Pippa’s Boarding School Stories

Having Pippa home for the weekend means that I get to hear all sorts of hilarious boarding school stories. When I’m not being regaled with tales of a boy taking off running to avoid a drug test and then disappearing for days, I’m giggling at Pippa’s other slightly scandalous tales.

“Then the hockey guys got mad about the dress code and didn’t wear their pants to class. Instead, they wore their suit jackets, ties, and oxfords over their under-armor tights.”

“And then to get back at his girlfriend for breaking up with him, he decides to cut his hair into a mullet. Obviously, it did not work. And then a bunch of other guys did it too, and someone else’s girlfriend dumped them because they couldn’t deal with the mullet. Mullets are never the way to go.”

“Oh, someone started a Gossip Girl-esque Facebook and Twitter account where they share all the gossip about people. It’s really popular. My roommate last year was on it a lot.”

“So, you know, he looks like a Hollywood kind of guy, but the type that always plays hockey players because he is a hockey player.”

I am absolutely entranced by these stories because they nearly all sound like the sort of events that only exist in novels, tv shows, and movies, only I’ve visited the school and can actually verify that they’re the truth.

Boarding school is a whole other world filled with cocaine expulsions, designer purses used as backpacks, and endless dances. If I had the opportunity, I would love to be a fly on the wall and observe these strange and often over-privileged kids in action as they go about their business in preppy clothes. Alas, I am not an Animagi nor have the power to shrink, so I’ll just have to keep hanging on every last one of Pippa’s words and keeping notes on the funny and interesting things she reports.

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr athttp://emleng93.tumblr.com/. I’d love for you to follow me on my trek into the wilds of tumblr.

How to Shut Up a Bully in French Class

The reader selected post for last week was a tie between “How to Shut Up a Bully in French Class” and “Explorations in the World of Ella’s Nutrition.” And as I’ve spent a portion of this evening discussing classroom dynamics with my mother, I’m going to write about the former.

Freshman year of high school was terrifying. I began the year with few friends in my classes, and the high school was huge–two buildings and close to two thousand students. I was absolutely adrift. I don’t think I had any friends over at my house until about March, and if it weren’t for meeting Cecelia and hanging by Tal at lunch and Audrey in English and History, I would have turned into even more of a wallflower. My life revolved around reading in my bedroom and observing other people. It was pathetic and extremely depressing.

Ella at fourteen.

What I probably looked like 90% of the time, minus the billowing flannel nightgown.

Of course, none of this is to say that my life remained this way for the rest of high school. The next year, everything did an almost a complete 180° shift, and I was constantly busy and surrounded by friends.

But for that first year, I was downright miserable, and it showed, the way that those things often do. It wasn’t that I cried or walked around looking distraught, I was just wide-eyed, quiet, and very timid–a perfect combination for being bullied.

French class was the worst. I knew no one, there was extreme familial pressure to do well (We’re French for pity’s sake, Ella! You should be able to communicate with your grandmother and great-aunts by now!), and my fear of making mistakes was amplified tremendously. I was not going to be the person who made themselves look ridiculous in front of the entire class. And of course, the exact opposite was what went down.

There was a senior boy still stuck in French II, who despite not being particularly smart, had a mean streak a mile wide and managed to extremely intimidate me by flippantly breaking rules and constantly talking about being on the varsity wrestling team.

You should never doubt the fear that a letterman jacket with the words “Varsity Wrestling” can instill in a freshman girl. Some part of me was sure that if I did anything to offend him, I would be find myself with both arms pinned
behind my back and my face smashed into the linoleum. And having once slammed my face into a concrete curb while being chased by a vicious goose (true story), I was already intimately aware of the sensation of hitting your head on something hard enough to bruise your brain and nearly fracture your skull.

So a few weeks into the class, this kid (who amusingly shares a name with an ex-boyfriend, though the similarities stop there), discovered that I was rather vulnerable and very worried about grades.

He may have been seated all the way across the classroom, but he managed to find out what I scored on everything from homework to the midterm and mocked me for it. The teasing got worse whenever I had to give a presentation or do anything that required me to speak in front of the class. But having been heavily bullied in elementary school, I tried to do what I did then and just turned the other cheek. I figured that if I ignored him long enough, he’d give up.

