I will never guess wrong. Even if the teacher sears me to death with his gaze, if I rot in my chair, or if I make a fool of myself by keeping silent, I will never guess wrong.
My heart thuds beneath my ribcage, a cold sweat breaks out on my palms, and I can feel the blood surging under my skin. My breathing is labored and my stomach feels like someone wrung it out and left the empty sack to dangle in my abdominal cavity. My bones ache in this hard seat––number sixteen.
Mr. S’s eyes are staring deep into mine. There is no such thing as a stupid question. He has hammered that into all thirty-six of the brains in this classroom. Yes. All thirty-six––even me, straight-A me. So what? I know there is such thing as a stupid question. I’ve watched the kid in seat twenty-two embarrass herself over and over. What an awful scenario to imagine; I wouldn’t be caught dead guessing wrong. I even feel anxious for that kid whenever she says something stupid, like the time she said gravity keeps us floating in the air.
The question looms before us: what is the formula of kinetic energy? I think it’s mass times gravity times height, but it could be wrong. Is it wrong? Most likely. What if it’s the formula to potential instead? It could be. If I get it wrong, what will everyone think, what will the teacher think, what will my friends think, what will my parents think . . .
Aagh! The silence is horrible. I’m just waiting for the kid in the second row, he knows it. I exhale, relieved, as he answers. Thank goodness I didn’t answer, I had gotten potential and kinetic mixed up.
He continues with the extremely boring physics lesson. Squared, velocity, apples, blah blah blah. Wait. Apples? Is it lunchtime yet?
I watch the clock. The minute hand laughs at me, stuck on the 4. I try to focus on Mr. S’s lesson, but I can’t understand it at all. I stare back at the stationary, stubborn minute hand. It hasn’t budged a millimeter. It ticks annoyingly like it’s taunting me: tick tick tick tick tick. But it doesn’t move. I beg, silently, Move. Move. Pleeeease, move.
Suddenly my name is called. Thirty-five kids, that makes seventy eyes. Plus Mr. S’s. Seventy-two. On me.
That’s not an easy question, but I know it. I know for sure what the answer is. I give the answer; then hold my breath for the customary, very good.
He continues asking questions. Most of the time someone answers right. Or seat twenty-two says something stupid.
That is incorrect. I would hate hate hate to hear those words directed to me, seventy-two eyeballs staring at straight-A me getting something wrong.
Seat thirty-one laughs after she guesses wrong. I envy her. She can be free.
Me: no. Me, I clam up and let someone else answer. Me, I play it safe. I’m not a risk taker. I am . . .
The bell makes my heart leap, then soar. We all shoved our ways out of the stuffy classroom, into the gloomily lit halls. We head out into the echoing, chaotic cafeteria.
At lunch, we assign spirit animals to each other. When it comes to my turn, a girl I don’t know suggests an owl. You’re so smart, she tells me, so smart. Every time you open your mouth, the right answer comes out. You never guess wrong. You are so much like an owl.
Inside, I feel disgusted. If you knew, if you only knew. Biting my lip angrily, I muse over her words as we head back to class.
You never guess wrong.
I hear someone behind me whispering, The kid in seat sixteen’s always right. That kid never guesses wrong.
It echoes in my ears.
You never guess wrong.
I can’t focus during the next class. Their words stick in my head. Never guesses wrong.
I only answer if I am 100% sure to get the answer right. No wonder everyone thinks I’m the best. I am the best. I never say anything wrong, because if I doubt, I shut up.
I never get anything wrong, I am perfect. Like a robot, almost.
“What is the second plural ending for verbs?” Mrs. G asks the class. It’s Spanish class.
My heart strains against the cage of my ribs. It hurts. I feel my throat closing up in anxiety. A whirlwind is going on in my head. M-O-S. Isn’t that the ending? Or not? My breaths are short and quick; there is a battle within me. M-O-S is on the tip of my tongue, but my lips won’t open. Should I, or not, should I or not, should I or not . . .
Do it. Answer.
I answer. “M-O-S.”
Mrs. G smiles apologetically. “I’m sorry, but that is incorrect.”
Some uneasy, foreign feeling invades my comfort zone, something that is strangely related to relief. I feel exposed, raw, and real.
I did it.
I guessed wrong.