Upon entering school the following Monday, Jo planned to go see the social worker during lunch.
She had been dreading it all weekend. Both she and her father had refrained from mentioning again after their conversation on Thanksgiving, but the conversation had occupied most of her mind for the next few days after.
She wondered if her dad thought about it even half as much as she had that weekend.
It was all she thought about as she sat in her morning classes, senselessly copying notes from the board and pretending to pay attention to what the teachers in front of her were saying. She walked out of her classes that day unable to remember what her teachers had just taught.
As the clock ticked closer and closer to lunch time, Jo found herself thinking more and more about her pending meeting with the social worker. She didn’t even know her name. She didn’t know what she looked like. She knew where the office was- next to the nurse’s office- because she, like every other student in the school, passed it on a daily basis.
She tried to remember what was said about the school’s social worker during her freshman orientation. It wasn’t much, she knew; only that she helps students struggling with mental health problems, substance abuse and difficult home lives. Also that she sees students on a walk-in basis- no appointments were needed.
It was the period before lunch. Jo felt nauseous. She really didn’t want to go, but she promised her dad she would. And she hated lying, partially because her father saw through most of them.
She took the long way to her fourth period class- math. She stopped at her locker along the way, opening and closing it without putting anything in or taking anything out. She trudged slowly through the hallways, which were starting to empty as fourth period began.
She was late to class, but that was okay. Mr. Shickey always forgot to take attendance at the beginning of class anyway.
She was climbing the second of the two staircases to class when she saw the flyer pinned to the cork board on the wall of the landing.
The color caught her eye. It was a bright pink: close to neon, but not quite. The letters, big, bold and elegant on the flyer, were a light yellow.
JOIN THE ART CLUB, it read. NEXT MEETING THURSDAY DECEMBER 3RD.
Jo remembered her father’s words. “If you don’t want to go see the social worker, go join a club or a sport’s team,” he had said.
Jo was saved. She whipped out her phone and took a photo of the flyer before racing up the stairs to math.
“You’re joining the art club?”
Jo’s father was holding up the phone with the picture on the screen.
“Yes,” Jo said. “You suggested it on Thursday.”
Jo watched him intensely. He obviously didn’t expect this and was examining the photograph with an arched eyebrow. He alternated between looking at her and the photograph, his light eyes flipping up and down.
“I suppose I did,” he responded. He handed the phone back to her.
Jo couldn’t read his face. She couldn’t tell if he liked the idea or hated it. She wondered if he was disappointed that she didn’t go to the social worker, like he asked.
It was frustrating. He could so easily tell what she was thinking, but she couldn’t do the same for him.
“What do you think?” she asked.
He leaned back in his chair, his arms crossed across his chest. He exhaled, loudly but slowly, closing his eyes. It was a habit of his; he always did this to destress, to relax or just for the sake of it.
“Are you serious about joining this club?” he asked. “You’re not planning on backing out last minute, or pretending to go to the meetings, are you?”
“Of course not,” Jo said. The thought hadn’t even crossed her mind.
She was insulted by the very suggestion of it. She wasn’t a liar. She hardly ever ‘backed out’ of things. She kept her word.
She wasn’t like her mother. Not even close.
She didn’t dare tell her father that. Her mother was a sore subject for both of them.
“I think it’s a good idea,” her father said. “You used to love art when you were little. You were good at it too.”
Jo didn’t respond. She remembered everything: all the sketchbooks she filled with random sketches, the many paint sets she owned, how she would always doodle in the margins of her school notebooks and how she would lay on the floor of her bedroom sketching for hours on end with Caleb lying next to her, silently watching her and trying to mimic her.
But she had stopped. After the accident three years before, she lost interest. She abandoned her many pencils and paints and sketchbooks. She stopped doodling in her notebooks. Art became painful.
After three years, she missed it.
That night, she lied awake in bed, her mind whirling with the thought of sketchbooks, charcoal pencils and paints. She thought of all the sketches and drawings- finished and unfinished- that filled her notebooks and sketchbooks and covered her bedroom walls when she was younger.
According to her alarm clock, it was midnight. Through the thin walls, she could hear her father’s snores; he was fast asleep.
She got out of bed and tip-toed across the room to her desk, carefully avoiding the creaky floorboards in the dark. She turned on the desk lamp and dug through her backpack for a loose-leaf-filled binder to tear sheets from.
She must have stayed there for at least half an hour, just sitting there with a standard #2 pencil in her hand and two sheets of loose-leaf sitting untouched on the desk in front of her. Her hand, armed with a dull pencil, just hovered over the paper, never quite touching the paper underneath it.
What should she draw? What inspired her? Who was the drawing for? What was her reason for sitting there, late on a school night, hunched over blank pieces of loose-leaf with a chewed-up pencil in her hand as if she was ready to transform the sheet of paper and make her mark once more?
She wasn’t ready to make her mark again. Not yet. She just sat there, scared, exhausted and overwhelmed. She wouldn’t be able to draw something that she would be proud of.
She put down the pencil and went back to bed, disappointed.
Disappointed in herself. Disappointed that she wasted a good half an hour of sleep.
Disappointed that she couldn’t draw for Caleb again.