Unfortunately, turning the other cheek does not work in all cases of bullying. I just had to ride out large portions of elementary school, and this charming boy was making it look like I was going to have to spend French class the same way. You can spend all the time in the world thinking about Jesus, the Scriptures, and the importance of forgiveness. You can even pray quietly in class for God to grant you the ability to forgive the bully and for the tormenting to stop, but it’s pretty rare that the bullying will entirely stop unless you also take some form of assertive action.

One day in the spring, I was staring our of the window thinking about the Confession of Sin while our teacher passed back our latest test. When my teacher dropped mine on my desk, I noticed that I had earned a 93%, despite all of the time I had spent studying. I had been worrying about the oral section for days, and seeing that I had, in fact, not done very well on that section was frustrating and very discouraging. I knew at that point that I was going to be spending the summer in France studying at a university and living with a host family. My current speaking skills needed quite a bit of improvement. Close to six weeks alone in a country where I didn’t speak the language was already stressing me out. So I tugged on my hair, bit my lip, and tried very hard not to cry.

At this point, the boy had already noticed not only my grade, but also that I was close to crying. But as he began to mock my reaction, I realized something: I have a high A average in this class, I thought, He is nearly failing it for a third time. Putting aside the morals of bullying, he just doesn’t have the authority from which to criticize my grades. And I knew what I needed to do.

I looked up, tucked my hair back behind my ear, and said in a voice loud enough to be heard by him and most of the class, but still be ignored by the teacher, “Hey, at least I get ninety-threes. When was the last time you even got close to an A?”

A few people made ooooh’s and laughed, but he just opened and shut his mouth like an unintelligent goldfish. I turned back to my test and neatly filed it away in my binder, smiling a little at my jab. Score one for Ella.

And while I wish that I could say that he never did anything to me again, that would be a lie. But the teasing certainly did decrease, and I got better at standing up for myself.

Years later, I’ve continued to think about the incident–my joy to have come up with my own stinging retaliation, his shock, and the bullying before and after–and I must admit that I actually feel bad for him. Being a senior in a room full of freshman and sophomores must be rough, particularly if you are very close to failing the course. You can’t graduate without fulfilling your foreign language requirements, and I’m sure he was worried about not being able to leave in June. No one wants to be in high school forever, and I also know that when I feel stressed and ashamed, I don’t always act with grace.

This is not to say that I’m okay with what he did–hurting people, no matter how you are feeling is wrong and deplorable–but I understand how he must have felt. No one ever acts without a motivation, and that motivation is almost always emotion-based. I hope that my response to his bullying didn’t further harm his own self-esteem, and I wonder now if it would have been better to just continue turning the other cheek, even if what he said upset me. But such is the way of the past and former choices–what happened happened, and getting stuck debating what could have been is never productive.

Here’s the poll for next week’s post.

Rules: You can only vote once and select up to four choices before hitting “vote.” Unfortunately, if you hit “vote” without selecting multiple options, you will be unable to go back and select other choices as well. I’m sorry, but that’s the way the poll website runs. Additionally, when I did have unlimited voting on previous polls, some people used it to vote upwards of eighty times for their favorite. And as I’d prefer for this blog to run as fairly and democratically as possible, rules have become a necessity.

Happy voting!

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/. I’d love for you to follow me on my trek into the wilds of tumblr.

Ella and the Backpack

Everyday for over six years, my backpack has lived on a chair in the back of the kitchen. Sometimes, I keep a pair of shoes tucked underneath, and one or more of my purses hangs off the back. It’s “my chair,” and no one else is allowed to mess with it.

About a week ago, when all of my family was arriving at my house, my dad removed my backpack so people could sit in the chair. It was a totally reasonable request–I’m not heading back to school in the fall, and I don’t have anything hefty that I need to regularly carry around on my back–but it made me really angry. That was MY chair he was messing with. It was MY territory with MY sacred things, and I might have well stuck “Keep Out” and “If You Touch This You Will Suffer a Painful Doom” stickers all over it, the way I did with Post-It Notes on my dresser when I was nine.

