"What's wrong?" I asked, totally bewildered.
Theo poked his head out from his bedroom. "My English teacher recommended me for English I," he said. In response, Ashes started to cry a little more and cover her head in a blanket.
"It's not congratulations," Ashes said from underneath the blanket. "I had the same teacher, and she didn't recommend me for anything like that! I worked like crazy for he, and she recommended me for English III. I hate her, so much!"
Theo's smile dropped a notch. "Everyone feels bad for Ashes more than they feel happy for me." And with that, he trudged over to Corb's bedroom.
I know how Theo feels, but honestly, I completely understand how Ashes feels, too. She's at a really difficult period in life right now--the second half of junior year in high school, and facing driver's ed and the SATs, and feeling bad because she doesn't know how to drive yet and doesn't have a job, and wondering where she's going to go to college...
And here's a teacher she had totally looked up to, someone who had really gotten her to love reading, and then toward the end of the year, rather than being rewarded...ah, I remember her, being so hurt when she had been recommended to take a more remedial level upon entering high school. Meanwhile, Theo, who has never really expressed much of an interest in English, waltzes past Ashes with the exact same teacher.
I can totally get it. From her perspective, life has dealt her a cruel blow, even if Theo's achievements have nothing to do with her achievements. Siblings locked in perpetual rivalry never can quite see it that way, however.
Plus, she had had the worst week ever, even without that. A fight with her best friend, Jo-Ellen. On Tuesday, she had locked herself out of Josie's house, and had to wait outside in the freezing rain for Josie to get home. She also tried to break in to the house by using a paper clip, and because of that, Josie was docking her $50 in babysitting money. Not a good week to be Ashes.
Somehow, through the course of the night, I was able to get her to cheer up, just a little bit. We signed her up for SATs and I spoke to my father, and he had some encouraging words that I was able to steal and make her feel a little better. However, because she had done so much crying, she complained of a headache and ended up falling asleep around 9:30.
The next day, I decided to cheer her up by driving her to school and buying her something at Honey Dew on the way. Thought it might make her feel good to have a little special attention paid to her. But halfway through the ride, she started getting herself worked up about English again. How much she hated the teacher, how much she hated the school she was in, how she'd never have a future.
After she left, in desperation, I called my sister Kerrie, who was a middle school teacher and had been around Ashes at the time of the English III incident. "You know, she didn't always do her projects on time," said Kerrie. "I remember that year, really well. In fact, there was one project I had to bring her to my classroom on and get her to start working on."
"Well..." It's true. Ashes does have the tendency to procrastinate.
"Let me try stopping by your house this afternoon, after school," said Kerrie. "Will she be there?"
"I'll be there at around three."
Sometime after four, I received a call at work. "Well, I went to see her," said Kerrie.
"And, nothing. We went out for a walk, and she pretended everything was fine. I asked her about home, she said it was going great. Asked about school, she said the same. Even tried to talk about how angry I got in junior high school because I wasn't allowed into Honors English. Didn't help."
"She didn't say a word?"
"Not a word."
Damn! Why is it that kids refuse to say a word to someone that could actually help them? To me, she tells me everything, and I feel so completely helpless. But Kerrie, she's in the school system, she can talk about these things from a position of knowledge. Me...well, sometimes I don't think I ever find the right words. Not the ones that actually stick, at least.
Today, as I was driving home from work, I spoke to Ashes briefly on the phone. "Did you have Auntie Kerrie come visit me?" she asked, sounding a little amused.
"Sure did. And you didn't say anything to her!"
"What am I going to say?" she replied, bordering on the whiny.
"You could have said something. Anything. It might be nice to have someone to talk to. She's a good listener, too."
"I just couldn't think of what to say."
"Talk about school. Talk about your anger, or your school. Talk about something." I paused. "She said she'd come by to visit next week. Maybe talk then?"
Ashes voice sounded a little wistful. "Maybe."
Well, that's something at least.
And Ashes is going to need someone to talk with, too. You see, Theo's decided to kick it up a notch and take Honors English.
P.S.: I'm DREADING that conversation.