“Are you copying Cara’s notes?”
I rolled my eyes and kept writing. This teacher had been on my last nerve for weeks. It seemed he was always ready to pick on me in class. My classmates would joke about it to me sympathetically at lunch. It was funny at first, but did this guy seriously have nothing better to do than keep me on my toes? Trust me- I already was. Anxiety and depression were drowning me like tidal waves. I turned around and laughed nervously.
“Yes. Except I’m not copying. I made similar notes. I just forgot mine at home. I did the work. I just don’t have them with me. So Cara is lending me hers.” I explained. This was all true. I had got into a fight with my mom that morning and was too engaged to remember my notebook. While she was yelling at me, I was crying, yelling back, and anxiously rushing to the car.
“You know that’s cheating, right?” He said, loudly in front of the entire class.
Everyone awkwardly looked down at their toes, pretending not to be affected by the tension. I looked at him like he was deranged. Normally, I would repeat myself and provide more details. But I didn’t want to make my mom look bad. She and I got into a fight. It distracted me. That’s all. I provided just enough information. If he needed more, he would have asked. Instead, he challenged my integrity. That made me anxious. And angry.
“No. It’s not. I did the work.” (When I rewatch this in my memories, I see myself nearly growling at him. Not the best choice on my part...).
“Please go to the office.”
He said bluntly. I looked at him shocked. While I knew my behavior deserved the sentence of shame, I never actually thought any teacher would SAY it. I thought out the situation quickly. My actions didn’t violate academic integrity. It was an open-note exam, and there were no strict instructions on the source of those notes. His accusation was merely based on his judgment of my moral integrity. Perhaps he thought I had no morals.
It wasn’t an assignment either. And again, I did the notes. It wasn’t like I was taking Cara’s work. I did the work too. This cognitive dissonance still confuses me to this day. In my 14-year-old brain, I had nothing to fear. So I smirked happily.
After all, the office staff had become my best friends this semester. I ate lunch every day with the school counselor, because I couldn’t handle the lunchroom scene. It terrified me. Rather than face it, I avoided it. The relief I felt walking to her already opened door everyday at 12:30 is more than I can put into words.
The way I saw it, he couldn’t win this. The office staff would have my back. They knew I was in a very mentally, emotionally fragile state. One wrong move, and I would be back at the ER cursing the school. Or worse, turning over in my grave wishing the school defamation and closure.
I stood up and slammed my notebook, planner, and iPad on the table in front of me. I started to walk out. Then his annoying, almighty voice started chirping again.
“Abigail, aren’t you going to take the test?”
Oh god forbid, I forget my OPEN-NOTE test. I thought the accusation of cheating was a clear rejection from that test. I turned around slowly for dramatic emphasis. I wanted him to know how done I was with his scene.
I walked back slowly to his desk. He handed me the exam. Then I walked over to my place at the table to get my pencil and notebook.
“Abigail, give me the notebook.”
I clenched my jaw. “I thought this was an open-note exam.”
“They aren’t your notes. So it isn’t an open-note exam for you.”
Dang. As if I didn’t know... I very much believed I was the problem child. And every teacher, student, and staff member made an effort to make sure I understood my occupation: make trouble. Throw a tantrum. Cry randomly and sprint out of the room. Fall asleep in class. Act disinterested. And most importantly, be apathetic to the best of my ability.
I stormed out of the room for the counselor’s office. She would make this all right. If she didn’t, I would be provided with yet another reason to just give in to the darkness and give up.
I knocked on her door. No answer. I knocked again. No answer.
“Abigail, she’s gone today. What do you need?” The nurse pried.
“I need her. I need to talk to her. She needs to talk to my teacher,” I growled.
“Come in my office. I can’t be her, but I certainly can try. What’s the problem?” She asked.
“Mr. Dummen told me to go to the office. He gave me this test to take. It’s an open-note exam, and he took away my notes. I’m not going to take this test unless I get my notes like the rest of my class,” I said authoritatively.
“I see. Let me go talk to him. See if you can work on it while I’m gone. Then you can use your notes to double check your answers,” she said cooly, like she didn’t see the problem.