I suppose I’m angry about moving that backpack because removing it would feel like the final admittance that everyone is leaving. As long as my backpack stays on that chair, it just looks like I’m home on break and that soon it’ll be time to go back to school and catch up with everyone about what they did over the summer. All my binders are exactly the way I left them on the last day of school. I haven’t touched a single paper. I’ve raided the pencil pouch a few times, but I always put everything back the way it was because it still feels like I’m going to need it for class later.

I say that I’ll deal with everything in the backpack when my parents buy me a file cabinet–I need some place to put all the paper, because those 250-word reactions I wrote about democracy quotes are going to be really important to have at some point. But I don’t know if even then, when everything is all set up, if I’ll have the heart to do it.

I don’t want to let go of high school quite yet, no matter how much life tended to suck while I was in it. I was always surrounded by such lovely, lovely people who made me so happy; I got to see my friends everyday; I had really great teachers and fun classes; I got to be a part of amazing clubs with awesome people; and I had finally become friends with every secretary in the school, guaranteeing me preferential treatment in every office. Things were wonderful when I wasn’t dealing with mental illness.

And now all of that’s gone. Some people have already left for college and by the end of the month it will be everyone. Even if I still keep my backpack on that kitchen chair, my sham will be utterly destroyed.

My lie to myself becomes more and more obvious as time wears on, and I find myself become more and more withdrawn. I spend even more time than usual on the internet reading. My research of various topics becomes more and more intense, and I’ve begun to let my room get messy. I owe Cecelia a bunch of letters. I talk to the cats more, and one of my favorite parts of the day is when the AC starts blowing. But I will not move that bag, no matter how ridiculous it’s getting.

Prom Night

Shocked that Ella is posting on Prom night? Expecting a teary-eyed tale from the lonely girl left all on her own at home? Guess again. This is Mr. Ella’s father posting while Ella is out with her classmates.

So is this weird or what? Ella’s out celebrating the iconic — if vastly overrated — rite of passage that caps off high school, and her dad of all people is capturing the moment. Aren’t I supposed to be taking bad photos, making bad puns, and making her date feel uncomfortable about his hormonal urges? I’ve joked about doing precisely that, but I just can’t muster it. Frankly, Ella seems to be taking the whole phenomenon with a detachment beyond her years.

She gets it. Prom is lame, folks. We who’ve been through one know that, whether we hoped it to be a major life milestone or just a time to be majorly stoned. Whether it’s just another dance or the biggest wild binge of your young partying career, it doesn’t take long to realize that the event itself is one of those ceremonial events you go through mostly to fulfill the fantasies of other people. Which in many ways sums up high school itself.
My college song refers to college years as the shortest, gladdest years of life. What a dismal prospect. if you believe your life peaks in high school, you ought to aspire to be the subject of a drivers’ ed movie. Flame out now, so you don’t have to endure 60 years of letdown.

But here’s my big prom night punch line: “It gets better” is for all of us. Believe me, I understand that LGBT kids have it worse than others, and they really need to hear the message that high school is the aberration, and the rest of life is far more fun. But straight kids need to know it, too. High school is a bit like war, I suppose — a hellish slog of tedium punctuated by occasional terror. The camaraderie you forge is unlike anything you’ll achieve in other circumstances, but the rest is best left behind once you can restore your life to a more balanced footing.

So on this very special prom night, pin on that goofy flower, cinch up your ill-fitting cummerbund or strapless gown, enjoy your spiked punch or other contraband, and laugh at the whole ridiculous spectacle. It passes like a bad meal from Taco Bell.
Tomorrow you get to resume the project of becoming who you are. And that’s where the truly meaningful memories will come from.

