Even though I attended grade school in my hometown, I always felt like a foreign exchange student. I grew up on a rural farm outside of town with a loud, eccentric family and lots of animals. My classmates baffled me completely. They were well socialized, worshipped popular television, and said the word “cul-de-sac.”
Early on, I resolved never to speak unless completely necessary. I might say “yes” or “no” or (quietly) “you are standing on my foot.” But I was terrified that if I spoke freely, I would say highly abnormal, incomprehensible things that would alarm my teachers and classmates. Calls would be made, the school would be evacuated, and I would be caged and tranquilized until I was retrieved and, eventually, home schooled.
I disliked actual meekness. I generally found quiet, timid people to be boring. With this in mind, I assumed if I was silent and kept mostly still, I wouldn’t be acknowledged by my classmates at all, much less given a title like “Most Athletic” or “Class Clown.” I dreamed I would sail transparently into high school, where I could assume my true form among other wild mountain folk, or at least my older brother.
As eighth grade came to a close, my freedom was palpable. But in all my planning there was one thing I hadn’t prepared for: the “Most Shy” yearbook category.
I never saw it coming. In fact, it was so out of place, I suspected it had been created specifically for me, unquestionably the quietest kid in my grade. While we’re at it, I thought, why not stick “Most Shy” in a whole separate yearbook, perhaps one with similar categories like “Most Nervous,” “Strongest Body Odor,” and “Laziest Eye.”
Perhaps the school administration thought a “Most Shy” label might be useful in identifying future serial killers and psychopaths. When interviewed by news reporters, teachers could just pull out the 2003 yearbook and flip to the page. “She was always so quiet,” they would say grimly, seeing a cold emptiness in my eyes that must’ve been there all along. “We should have known.”
When it came time to have my photo taken, I was taken prisoner by two giggling yearbook girls and led to an empty science classroom. I was positioned beside the boy who was also voted “Most Shy.” We said nothing to each other. The yearbook girls were uncomfortable.
“Well, what do you guys want to do for your picture?” they asked.
The boy frowned miserably. I began to wonder if this category was actually designed to create serial killers.
“Listen,” I said, in my best English, “we’re shy, so we like to read a lot, because it’s quiet, you know?”
They nodded and mhmm’d respectfully, as if recalling something they might have heard once about leper populations. I opened a textbook and covered my whole face below my eyebrows.
“Why don’t we take the picture like this. It’ll be like we’re reading.”
The boy caught on and snapped up a textbook, looking relieved. The girls had no choice. They took a few photos and released us begrudgingly. I felt great, like I had just ripped off a few tourists.
When the book finally came out, I tore out the page altogether. There is no trace of me except among the sparse, awkward notes in the signature section. There I wrote to myself in purple marker: “Hallie – You are really awesome! From, Hallie.”
Years from now, when news reporters contact the school hunting for evidence of my youth, they will find nothing but a pair of eyebrows peeking over the top of a book. They will have to contact my mom to get answers, and she will show them the photo of me dressed like a ninja, doing jump-kicks on the trampoline in the snow.
“Did you always know she would be a Nobel Laureate?” they will ask.
“No,” my mom will say, “I really didn’t.”