needed to break this piece of the plaster off was lost. With that tool missing, the piece was impossible to remove, making the process of creating the final product almost seem impossible. Lila wondered when that tool would be found, and who would find it.
Lila was growing weary. Weary of the trivial problems of the people in her school. The football team and the girls volleyball team were at war and things were turning nasty. There was nothing she could do except watch and pray that things wouldn't get physical. One day, things became worse than usual.
There was to be a pep rally for the volleyball team; the senior girls. They were the only team with true team spirit. When the football team had a rally, they stalked in to loud rock music, glaring at the people who didn't cheer. They sneered at the girls volleyball team as they jogged through the gym, taking their places. Out of what Lila could only assume was fear of some sort, Gibson was given the loudest cheers.
The music started and the volleyball team ran in to real, excited cheering of the students and teachers. Pom poms were waved, banners held up and everyone was happy. The girls loved the support they were getting as they slid across the floor into their positions. When they stood up to face everyone though, something was amiss.
The football team stood at the rear of the gym against the wall. Instead of applause, they stood there with their arms folded across their chests. Steely glares were to be found in their narrowed eyes. No support. The girls were brought down. All they had ever done was support the guys and show up at their games with enthusiasm. The pep rally lost its pep and the war continued. It was like the wrong piece of plaster had been chipped off, causing a snag in the creator's plan.
The next day, the girls confronted the boys and a huge argument broke out. In the end, feelings were hurt, tempers flared, and one of the boys ended up being slapped across the face. Soon, the guys scoffed whenever volleyball was mentioned. One day, when Pace said to Celia that she had to get new sneakers before the next game, Gibson rolled his eyes.
"Pace, be quiet," he said cruelly.
Pace turned to glare at him. "Why? I'm just trying to talk to Celia here. Please stay out of it."
To Pace and Celia's horror, Gibson pulled his shirt up to reveal his team shirt on underneath. He tugged at it, emphasizing its presence and said, "See this? Yeah. That's right Pace." Everyone in the room turned to face Gibson. Seeing that all eyes were upon him, he called out to Robbie and Mack, "Guys, you can back me up, eh?" They all turned to face Robbie and Mack who were also wearing football shirts. If the teacher hadn't walked in, things would have gotten violent.
Lila couldn't believe what had just happened. It was utterly ridiculous and really hurt her, though she didn't know why. How could someone be so full of himself? What right had he to behave this way? To infringe his opinions on everyone? To decide what was acceptable? Something had to change.
The sculpture had been dropped. While it had landed on a soft surface, it still crumbled. Someone needed to repair it, but it would be tedious. Scoring each piece and carefully wetting the plaster to stick it back together. And what if it could not be fixed? Well, Lila didn't want to think about that.
Thursday, December 21, 2006 was a day that Lila Burrows would never forget. It was the day when she not only stood up for herself, but the that she was terrified to go back to school. It was one of the worst days of her life. A day when another tool went missing, but at the same time another corner of the sculpture was completed.
It all began in art. Miss Scale was reading the announcements with Chleo, Pace, Kamryn, and Sandi talking while she read. Typical. "At 12:10 there will be a House Challenge."
"12:10?" said Chleo, snapping her head up to look at Miss Scale. "That's when lunch starts!"
"Yes," said Miss Scale, "I know that." She continued with the announcements while the class complained about the House Challenge. The school was divided into houses, each representing a letter of the Greek alphabet. The students hated it and now that a house challenge was cutting into their lunch hour, they hated it even more. Something had to be done.
Chleo, Sandi and Lila talked about it during their spare. "We could protest it!" declared Sandy. "Just like the pajama protest!" Earlier that morning, she was sent home to change because she wore pajama pants to school. She was still bitter and organizing a day when everyone would wear pajama pants to school in protest. "Let's write a petition!"
"Oh, I like that idea," said Chleo. "Lila you write it, you have the nicest writing."
Lila smiled and pulled out a couple sheets of paper from her binder. "I'll even use my fancy pen," she said. She was against House Meetings and Challenges. Being shy, it was always awkward for her. Now that it was cutting into lunch, she was losing her escape from school. That one time during the day when she was able to leave the building. Now it was being taken away from her, and if a petition would fix it, then she was all for it.
Once the title was written, and numbers had been written down the page, Dodge appeared at the table. "What's this?" he asked.
"A petition to end the Houses and stuff," answered Sandi.
"A petition? What are you, in grade two?"
"No, we're in grade twelve and this is not childish," said Chleo. "You don't like House Meetings, do you?"
"No, but I'm not going to sign some stupid petition to stop them. I'm not an idiot," Dodge said, his voice dripping with the implication that they were.
"If you're not going to be nice," replied Chleo, "then you can go away." Dodge rolled his eyes and then went to do things on the computer across the library. "Sandi, get people to sign."
Sandi nodded, and then headed over to a girl to ask her to sign the petition. She explained the cause in hushed tones, but apparently she wasn't quiet enough. A teacher who was new at the school overheard what was going on. Her name was Ms. Bane and no one really knew anything about her. Chleo and Lila watched as she went over and told Sandi to sit down at her own table. The girls were upset by this and began a heated discussion about the House Challenge and why they disliked it. Ms. Bane overheard them again and came over.
"Girls," she said, leaning over the table, "what is your problem?"
"We don't like the House Meetings," answered Sandi. "They're boring and pointless."
"Nobody likes them," added Chleo.
Ms. Bane sighed and said, "Girls, the teachers and student council work really hard to make these House Meetings for you. It's the second last day of school and Christmas is next week, why can't you just enjoy it and have fun?"
"It's cutting into our lunch hour, that's why," said Chleo. "It's our lunch time, why should we give it up for a House Meeting."