In Which Ella’s Name Will Not Be Affixed to the Wall

The Senior Awards ceremony is tonight. You know, the one where the winners get their names stuck to the plaques outside the Main Office to forever live in glory (and have their names ridiculed by petty teenagers). Ever since freshman year, I have wanted one of those awards. I got the big academic award in middle school and was voted most scholarly (The picture in the yearbook is hilarious. I’m wearing a green shirt with a clashing green scarf, golden brown wire framed glasses and have the nerdiest expression on my face.), which was a huge deal to me at the time. Being smart was how I defined myself and how other people seemed to defined me. It felt good to be that person.

Tonight when I walk into the Auditorium to sit on the springy green fake-velvet seats and watch the proceedings, it will not be to receive one of those big fancy awards. I’ll get my gold pin for four years of community service, and that’ll be it. My friends and many of my classmates will win awards, and I’ll enthusiastically clap and take their picture, but it won’t be the same as walking up to the stage myself, shaking someone’s hand, and getting whatever they give you to commemorate it. I know that I’m being selfish. I know that all I should feel is happiness for others, but I can’t I really, really can’t. I am far too sad over my insufficiencies and how much my emotional problems have messed up how I wanted and want to live my life.

Field Day

Remember that time when I wrote a post called The Field Day Planning Committee? Well, that day has finally rolled around.

I went to bed at nine thirty last night so that I would be able to get out of bed on time. I really hate having to schedule myself like this because of the medicine, but a day running around in sun, playing games is worth it. I woke up at around five forty, feeling wide awake and ready to take on the day. Such a welcome change from my falling asleep in the school library at 7:45 every morning as the librarians look at me judge me from behind their desk.

After doubling back to take my medicine, I ran up three flights of stairs to one of the history rooms where we were supposed to meet. Cecelia handed me my tee shirt and I pulled it on over the one I was wearing.

I like this shirt for two reasons: one, because it is shamelessly pretentious and two, because I love Executive/Judicial so much. I may not have been able to compete with them for most of the day because I was judging, but I was able to at least physically feel that I was part of the department.

Cecelia and I walked down to the field together. It felt odd moving against the tide of bodies as everyone pushed towards the school. The air was chilled, and I thought about how a really great title for a book would be “I Should Have Worn Pants.” I mean, it would totally work for a memoir or a book about gender. I filed it away in my folder of “genius ideas” and went back to talking to Cecelia about menu planning for our beach trip. It appears that I am going to be the only meat-eater there, which puts a real damper on my hamburger and bacon eating plans.

I filled up two giant water coolers at the spigot at the bottom of the water fountain that I think is there for cleaning shoes and for dogs to drink. It took a long time, and I kept having to alternate between hands to hold the valve back. Cecelia and I carried it across the field to a table where they promptly disappeared. I know that they made their way back to the gym office this afternoon, but I have no clue where they were in the interim. Running away with 30 gallon coolers is not an easy task.

Soon enough, setting up was done, and everyone was descending on the field. Executive had won trivia and was already first in the standings. We held the boys race and the girls race, and I stood at the third corner, making sure that no one cut it. I was so close to the line that I could feel people’s shirt sleeves brush me as they ran past. Our department got second in the girls.

Relay, wheelbarrow, and three-legged races and a Beanie Baby toss followed, and I found myself desperately wishing to be with my department instead of standing on the sidelines making sure that people touched the white line before turning around. Walking around with a clipboard enforcing rules is a lot of fun, but it’s not the same as hanging out with your department and cheering people on.

Next, we had tug of war, which has always been one of my favorite Field Day events was incredibly complicated. First of all, making sure that the rope is evenly placed between both cones is tricky and nearly always leads to an argument. Second, there is no fair way to making a bracket out of nine teams. Someone will always get a by. After a lot of yelling, it was decided that three of the teams would split third place. I’m always surprised and frustrated by how much arguing it takes to get to an agreement that both parties would have found to be okay in the first place.

The more organized events were over, and it appeared like I wasn’t needed, so I skedaddled off  to eat watermelon and watch Executive play soccer. I may not be a very good soccer player myself, but I make a very good enthusiastic fan. Hopping up and down on the balls of my feet, clapping my hands, and yelling “go _____” is one of my specialties. The game went on forever. Regular time became overtime which became more overtime which turned into a shootout that became sudden death which finally turned into another shoot out with the big regulation sized goal. We did not win, but I had loads of fun.

