Cracked but Not Broken
I keep my eyes on the scuffed linoleum floor as I walk down the crowded high school hallway. The fluorescent lights hum and I focus my attention on their monotonous melody, tuning out the laughter that surrounds me. Although the harsh words of my peers are drowned out, the voice inside my head takes over. “You’re broken,” it echoes. My heart retreats deeper into my chest. I can feel the skin over it growing thicker like a shield, but the skin hardens too much and cracks. Not another scar. I quickly zip up my hoodie, hoping no one will notice.
“What a hot mess,” Maddie Kensington comments to her clique.
“More like an ugly mess.” Her boyfriend, Ty Hamilton, high-fives his group of morons.
I flip my hood up and pull the strings until everything but my nose and eyes are covered. I make a pit stop at my locker to retrieve my lunch. Grabbing the brown bag, I dash into the restroom. Stall number three is mine. I see the usual feet under stalls one, two, and four. With my elbow, I push the faded yellow stall door in. The messages that covered the wall yesterday are gone, but they are replaced with new words of hate. I try not to look, but there it is: my name in big bold letters, with judgments surrounding it.
“Emma?” The school counselor, Miss Hodge, softly knocks on my stall door. I dab the tears under my lashes with my sleeve. “Do you need help with your stitches?” I don’t have to inspect my chest to know I need help. I feel the skin pulling apart, like a rubber band gradually stretching too far.
“Yes,” I mumble, and step out of the stall while slowly unzipping my hoodie.
“How many today?” she asks with a trace of concern in her warm copper eyes.
“Four, but this is the only one that needs stitches.”
Miss Hodge tucks wispy strands of my long blonde hair behind my ears. “How’d you get it?”
“Everyone was laughing at me in the hallway.”
“About what?” Miss Hodge asks as she cleans the area.
“Everything,” I sigh. “They used to call me a giant because of my height, but now since these…” I gesture to my bilateral cochlear implants, “they call me a bionic giant.”
“You could always take your cochlear implants off. Then you wouldn’t hear what they say about you.” Miss Hodge numbs the area.
“I guess, but then I couldn’t hear anything.”
Miss Hodge smiles, “Maybe their words don’t bother you that much then.”
“Maybe.” I peer down at my chest.
“So, what’s for lunch today?” she asks, trying to distract me as she pulls through the first stitch.
I feel a light tug. “Did your dad pack you his famous triple chocolate chip cookies?” Her voice sounds hopeful.
“Yes, and he packed an extra one for you.”
“What’s he tell you to do about Maddie and the other jerks in school?”
“Ignore them. He says it’s more important what I think about myself.” I let out a breath as she finishes stitching me up.
“That’s good advice, but easier to say than do.” Miss Hodge puts a large square piece of gauze over my newly stitched up crack. “So your zipper won’t rub on it.”
“Thanks.” I grab the one triple chocolate chip cookie out of the brown bag and hand it to her. I lied about my dad packing two, because I want Miss Hodge to have it since she is always so kind to me.
She takes a nibble and smiles, reminding me of a cute chipmunk. “You like your cochlear implants?”
“Yes. I hear so much better than I did with my hearing aids, especially in crowded places.” I bite my lip. “But I don’t like being made fun of because of them, or having big idiots like Jordan Blake yank them off my head and sign loser.”
“When did that happen?” she gasps.
“Just before second period. That’s what this crack is from.” I point to my right cheek.
“Hmm.” Her fuzzy brows rise. “That crack is so much smaller than the one by your heart.” She was right. It couldn’t have even been a quarter of the size. “Where are your other two cracks from this morning?”
I roll up my right sleeve and reveal a jagged, but rather tiny crack.
“What’s that one from?”
“Liam Morris asked me out.” I feel my cheeks turn red. “But Avery Banks implied it was a pity date and said that Liam likes stray dogs.”
“She’s just insecure.” Miss Hodge strolls over to the corner sink, and I follow her.
A scratched mirror hangs above. I quickly glance at myself and wish I were prettier. I feel a slight sting under my stitches, but ignore it and show Miss Hodge my fourth crack. “This happened before I left for school, when my mom reminded me that I’m not normal and that I’ll probably never fit in.” I slip the left sleeve of my hoodie off, exposing a one-inch crack on my shoulder.
“That will heal quickly, just like the crack on your cheek and the one on your arm. ” Her gaze falls on my chest. “But I’m worried about the crack near your heart.” I am too. It hurts more than the others, and I feel it growing.
Miss Hodge washes her hands, filling the restroom with a light cucumber scent. “I just want to make sure it’s okay.”
“It’s not,” I mutter, as she gently lifts up the tape around the border of the gauze.
“It got worse after you looked in the mirror.”
Hesitantly, I lower my head and take a peek. The crack re-opened and is now twice the size.
“It’s too deep for me to fix.” She calmly hands me the needle and thread.
“What?” I ask my heart beating fast. With my free hand I grab gauze out of her vest pocket and hold it over the crack, which is now leaking blood.
She squeezes my shoulders firmly. “You caused this crack, and you can fix it. You’re not broken yet.”