This Time, My Turn -- creative nonfiction by Christine Shin
“Does she even speak?” the kids nearby whisper to each other thinking that I can’t hear them. Or maybe they want me to hear. To respond and yell right up in their faces. To get offended and run out the door, slamming it on the way out. However, I won’t. I will continue to sit down and stay quiet, pretending I never heard a word.
This morning is typical. My alarm goes off at six-thirty, doenjang-jjigae for breakfast at six-fifty, and I’m out the door and in my mom’s minivan by seven-fifteen. My mom, who drives me to school every morning, is busy texting her friends on kakaotalk with a big smile. While her fingertips fly across the screen, creating tick noises that fill the car, I wonder how nice it would feel to be appreciated. My mom starts to drive and as soon as I start to relax, my head begins to ache. It’s probably from the five hours of sleep I got last night after thinking about all the possible scenarios that would follow me today. However, I still look through my school schedule for the day as my eyes scan the classes and respective room numbers, murmuring “2049, 3157, 1062…”
Once I arrive at school, I say goodbye to my mom who responds with “Make some friends today, okay?” I take a deep sigh and clamp my hands together as I weave through the crowd of students who look like bees in a hive, all sticking to one another. The bell rings and I quickly walk to my first class, band, where my teacher randomly assigns us parts to play in our new piece, and looking at it, seemed like a series of question marks filling the paper. I run through the tempo, key signature, and notes over and over till I get called to play in front of the whole class. My fingers shake on the delicate metal rod and I begin to play with a quivering mouth. Why am I even in this class if I keep making mistakes, I’m probably the worst person in here. By the time I finish playing, harsh laughter fills my ear as my teacher says, “Yea, that’s what I expected.”
Discouraged so early in the morning, I slowly walk to English class and take a seat at the very back of the room. My teacher assigns our class group work and many students cheer– for the opportunity to talk to their friends. Everyone excitedly goes to their chosen groups until I’m the only one left, by myself, and am forced to join a random group. Sitting there, I scramble through my mind, trying to think of answers to the questions, and finally have a brief idea of what I am going to say. However, as others go, the more sophisticated and well thought out the answers become which in return, makes me worried that my answer isn’t good enough. Finally, as it comes to my turn, I stay quiet, too afraid to be judged and keep my head down. The others in my group give me side glances, some snickering, some confused, but I just can’t do it.
They say that I’m “antisocial” or “boring” and my teacher has even joined in to tell me to share my ideas. I quietly say “I have the same ideas as the people in my group” after a lot of willpower.
“What did she say? She needs to speak up!” my groupmate says.
“I think she said she had the same ideas as us,” another responds.
“She could’ve just said that from the beginning…”
Suddenly, my teacher turns to look me in the face with the lines in his forehead creasing and says, “Christine, this is a group effort. You need to work with your group and share what you have to say. What are you so afraid of? You don’t need to be this shy.” Well, it’s not like I can just flick it off like a light bulb switch. Outwardly, I respond by quietly saying “Sorry, I will try my best.”
I leave the room and watch as the individual friend groups make their way to lunch. They laugh and chatter about what they are going to do on the weekend. That is never going to be me. I suddenly stop and begin to wonder why I continue to put myself down. Recalling the few hours I was in school today, I could already remember so many occasions. From doubting my ability in band to staying quiet in English even though I had an answer, I was always so afraid of doing things wrong. As I walk to my mom's classroom, the only place I ever eat lunch, I feel my steps getting heavier, the closer I get. Imagine being so scared that you eat lunch with your mom. However, I realize that I am doing it again: caring so much about what is considered weird to others.
All of a sudden, I hear a build-up of frustrated voices behind me and immediately freeze. “Hey!! You said you would stop acting like this. It’s honestly so annoying how you do not understand that no one likes you,” an irritated voice yells. I knew this would come at some point and slowly turn around, about to ask what I did that was so wrong. Yet, as I glance at the owner of this noisy ruckus, she’s glaring at a girl to her left and I take a huge gasp, thankful that it’s not me. Out of breath, I begin to steer clear of her line of sight– hurriedly half walking and half running– when the yelling starts to intensify and I instinctively imagine myself in that situation. Hopeless and alone, wishing for someone to step up. I realize that I will be in this state sooner or later if I don’t get involved as this is not a matter of what I prefer to do anymore. As I look at the girl to her left, I scream “Stop, leave her alone!!!” and the hallway goes silent.
A flood of laughter echoes across the walls, starting a kind of chaos that I have never been the creator of before. I hear whispers, “Who does she think she is? This is the funniest thing I’ve seen all week!!” I grab the hand of the girl getting bullied, rushing down and past all the people watching. “Are you okay?” I ask concerned about her condition and realize she’s Mia who’s in the same grade as I. At the same time, she beams at me and says “What you did was really cool. Thank you for saving me.”
As I walk into class the next couple of days, I still hear the remarks from those around me whether it be my classmates or teachers. My peers talk about what I’ve done and pretend to be proud of me while they talk about it amongst themselves and make it their new inside joke. “Here comes the hero,” they say, snickering to one another while they expect me to ignore them and keep it inside just as I’ve always done. This time, I laugh with them.
Christine Shin is a sophomore who enjoys reading and expressing herself creatively through hobbies such as photography and film.