Everyone headed over to the Badminton court to watch our department win first place, and I took a few breaks to head back to our booth for a watermelon eating contest. I discovered that if you fill your mouth up with watermelon, you can partial chew it and swallow large pieces whole. Because it’s so watery and soft it goes down just as easily as a capsule.

This post will be updated with the entire story tomorrow.

In a related story, I got into the shower with my socks on and didn’t notice for a good two minutes. I like to think that this was because I don’t often wear socks and am not used to taking things off my feet before I jump in, and not because I was too preoccupied with singing “Na na na na na na BATMAN” in various accents and pitches.

On Sticking Out and Anticipation

It’ll be strange heading into school tomorrow. All the other seniors will be gone, the halls will be emptier, the Juniors’ heads will be growing as they discover their new power, and I’ll feel more than a little out of place.

You know how you feel when you walk into a room and you’re the only one [insert adjective here] than everyone else? That awkwardness and the way it seems like everyone knows that you are an interloper, that you just shouldn’t be there? Well, I think that it’s going to be like that.

I look younger than I am, and I’m not taller than everyone else, so I won’t physically stand out. But people still know who I am and where I should be, and it will be odd. Sitting in my mixed-grade classes is going to be supremely uncomfortable. There more than ever I’ll be the different one. The one who isn’t with the rest of her peers. The one who failed to do something important, so now she has to stay here with all the younger kids until the school year runs out.

I wonder what I’ll do in class tomorrow. My elective will be the same, for math and science I’ll go to the library, but I’m not sure about history. Will I just sit in the room with the teacher and stare at the wall or will I have to do some sort of large project or assignment to fill the time? I hope it isn’t the latter. I have enough work already to make up.

There’s nothing I can do now. I just have to go to bed and wake up tomorrow, willing to walk into school and figure it out. I don’t like the unknown very much, but I doubt that it’ll be awful. I still have friends to eat lunch with, and I can always run away and hang out with George. Maybe she could tell me more about the problems with zoos.

In Which I Go to Philadelphia, Wear Shoes That Really Hurt, and Win a Golden Gavel: Part Two

I went out to lunch, journeying into the cold, grey streets of gritty Philadelphia. We walked all the way across campus in search of the food trucks, where I stood on tip toe to lean up to a truck counter and order a tuna salad sandwich. Then, we turned around again and walked all the way back to the Student Center to eat in a crowded, noisy room and watch a boy get recruited for soccer and a whole lot of people staring at laptops. I focussed on finishing my sandwich, and laughing as much as I could.

It’s those sorts of things that I love about Model Congress: The instants where everybody’s together, talking and having a good time in a way that we wouldn’t if we were anywhere else. At school, we’d sit in separate groups and never spend an hour complaining about immigration and other people’s stupidity. Well, we would, but we wouldn’t do it collectively and with the same sort of zeal. Every moment at Model Congress is crucial. Nothing can be missed. It’s go, go, go, win, win, win, but please have fun while you’re doing it.

I walked back to Huntsman, looking through the basement at oddly and irregularly
numbered and lettered rooms for my committee.  I slid into a grey desk, tugged at my blazer, and braced for impact. This morning went really, really well. It should be smooth sailing from here on out, I told myself. I stood up to present my bill to the committee, feeling on top of the world. I gave my speech, leaving exactly fifteen seconds for points, and then the strangest thing happened: no one raised their hand. I was discussing gay marriage, a topic that really riles people up, and no one had a question. I had statistics, a highlighted copy of the Constitution, graphs about how it would help the economy, case law, and no one cared. My eyes got so wide that they started to sting, and the chair told me to sit down.

Then, when they asked for someone to speak against it, no one raised their hand again. Finally, a guy stood up and said that he opposed the bill because it didn’t “go far enough.” Go far enough?  Are you kidding me? As I gave him the knitted forehead are-you-crazy look, he went on to say that we should be allowed to marry as many people as we want, animals, and inanimate objects. Suddenly, the debate became focussed on that and not gay marriage. I was quite ready to slam my head into the desk. Things were not going as planned.