I felt some relief. Not a lot. In my world of justice, I would’ve gotten an extension. I would’ve got to see him publicly humiliated like he did to me. I would’ve got to see his anxiety block his windpipe, and cloud his mind with a static signal. Instead, I looked at the test and cried. None of this was fair. I remember I started drawing all over the test.
The nurse walked in.
“He just wants you to finish the test. Just finish it.”
“Where are my notes?”
“He promised he would not penalize you unfairly when he grades it.”
“This is unfair.”
She exhaled, clearly exasperated.
“He just wants you to finish it.”
“I will not. Not until I have my notes, like my classmates.”
“Fine. How about you give me the test, and you can come back tomorrow with your notes and finish it?”
“Okay. But you can’t look at it. And you won’t turn it in?”
“I won’t look at it. And no, I won’t turn it in. It’ll be here tomorrow, waiting for you,” she said firmly.
“Promise you won’t look at it or turn it in.” My brown eyes glared at her. I clutched the piece of paper that was the test with a death grip. I felt like I was handing over my life source, or my deepest, darkest secret. Everything written on there could be used against me. It was a peek into the sick, fragmented, anxious mind I called mine.
Long story short, she looked at it. And she turned it into my teacher. The next day, I was called to the office. The Vice Principal sat behind a desk across from me. His face was grim, as he pulled out the test and slid it across the wooden platform so that I could see it. I recognized it.
My brain ignited like fireworks on the Fourth of July with anger.
He spoke softly, but demandingly: “Abigail. I’m not going to ask any questions. I want you to tell me what this is. Your teacher is worried about you. The entire staff knows you are especially, uh, fragile. No, no, no- not fragile, just healing from some rough stuff.”
I began to cry. The betrayal was too much to bear. This is why I needed the guidance counselor. The stupid nurse couldn’t be trusted with the problem child. I wouldn’t be in this office if it was the guidance counselor who had handled my test. She wouldn’t have lied and betrayed me either. The VP shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He inhaled and adjusted his posture.
“I’ll give you two options. You can tell me what this means and I throw it away, or you can stay quiet. If you stay quiet, I tell your parents something has come to our attention that concerns us about you.”
I furrowed my eyebrows angrily. Enough of these adults have betrayed and misunderstood me, what’s another? Besides, if he does tell my mom, I’ll tell her she can tell the doctor to up my dose on the anti-depressant. I didn’t even care at this point. So I told him I was staying quiet. He dismissed me, and I went on to my next class a complete mess.
Looking back, the whole thing seems so avoidable. I wish I could just take younger me by the shoulders in that classroom and say,
“Woah there. Hold your fire. I mean, tongue. This isn’t fair, but this one test won’t make a difference. Trust me. You get into college later on. Don’t worry.”
But that’s exactly what I shouldn’t wish.
Younger me had trust issues. Younger me was used to people failing her. Younger me was used to people grabbing at her and holding her back from completely losing it. She was so used to getting beat up emotionally and mentally, that the only thing she had left was her fiery wit. Even if I could go back in time and hold her back, she would not believe anything I say. It probably wouldn’t have mattered to her either. She would redirect that anger back on me, snarling, “College?! Are you some kind of idiot?! People like me don’t go to college. We can’t handle it.”
Hello, trust issues.
The only way I could possibly make younger me believe in herself is by giving her solid affirmations. Things that not even betrayal or disappointment can steal. Not affirmations of the future, but affirmations of her present.
John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
That’s what I would tell her:
“Yes. This is not fair. This is trouble. You got in trouble when you were confused and therefore blameless. He wasn’t clear with his instructions and requirements. That is not your fault. You’ve made mistakes. But you won’t again, because you learn. You aren’t the problem child. You are capable of great change, just not here. Not now. All of this pain will lead to your purpose in life.
Your trust will come back, because your ministry will be rooted in the depth of your testimony.”
If this is you, please read that one more time.
Your ministry is rooted in the depth of your testimony.
As Lysa Terkeurst once said, “take away the struggle, and you take away my trust.” I hope that you can trust me because of my struggle and relatable 14-year-old immaturity. This is all vital to your healing. Trust must be broken so that it can be rebuilt stronger, and more powerful than before.
All the peace,