“Why did you do it?”
I’m being grilled like I’m on the witness stand.
“Admit what you did. We already know. We have proof.”
Oh God, my reputation!!!
I stare blankly ahead. I can’t believe this is happening to me. I’m the poster child of the perfect student. I’m on the honor roll, Vice-president of my class, Homecoming Queen, Most Popular, Captain of the volleyball team…ect..ect…
He wants me to throw all that away, to confess? That’s crazy.
Besides, what proof does he have?
One week earlier…
I’m sitting at the computer at school when Blackbird sits next to me.
“What are you working on?” he asks.
“You should write mine.”
I laugh it off. Why would I write his paper? It’s an essay; it’s personal.
“I’ll pay you.”
“Nah,” I say, as I turn back to my computer. I’m running late for my job flipping dough at Marco’s Pizza. Today is payday!
Later that night, I go through my ritual of counting how much closer I am to signing my first modeling contract in New York…
Wait a minute, I’m shorter than I thought. There’s no way I’m making $350 in two weeks. Not at $3.34 an hour. Damn. All those double shifts at Marco’s, my Mom and Granny scraping together everything they have to help me with my ticket. Damn, damn, damn!
What is killing me the most is the promise I made Granny. I told her I would take her to Israel to see her youngest daughter who ran away there almost twenty years ago. I can’t let this happen.
“Let’s do it,” I say to Blackbird.
He tells me that he likes football and that should be his topic.
Football? Are you kidding me? I love football! Well, kinda. My brother loves football and therefore I know a lot. He monopolizes the TV with it, clutters his room with Sports Illustrated issues and quizzes me on all things Dallas Cowboys and Tony Dorsett. The only time we ever fought was because of football. Once, when I kept changing the channel to music videos when he was trying to watch a game, he flipped. Before I knew what was happening, he had me by the feet and was dragging me out of the house onto the front porch, where he dropped me off, shut the door, and went back to his game. Yea, I know football.
I give him his paper the next day and he gives me $20! It’s a lot of money for something that only took me a few hours to write. I hold the money in my hands like it is gold. Only $330 to go! I haven’t been this ecstatic since winning 1st place, and $100, in an essay contest a few weeks back.
Jenny and Curtis come up to me. They heard through the grapevine that I wrote Blackbird’s paper and now they want in. It’s close to graduation, and for some, these papers are the difference between walking across the stage or not. I do the math and realize that if I write 6 more and keep working over-time at Marco’s, I’ll reach my goal. Soon I’m writing about dogs, popular TV shows and hip hop. It’s all coming together!
The grades come in. Blackbird gets an A and reads his paper in front of the class like he’s addressing the nation. Jenny gets an A. Curtis gets an A.
Mrs. Phaffenberger is getting suspicious, looking at Jenny, Curtis and Blackbird funny. Even worse, she’s looking at me funny and sniffing around my computer like Agatha Christie.
I can’t keep doing this. If I get caught I’m getting expelled. But I can’t let this money go though.
I walk into English class and Mrs. Phaffenberger tells me to go straight to the Principal’s office. I know it’s not good news. Why did I have to write those papers so well? I hope I’m wrong and he just wants to talk to me about my plans for the future.
The Principal is staring at me in disbelief. He could have never predicted this in a million years. Not from me.
“We have students who say you sold them papers.”
Man, who told? I see a black bird outside of the window, and I think he’s trying to tell me something.
“And we have the computer you used to do it.”
This changes everything. Now I have to either confess or blatantly lie.
I wanna tell him so bad because I really trust him. He believes in me, always encourages me and thinks I’ll make a great writer one day.
But if I tell him the truth, everything that I’ve worked for all of these years will be ruined. All those good grades; all the sacrifices to do everything right will be in vain. Plus he won’t trust me anymore, NO ONE will trust me anymore…
“I didn’t do it,” I say emphatically.
He looks at me like a stranger who somehow ended up in his office. It’s a look of pure disappointment.
“Get back to class,” he says, turning his back on me.
I can’t get out of there fast enough.
As I’m walking back, the first person I see is the assistant Principal, Mr. Maxi. He’s usually very nice, but is now staring at me like I stabbed his mother. I can’t even act like it doesn’t bother me.
I need a break.
I’m lying on the couch the next day, watching videos. It’s the only thing that takes my mind off of what happened. I told my mom I have stomach cramps and she believes me since I have to be on my death bed to miss school. I do feel like something died though, my dream of moving to New York. Without the essays, I don’t see how I’ll make the money in time. Worse, I feel like a punk for thinking that I could do it in the first place. I mean, who was I fooling? People I know have babies. If they’re lucky they go to school. If God really loves them they get a job at Jeep.
I’m also dealing with the death of my reputation. It’s ruined and there’s nothing I can do about it. That’s the thing about reputations, they take your whole life to build, but can disappear in an instant.
I find myself singing along to Vanessa Williams’ new video, ‘The Right Stuff.’ It’s so catchy and she looks so beautiful and… wait a second, it hits me that this is Vanessa Williams. The same Vanessa Williams who was forced to give up her Miss America crown when she got caught in nude pictures. I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like. To be the first black woman to get that crown, and then lose it. The embarrassment. The shame. The betrayal felt by all those who were rooting for her. She’s supposed to be living the rest of her life under a rock. Yet here she is in this video, a huge pop star, which is so much cooler than pageant queen. I don’t know how she did it, but she did, and now I know there is at least one thing I can do.
I pick up the phone and dial the Principal’s office.
By Erickka Sy Savané