An amendment got passed, supporting his insane belief, and I got up to give my final authorship speech in a daze. It went something along the lines of: This bill is only about gay marriage. I am upset that it got changed. Business. Economics. Health Insurance. Seeing People in the Hospital. The Constitution. Vote for this. I have no idea what is coming out of my mouth. Sit down.

The bill passed, and it was all over. Hours of preparation for a big battle turned into twenty minutes of confusion. I felt like a week old helium balloon–slowly floating down from the ceiling a wrinkled, sorry mess. But I couldn’t cry yet, there was the “game” to be played. After every bill, the chairs gave the author a topic, such as states in America, and the author had to list as many things within that category as they could in thirty seconds. I got given languages, and let me tell you, it was easy. I swept through Europe east through west, dipped into North Africa, did all of South Africa’s official and tribal languages (thank you ten-page sixth grade report), and headed off into the Middle East. I got twenty-nine. I can’t believe that my bill fell on its face, but I just performed phenomenally well on a categories game, I thought.

Once the shock wore off, I began to cry. I excused myself from the room, and found myself in an odd circular quasi-room with financial newspapers and a screen with important stock market numbers (It’s phrases like stock market numbers that prove that I have a future career as an investment banker.) that changed every second or so. One of the girls from the committee left see if I was okay, which was incredibly kind, and a little while later one of the chairs came out to speak to me. Apparently, my bill had been really good after all, and I was “standing out in debate.” Strange.

Once again, Lady Macbeth offered me her sage advice to be courageous, and I marched back into the room ready to kill Duncan and some poorly written bills. I was feeling fine. Not good. Not bad. Just fine. And somehow it all worked. Debate came naturally.

I went out to dinner with people from my school, magically finding the ability to eat half a Caesar salad in ten minutes. With a spring in my step, I walked into the last committee session of the day. A girl introduced a bill that would give money to a militant “whale-saving” organization that would tries to tip over Japanese whaling ships, and I felt the wonderful aggressive intelligence feeling wash over me again. A long speech about international relations, unprecedented actions, and constitutionality later, I was feeling pretty darn good about myself. But sure enough the tears and the fear of failure came, and I found myself in the hall.

But like every time before, I picked myself back up, dusted off my hands, and headed back into the fray. One of the really great guys in my committee introduced this awesome bill:

I was ready to do battle. I had a printed out sheet of federal prison statsics, more than a working knowledge of psychotropic medication, and very strong feelings in support. Out of all of the speeches I gave in committee, that one by far the best. It felt awesome. Like chocolate Milky Way ice cream on a sunny day awesome.

Committee ended, and I scurried back across campus through the dark. I had packed Taboo and was desperate to get a game going. Besides, my shoes had begun to hurt. Not just the I’ve-been-wearing-heels-all-day hurting, but these-shoes-are-rubbing-the-skin-off-of-my-feet hurting. I would have done anything to walk back barefoot. But city streets have glass and God knows what on them, so it wasn’t exactly an option.

Later that evening, we had a wonderful game of Taboo. There must have been fifteen people in our room, and everyone was rolling around laughing. But as fun as it was, I began to crash. First, my head started to feel a little foggy, and then the ticking time bomb set in. I was actually going to pass out in the middle of the loud game, if I didn’t get moving. It was like I was drugged, which, of course actually was the truth. (Thanks, Geodon. You rock.) I hopped into the shower, willing myself to keep my eyes open, blow dried, my hair, and curled up on a corner of my bed. Thankfully, Ashley or Doc–I can’t remember which–noticed, and everyone left the room. I was asleep within a minute.

In Which I Go to Philadelphia, Wear Shoes That Really Hurt, and Win a Golden Gavel: Part One

Originally, this was going to be one long post, but it quickly became too long to write in one day. I will now force you to read this story in parts.

On the morning of Thursday, March, 31st, I happily and nervously trotted off to school, wheeling my red suitcase and wearing my Dad’s old Jonathan Edwards Residential College tee shirt in celebration of Cecelia being accepted into Yale.

