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by Geraldine Woodell
She prayed the lumbering school bus would never get to her stop – that it would break down, blow a tire, or mysteriously be unable to find her house. Her insides were curled up into themselves, it seemed, and she struggled to hold the tears behind her eyes that were fighting to escape. Whatever had she been thinking?!
Why, for crying out loud, had she gotten herself into this mess? But worse than that, her mother … confessing to her mother was what she dreaded most of all. Why couldn’t she just lie? Hope surged up for a second, but only for a second. It would be her luck that her teacher would see her mother somewhere and ask about “it” and then she’d be in double trouble.
She usually felt uncomfortable around her mother. Mama was exacting, and always short-tempered (or so it seemed to her) for reasons she could never figure out. Physical affection wasn’t part of her family’s culture, but that absence really didn’t really register with her, probably because many of her friends’ and relatives’ families were much the same way. Spontaneous hugs, kisses, even friendly arms around the shoulders were all foreign behaviors. Anger, however, flowed freely – ire was acceptable while tenderness was not. Not that she pondered these things; she was more concerned with staying out of the way of the anger.
The yellow bovine of a bus traitorously did remember her stop. She slowly slid across the greenish, cracked vinyl seat and stepped down into her lane. Nervously she looked up at the house. It was a rent house, of sorts; her daddy had bartered with the owner to allow her family to live there if they agreed to look after his cows. An old barn of a building, drafty, equipped with a massive wood-burning range her mama fiercely hated, run down and largely abandoned until her family moved in. But she, the child, loved it. A breezeway divided the house in half, providing a wonderful place to play on blustery days. Two huge cedar trees graced the front yard, offering cool, quiet play houses underneath their limbs that drooped to the ground. The windows had no screens much to her mother’s dismay, but the child delighted to sit on a generous ledge with a cool drink and read for hours.
She thought of none of these pleasurable things as she entered the house. Wanting mightily to just get it over with and take whatever was coming, she rushed into the kitchen. Now the tears burst out of their gates, rolling down her cheeks. Alarmed, her mother said sharply, “What’s wrong?!!”
“I cheated at school and got an ‘F’ on my paper!!!” she cried out with a curious blend of relief, fear, and shame. “I don’t know why I did it – but I’m sorry!” Her nose was running now and she swiped at it ineffectively. “Betty wanted to know an answer, and – I don’t know why – but I gave it to her, and the teacher caught me, and she called me up to her desk, and she asked me what I did, and I told her, and she said,’Go get your paper,’ and I did, and she marked a big red ‘F’ on it and now she doesn’t like me anymore – and I’m so sorry!!” she poured out. And proceeded to cry harder.
Silence. Fearing the worst, and feeling so low she really didn’t care now what her mother did, the girl quieted and waited on her fate, looking at the floor.
“You know, an ‘F’ can stand for more than Failure.” She couldn’t believe the calmness in her mama’s voice. She chanced a peek to see if the face matched the voice. It did. Her mother wiped her hands on a dishrag and looked at her daughter, eyes not black as they usually were, but a soft brown.
“An ‘F’ can also stand for ‘Forgiveness’ – did you know that?” The girl’s head bobbed up and down automatically – she wasn’t sure where this was going.
“I think maybe we’ll just change the meaning of this big red ‘F’ on this paper to stand for ‘Forgiveness.’ I believe you realize what a bad mistake you made today, and you’re really sorry for it. So we won’t talk about it anymore.” Then briskly, “Now go change out of your school clothes – I’ve got to finish supper.”
Stunned, the girl turned as if in a dream and moved toward her bedroom. Suddenly her spirit was as light as a feather, and her feet could not merely walk anymore – she broke into a joyous run. She wondered if she dared to whoop inside the house, and chanced a puny one.
Mom has a way with words, doesn’t she?
Stories about people experiencing relief from that sinking feeling resonate with me.
What about you?