Every eye in the classroom was transfixed on the new student slowly making her way past the rows of occupied desks. She reluctantly migrated to a vacant spot near the back of the room. This uncomfortable journey past two dozen unblinking onlookers was partially mired by the clunky crutches she wielded. It was immediately obvious that she was missing her left leg.
Mrs. Baker cleared her throat nervously and announced; “Class, I’d like to introduce Shelly Smith. Her family just moved here from Tampa Florida. Please welcome her to our school.”
With the solemn realization that she was both ‘different’ and new, they gave her a less-than-enthusiastic reception. The tension and awkwardness registered on her face as she sat down. It was never easy being an ‘outsider’. Her father’s constant military relocation circumstances meant that she went through the same thing, at least once a year. As soon as she made new friends and got to know her classmates, he was reassigned to another military base. The cycle was never ending.
As people are apt to do; speculation and rumors began to spread about the possible circumstances of her missing limb. Instead of being direct and asking, it seemed easier for them to just speculate about it. No one wanted to be impolite and hurt her feelings. They were afraid that an inquiry would remind Shelly of her misfortune. This considerate ‘distance’ was a double-edged sword. It made it twice-as-hard for her to make friends. Her reluctant classmates were too busy avoiding the unpleasant but necessary questions which would have bridged the gap of awkwardness.
After a few days of adjustment, several students overcame their initial reservations and befriended Shelly. She was generally a cheerful girl and had a very unique way of looking at things. Those positive attributes made her an easy-going companion but they still didn’t have the nerve to ask about her leg. It just seemed to be the singular ‘taboo’ territory; in an otherwise open landscape.
Ms. Johnson’s assigned writing essay: “The worst day of my life”; was a curiosity ‘godsend’. It was a perfect opportunity for those who wanted to know the answer to the mystery. The students didn’t mind reading aloud their own tales of woe, in exchange for the highly coveted information they would gain from Shelly’s essay. Secretive conversations among her classmates led to further speculation of what Shelly would reveal with her: “Worst Day” story.