As I yanked my bag up the steps outside of the auditorium and pulled it into the coat check room, I bemoaned how weak my arms are. I mean, you could easily fasten a watch around my upper arm, and they start shivering anytime I try to lift something around thrity pounds above shoulder height. Carrying small children can be a real struggle, which is a major problem if you’re babysitting. But all that aside, I parked my bag and wandered towards the main building through the art gallery filled with pictures that I wish that I could have created.

There were little elves taking up residence in my abdomen, and as I walked and thought about the conference, they started hopping around and doing jumping-jacks. Like most enjoyable things that I do, Model Congress makes me equally anxious, excited, and happy. Even though I was going to be in school until lunch, the whole day felt different, which was probably due the fact that I wasn’t carrying a backpack. Instead, I had my big black bucket tote from Neiman Marcus from Obama’s inauguration. Stacked in between my English binder and a collection of John Donne’s poems, the binder full of research kept singing to me about how someone was going to find a loop-hole in my bill and how if I didn’t know the percentage of jailed drug abusers, I would immediately be sent home in shame. But I walked on, dragging my feet up the stairs to the library.

In English, I desperately tried to stay on task and write about a comparisons of Donne’s Holy Sonnets to his earlier ones, but it really was no use. The anxiety of in-class writing coupled with concerns about Model Congress turned my brain into jammed machinery, and I only succeeded in writing an outline and good introduction.

At lunch, I dragged Clara with me to go buy pizza with my babysitting money. It was drizzling, and the pizza was steaming, and I was struck once again by how much better hot food tastes when it’s chilly out. But the pizza eating didn’t last long, and soon I was dragging my suitcase back down the auditorium steps and up to the back of the bus. As the boys pilled the suitcases into the back seats, I took up residence in a two-seater and quietly prayed that we’d get to Model Congress safely. The memories of the November bus crash still haunt me.

Thankfully, no one died, and only eleven people went to the hospital.

But the bus began moving, and I pulled out my binder to go over my research. As the highway mile-markers slid by, I highlighted statistics and practiced arguments in my head about gun control and immigration. People chatted and Tiny Wings was played. Soon, we were off the highway and driving through Philadelphia, and like every time I go there, I was shocked by the dichotomy between the beautiful downtown, Penn campus, and historic district and everywhere else. It’s depressed, and posters sag on dirty buildings in need of window washing and new paint.

At the hotel, I rode the elevator up to the eighth floor and walked with Tal to the room that we’d be sharing with two other girls. I unpacked, carefully smoothing out my dress clothes. There’s a certain comfort in unpacking. It makes you feel solid and safe. You’ve got a place that’s yours for the time being, and you don’t have to get up and move at a moment’s notice.

Outside again, our whole delegation walked to the sports bar we go to every year to get a very early dinner. I sat in the exact same seat that I had sat in two years before at the end of the table with my chair against the wall and across from Micah and next to John and Tal. I wasn’t the same girl I was back then. I’m maybe an inch taller, I weigh a little less, but I’ve done a heck of a lot more living. I’ve been through things younger me couldn’t even begin to comprehend. But in a way things hadn’t changed at all. Little me planned on going back to Penn Model Congress, sitting in that chair, and feeling nervous about debate.

Just like last time, we played the game where you write a person on a piece of paper, pass it to your neighbor, hold it up to your head, and ask yes or no questions until you figure out who it is. I had Pamela Anderson, who I know next to nothing about. Someone had to finally give me her initials. The whole debacle was just like Model UN this fall, when I had James Joyce stuck to my head, and someone told me that he was a social reformer. But the game was funny and made me laugh while I ate a bowl full of salad and a little Caesar dressing.

Back in the hotel, I picked up binder full of all the Green Senate bills and started going through the ones in my committee. With one hand firmly jammed in my hair, I cross referenced facts from my research, wrote down points, and outlined arguments. I was surprised by how poor a few of the bills were and thanked God that none of them were better than mine. Some of the worry wandered away, and I began to think that maybe I could do this. Soon enough, I was putting on my wrap dress and trying not to fall over while pulling up my stockings. I slid my feet into my pumps, grabbed my bag with both binders, and looked at myself in the mirror. This is what I’m going to look like as an adult, I thought, though hopefully I won’t be this nervous heading to the office.