"Girls, I'm new here and want to try everything. School's almost done and this is your last year, just stop complaining. I'm going to have fun and I hardly know anyone. You know lots of people so I'm sure you can have lots of fun."
"No," Chleo argued. "The school is forcing us to spend time with people we don't know and is doing it during our lunch hour!"
"The school knows what it's doing," replied Ms. Bane. "Why can't you trust what's going on?"
"Why can't we just have our petition to let the school know how the students really feel?" asked Sandi.
Ms. Bane stood up straight and answered, as she walked away, "You girls are being really immature."
Outraged, Chleo, Sandi and Lila tried not to raise their voices. "We have a right," said Lila. "How is demonstrating what we've learned in school about the power of protesting and petitions being immature? The immature thing would be to whine and complain. Instead, we're taking action and getting the students' opinions."
"Well said, Lila," agreed Chleo and Sandi together. "It's our right," said Sandi. They noticed Dodge across the room, rolling his eyes which just fueled their fight. The more they spoke about it though, the more they realized that if one teacher thought that all of this was stupid, then what would the others think? They decided to abandon the petition idea, hiding it in Lila's binder and then talked about what else they could possibly do. As they discussed their new plan of action however, Mr. Clarke, the principal, walked into the library.
"Come with me to the office, now," he demanded as he stood with his hands on his hips and his eyes fixed on the girls. "Both of you. Now."
"But Mr. Clarke," protested Sandi, "we're not doing it anymore. We realize it was silly and aren't doing it anymore."
"But Mr. Clarke!" exclaimed Chleo.
Chleo and Sandi stood up and Lila made to follow. Chleo placed a hand on Lila's shoulder and whispered, "Stay here, you didn't really do anything and he isn't blaming you. Don't worry about it." They followed Mr. Clarke out of the library, leaving Lila with a pounding heart.
She had almost been sent to the office, something that had never happened to her before. She had almost gotten in trouble, something that had never happened to her before at school. She had almost gotten in trouble for standing up for something, something had never happened to her before at school and something that she never imagined could happen. Grabbing her book, she quickly immersed herself in its words, trying not to panic.
"Those girls are just upset because they have no power and can't control the situation and school," said Ms. Bane across the room. Lila clenched a fist in anger. That teacher had no right to call them immature and then talk behind their backs. The early signs of crying were beginning to appear in Lila's body, and she hoped that things would not come to tears. Five minutes later, Chleo and Sandi came back and to Lila's surprise, they were laughing.
They sat down and Chleo filled her in. "Turns out the House Challenge is at 12:00, not 12:10! We got really pissed all for nothing."
"We still hate House Meetings or Challenges or whatever," added Sandi, "but at least it's not cutting into our lunch hour. And! We stood up for you. Mr. Clarke asked why we don't like Houses and we said all the things we talked about today, but I also mentioned that I had a 'nameless friend' who was really shy and didn't like being put into groups with people she doesn't know."
"Thanks guys," said Lila. She was thankful beyond anything they could imagine. People never stood up for her or any of the other shy kids in the school. A lost sculpting tool was found. The girls were happy...and then Dodge came back over and brought a girl named Britt with him.
"A petition?" she said mockingly.
"Shut up Britt," replied Chleo. "We made a mistake, got in trouble, it's over. Do you like House Meetings?"
"Yes," said Britt, "I do. They're fun. You're idiots for not liking them. Why don't you like them?"
Chleo and Sandi prattled off their list of why they disliked House Meetings while Britt just stared at them. "And," added Lila, surprised that she was jumping into the conversation, "they're really awkward for shy people."
"How?" asked Britt, like the idea was impossible.
"If you were shy, would you want to be stuffed into a room with a bunch of people you don't like?"
"Well how would you know if you liked the people if you didn't get 'stuffed in a room' with them?" Britt crossed her arms.
"That's not the point. When you're shy that's like torture. School, is like torture. Being forced to come to school is bad enough, but being forced to have school spirit is even worse." Lila's voice was rising and it was obvious that she was not speaking about shy people in general, but herself.
"Then maybe those shy people should be home schooled," retorted Britt.
"Maybe they can't be home schooled!"
"Why wouldn't the be able to be home schooled?"
"Maybe their parents work!"
"Whatever, you guys are still stupid." Britt got up and left.
"Dodge," said Chleo after a moment. "You better not go running to tell Gibson about all of this."
"You're damn right that's what I'm going to do," said Dodge. "You guys are morons."
Chleo groaned. "But you don't have to tell Gibson! We realize that maybe a petition wasn't such a great idea. We got in trouble, and now everything is over. Please don't tell Gibson."
"I'm telling him."
"If you have any heart at all! If you care at all! Please Dodge, don't!" Chleo pleaded. Dodge shook his head. "You have no heart," she said. Dodge got up and left and then the bell rang. "Gibson will never let us forget this."
"This sucks," said Sandi. "We'll see you later Lila."
"Bye." Lila watched as her friends left her sitting at that table. The librarian had seen what had happened and came over to Lila to talk about it. Lila described her feelings toward House Challenges, Meetings and school in general and before she knew it, tears were spilling down her cheeks.
Dodge was going to tell Gibson. Gibson would then, in turn, tell the football team. And then? Reputations would be ruined. Lila went home for lunch that day and cried. She couldn't even eat she was so scared of what Gibson would say.
For a little while, the sculpture was being brought nearer to completion. But then, everything was brought down. That day, Lila's sculpture was ruined. In art the next day she realized that she had forgotten to put thumbs on the sculpture. Two weeks of work, ruined. Miss Scale docked marks because of this and Lila's heart was broken.
Forgetting one piece of the sculpture could bring ruin. Lost tools and crumbled pieces could bring ruin. The sculpture, while finished, could never be complete. It was now beyond repair and beyond saving. Even hope was useless.