Shift 10: Tough

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I am a freshman at Oasis Springs High. It’s really tough. But I’m here, I’m learning, and I’m gonna make it. I swear.

A lot of my questions got answered on my first day. For example, I was so scared that the school would have to report me to CPS. That’s why I didn’t give my real name.

When the office manager asked me who I was and what my birthday was, I lied about both.

“My name is Jazz,” I said. “Jazz Deon.” And I said I was born August 31. That’s the day I hopped the train to leave my old home.

Maybe it’s not a lie. Maybe it’s reinventing myself.

Then the office manager sent me in to see the counselor, and that’s when all my questions were answered. I got a pamphlet that explains all the school’s responsibilities and obligations. It was written for counselors, but Ms. Mae wanted to share it with me “for transparency.” The part I liked was that the school doesn’t have to report me to CPS for not living with an adult. I didn’t tell her I wasn’t living with a grown-up, though. I didn’t tell her anything. I just listened. Pretty soon she stopped asking questions when she realized I wasn’t answering them.

I also found out that Deon would’ve gotten into lots of trouble if I’d moved in with him, just like I thought. “Harboring a runaway,” or something. I’m glad I listened to my instincts on that one.

Anyway, I get free lunches, free clothes from the clothing bank, and free bus passes. It helps.

Ms. Mae gave me so many brochures. All the school ones had this written in tiny print in English, Spanish, Arabic, Vietnamese, and Somali on the back page:

Oasis Springs School District is committed to a policy of nondiscrimination based on disability, race, color, religion/religious beliefs, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, or national origin. This policy will prevail in all matters concerning Governing Board, District employees, students, the public, educational programs and services, and individuals with whom the Board does business.

The part that stood out to me was “gender identity or expression.”

“Is this for real?” I asked Ms. Mae. She said it was. She also said the school has a non-bullying policy, so I should let her know if anybody hassles me.

“And you can use whichever bathroom you choose,” she said.

Great. Whichever I choose is a definition at a time when I don’t want to be defined.

And it turns out I didn’t even need my back story. Like I said, the counselor stopped asking questions, and the students didn’t even care. That first week, I hardly talked to anybody.

I did meet somebody cool. Darling Walsh doesn’t go to my school. She was there for the basketball game. She’s the starting small forward on the San Myshuno High Varsity team–the boy’s team. She’s tough.

I ran into her at the park on Saturday.

“I know you!” I said. “I saw you play! You’re awesome!”

She chuckled. Then she showed me video from the game, her three-point hook shot. Everybody at my school hated her when she made that, but I loved her.

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I asked her the same question that Deon asked me.

“What pronoun do you prefer?”

She said she’d like to choose “he” because it feels right, but she uses “she” for “political reasons.”

“See, I want girls to know they can play on any sports time they’re good enough to play on. You don’t have to be a boy to play on the ‘boy’s’ team. It shouldn’t even be a boy’s team. It should just be a team, and if you qualify, you play. You can do anything you’re qualified for. That’s my message.”

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I’m hoping we get to hang together sometimes, even though she goes to the other school.

There have been other changes, too. Deon got promoted so he’s a supervisor now, which means this other gardener does most of the work at the park.

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I don’t think he likes me, but Deon told him to be chill.

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I had no idea that school would be so exhausting. I’m tired all the time.

In history, we’re learning about sustenance cultures. It made me think about what life was like before I went to school. I didn’t even keep track of days, and I slept whenever I wanted, and when I was awake, most of my time was spent getting my next meal. But it had an easy rhythm, and it was free living. I wasn’t ever tired, and I was mostly happy, as long as I didn’t think about my past or future or what I was missing out on.

But now, I’ve been taken out of that. I’ve got to know what time it is. I get two meals at school, and sometimes that’s enough, and Deon keeps the lounge fridge stocked with yogurts and sandwiches for me. But I’m tired all the time.

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I sleep in class, sometimes, though I try not to. I sleep in the library at lunch. I sleep in the park when I get back from school so that I won’t fall asleep while I’m doing my homework. It’s hard t keep up with homework.

My grade’s a C. It shouldn’t be, because I was an A student back in middle school, but they can’t get my transcripts since they don’t know who I am, so I had to start in all the dummy classes, and I’m too tired to raise my grade.

I can’t be on the track team because my grade’s not high enough. Sometimes the coach lets me practice with them, but, honestly, I’m usually too tired to practice, and if I do, then I really don’t have time for homework.

I guess my quality of life has gone down, which is a weird thing to say. I used to be happy a lot, and I enjoyed talking to everybody that hangs out at the park. Now I mostly worry.

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But I don’t want to complain, even though that’s what I’ve been doing.

See, I know this is just for now, and I won’t always be a C student who doesn’t qualify academically for the track team. I’ll figure out how to keep a schedule and sleep and study and take care of myself. I’ve got to.

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