As we walked across campus to Irving Auditorium, I repeated “I can do this. I am good at this. It will all be okay.” with each click of my heels on the stone path. Opening ceremonies began, and Joe Sestak gave an amazing speech. I nodded along when I discovered that our opinions about education policy are exactly the same. But the best part was when he was talking about the budget and how small programs that directly benefit the states and the people are being cut instead of military and other large program spending because of all a sudden he said: “It’s a pimple on an elephant.”

I laughed, and some of the anxiety washed away. But half an hour later, I was sitting in a classroom with fifteen other Senators feeling like the elves in my abdomen were having a rave and trying to claw their out through my stomach. I stood up to speak about the first bill and as always, thought that I sounded like a complete idiot. I began to cry, and as I tend do in public, let my hair cover my face as I slipped out of the room. This is it, I thought, Ella, you have seriously screwed up. And it really did feel like it was all a disaster, that I would be miserable for the next four days, and that I would go home royally embarrassed.

But Ashley was came out into the hallway and gave me a hug, and five minutes later, during his committee’s recess, Doc spoke to me. So after a few more minutes, I remembered Lady Macbeth, screwed my courage to the sticking point, decided that I would not fail, and marched back into the room. And things improved. They always do, even when it seems impossible. At the recess, I told the chairs about my anxiety disorder like a mature person, and did a tiny bit of socializing. I stood up to talk some more and used my research to make some great points.

Back at the hotel that evening, I relapsed and spent ten minutes sobbing. Pulling my act together, I promised myself that if half of tomorrow was as bad as tonight, I could call home. But the next morning was wonderful. We were in the Wharton School of Business, in a beautiful room, and I was in my element. I love talking to over a hundred people because no one is an individual anymore. It’s just me informing a mass of blurry faces. And I am pretty darn good at talking to blurry faces. I referenced and extolled the virtues of the Constitution, recalled New York Times and The Week articles from months ago, and wedged in a good deal of American history.

Sleeping Through School

Last night, for the third night in a row, I couldn’t fall asleep. I laid there, staring at the wall or mindlessly rereading favorite books, until five a.m., when I finally drifted off.

It’s frightening to not be able to sleep. The hours drag on, and you’re tangled in the bed sheets, hoping that you’ll be able to get enough shut eye to function the next day. The later it gets, the more the fear and anxiety worsen until all you can do is calculate how long it will be until you have to get up.

At one, I finished the first book. At four, I finished the next. And at five, just when the sun was turning the corners of the sky pink, I drifted off. The whole night I had been focused on getting into school today, drilling the idea deep into my mind. I was not going to lose today. I just wasn’t. Graduation is soon, and I can’t leave if I don’t finish my classes. I will not repeat my senior year. I’m way too smart for that.

My mom woke me up at seven. I was tired and alert all at once, and somehow managed to heave myself out of bed and down to the kitchen for breakfast. When I got into the library at school, I immediately put my head down on the table and dozed off. The same thing happened in second period and during the end of forth. At lunch, I went to the nurse’s office to sleep. Sixth period, I put my head down and hoped that I’d absorb math through osmosis. I stayed alert during French, and by the time I got to therapy at two thirty, I was quite delirious.

It’s terribly frightening to be unable to stay awake in school. I can be conked out with my head on someone else’s desk in the middle of a loud debate or cabinet meeting. I can sleep through someone balancing things on the back of my head. You can even write on me, and I won’t notice. I miss so much. Social interactions slide by without participation. I miss out on learning the lessons. I look like an idiot who is totally uninterested in school. But most of all, it just scares me to have so much happening and not to be aware of any of it. I’m entirely lost to the world.

Maybe tonight and tomorrow will be better. Maybe they won’t. But the fear and anxiety of sleeping in school refuses to dissipate, and I can only wish that it will motivate my body to act as it should. I will not stand for today’s behavior.

So here’s to my afternoon nap and going to bed early with the hopes of being alert tomorrow.