I clutched the note in my hand and walked through the halls of the school with a 10lb backpack swung across my right shoulder. My eyes were focused on the toes of my shoes, each step harder than the previous. My knees seemed to buckle under the pressure of the words stamped across the top of the note: “From the Principal’s Office.”
The weight of the letters was heavier than the six textbooks I carried. What could the principal want from me?
I was a band and choir geek. In that small Texas town, sports were more important than the arts, so it couldn’t be about that. I wasn’t the smartest kid in school, so I wouldn’t be winning some award. I wasn’t naughty. I don’t think I was, at least.
I approached the office desk. The long countertop stretched out across my full field of vision. The dark hallways gave way to a light-filled administrative space speckled with desks three times longer than any students are allowed. Of the staff of six, none bothered to even look up at me.
I rubbed the note between my fingers until the edge was rolled into a mini scroll. I shifted my weight and swallowed to spite the dryness in my throat.
One of the staff coughed uncomfortably without even looking up from her desk, and finally a clerk shot up and walked to stand in front of me on the other side of the counter.
My mouth opened, and a tiny squeal escaped. I handed her the note, and heat swelled my cheeks.
“Oh. Yes. This way,” she said.
She pointed towards a door around the corner, and I followed her direction.
The principal was waiting for me behind a large oak desk. His pensive look, complete with pen in mouth, stared back at me from within.
I stepped forward and heard the door close behind me before he spoke, “Please take a seat, Melony.”
I nodded and sat down in the first of two cushioned chairs.
“One of your peers,” he said before a slight cough. His eyes fell to his desk before looking at me again. “One of your peers has lodged a concern with my office today.”
My eyes narrowed. What did I do? I don’t remember.
“They saw something yesterday. At your home,” he continued.
My head lifted a tad and eyes grew. A girl was riding on my street yesterday. I remembered her pedaling past when Daddy…
“Oh that was nothing,” I blurted out.
The image of the moment was burned into my mind. Daddy was drunk. He was angry. I don’t even remember why. The why was never important.
“This is a very serious accusation,” the principal said, swallowing air loudly. “She says he was hitting you.”
Daddy’s tirade had started and ended in the carport. He held in his hands a splintered wooden rake. It may have been the source of the anger, but I couldn’t even remember the next day. He swung it into the post sending showers of wood into the three of us. We crouched to avoid chunks landing on our face or eyes. The onslaught continued until the rake was in two.
I shook my head, “He wasn’t. I promise. Daddy has never hit us.”
I blinked sending tiny drops down my cheeks, and I sniffed the moisture away.
The principal crossed the room and sat beside me. “If you ever need someone to talk to, my office is always open.”
I acknowledged him with a nod, but all I kept thinking was don’t send us away. Please don’t take me from my family. Please don’t take me from my daddy.
“If anything ever happens, you’ll be the first to know,” I said. I stared straight into his eyes and drove the lie home.
He patted my shoulder, smiled, and sent me on my way.
I walked out of the office burdened by the weight of my books and the certainty that life was about to get a whole lot more complicated. He would have to report this to Child Protective Services. He had a duty of care to his students. There would be an investigation, and just like last time, I would be ripped from my parents’ arms.
But there was no investigation. His duty of care must not extend to students who don’t want out of their abusive homes. There were no calls made to my parents. My worst fears were not realized.
I kept the exchange to myself, life moved on, and I continued to travel along it on a roller coaster with a drunk conductor.