MR. SPELLMAN TELLS THE STORY OF CHLOE’S FIRST DAY
Thank you, Anna, and let me first say, what an honor to be able to contribute to your story! I also must say that I too have gone through hell, though not as much as you. You have shown such great courage and resilience these past weeks. I admire your fortitude to take such suffering and turn it into a positive. Your writing is truly remarkable, especially for someone your age. I always knew you had significant talent.
There’s so much that has gone on in all our lives, it’s scarcely believable. But we seem to have found some peace now. I will let Anna tell you all about that later. For now, I will tell you about Chloe’s first day back at Griffin Hills, though none of us knew of course at the time that she was Chloe. We all thought she was Anna. She looked and acted the same. Well, close enough, anyway.
I think it’s important to remember that both Chloe and Anna were new to Griffin Hills. They had only been there a couple weeks, which makes it all the more remarkable how Chloe ingratiated herself into the clique of the popular kids. Chloe really did have a way about her that made the other kids feel special for talking to her. It was her charm, but it could also be an annoyance. Either way, everyone knew her. She was impossible to ignore. That’s why when she died, even though she had been at the school just a short time, there was a real impact. It really did affect the whole school.
Still, kids being kids, they were pretty hardy, and they got on with things. It was the week of the big homecoming football game with our crosstown rival Plainfield High, and every year this was a major event at our school. The game would be on the Friday night, and would be followed on the Saturday night by a big dance at the school gym. It was a fall tradition that the whole town got involved with. So while the kids were still a bit shaken over Chloe’s death, they knew the weekend was going to be big, and they were going to enjoy themselves no matter what. And I must say I agreed with them.
I remember there being a weird buzz in the halls among the students that morning. I saw James Callifano standing with his usual group of popular kids, looking very animated and possibly upset. It didn’t take me long to find out what was happening, as the same matter was being discussed over coffees in the teachers’ lounge. James had been dropped as the starting quarterback for the upcoming big game, to be replaced by his backup, Paolo Martinez. Well, let me tell you, this was big news, compounded as it was of course by Chloe’s recent passing, and the effect it must have had on James. Even for us teachers, this was a hot topic. More than one of us talked about Anna, about how strange it was to have Chloe’s identical twin attending school so soon after her sister’s death. Personally I think it would have been better if certain things were left unspoken, but that’s not how it happened. People talked.
The other strange thing I remember about that morning is that there had been an overnight break-in, and in my biology class of all places. I reported it to Stan Nodder, who was very eager to call the police, though I convinced him to delay this till at least the end of the school day so I could make some enquiries in my classes. The damage was minimal, and I initially couldn’t tell if anything had actually been stolen. And of course I didn’t want to get a student in any trouble with the law, not without talking with them first anyway.
(Remember, as I tell this story, we all thought Anna was still Anna, so that’s what I’m going to call her, even though on that day she’s really Chloe. It’s still so hard for me to believe this even now!)
I spoke with Beatrice Tuxford later that day, and she told me about Anna’s strange behavior in her art class. Bea’s certainly not the most authoritarian of teachers, so the kids got pretty talkative, going on about the football “scandal,” I guess you could call it. But Anna ignored everyone, even though they talked about her openly. Bea told me how she tried to stop their cruel comments, but those kids just steamroll her every time, everyone knows that. Bea said the kids accused Anna outright of murder, and really goaded her on, but Anna behaved as if they didn’t even exist, and just kept at her drawing. Damn it, I wish Bea had a spine, but I’m glad she told me about it before Anna came to my biology class, I knew I wouldn’t tolerate such behavior.
Then Bea told me about what Anna was drawing. It was the point-of-view of someone pulling themself from an open grave. You know, the borders were all black, and a hand reached up to grab hold of the side, to try and pull up toward the light at the center. Bea said it was the best drawing she had seen from anyone in quite some time, much less Anna, who up till then had shown no drawing skill whatsoever. But when the kids saw the drawing they just ridiculed her more, and Bea’s pleas for them to stop surely just provoked them even more. But Bea said Anna (Chloe) never stopped drawing, not through all those kids making fun of her, not even through Bea trying to praise her for her work. Bea told me she stepped outside and got Stan Nodder to call Anna away from class. I guess that was the best Bea could do to help Anna, so I have to give her that. Bea did tell me that Anna didn’t respond to her own name when Stan called it over the intercom. Bea said she had to practically scream repeatedly Anna’s name before Chloe (as Anna) finally looked up. I bet all the kids got a kick out of that, but poor Chloe. How was she to know whom she really was?
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a Stan Nodder fan. He clearly has issues with his own insecurity, and I’ve seen him take these out on students. But be that as it may, he tries, in his own way, to keep things running smoothly. And I do think that it may even be healthy for those kids to have a principal to rebel against, as long as nobody gets in too much trouble. Now I’ll never be one-hundred-percent sure of what he said to Chloe (as Anna) in his office, or if he told her anything at all. The real Anna informs me that she thinks Stan told Chloe (as Anna) to stay away from James, and I have to say, this does make some sense, particularly after Anna told me about an argument she had with James the previous day. And without trying to offend Anna here, even the teachers knew about Anna’s crush on James, it wasn’t that unusual, after all. It must have been hard for James too, losing his girlfriend, seeing her fall like he did. So it was no wonder he was being replaced as quarterback. He probably needed the time off. Christ, I think we all did. Anyway, I feel confident in saying that Chloe (as Anna) didn’t give Stan Nodder the time of day in his office, and that Stan sent her on her way, probably putting her strange behavior down to drug use or too much rock music, that’s how out-of-touch Stan is.
My class with Anna, James and the others arrived in the middle of the day as usual, and I began it as I did my other classes, with an announcement about the break-in to my lab. I tried to be stern but understanding, making sure the students understood that the school did have security measures in place, such as surveillance cameras. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure at that moment whether the security cameras were operational or not (budget cuts and all), but I hoped my announcement might at least encourage anyone who had information to come forth. I didn’t want this to come off as too threatening, however, so I added that I hoped any would-be burglar broke into the lab because they had an interest in biology. This attempt at humor was met with more groans than laughter, and fair enough. My second priority that day was making sure Anna was comfortable. I still thought she should be taking some time off. I thought she was a very sensitive girl (I still do!). And right then, as I’ve mentioned earlier, Anna (really Chloe) didn’t appear to me any differently than usual. Her behavior was quiet and sullen, but this wasn’t out of character, and I certainly wasn’t going to chastise her for it. Instead I tried to engage her by reminding her of the essay that I had assigned her on zombification. I wasn’t hassling her to finish it, I was just asking. Maybe it was time, I thought, for her to participate in something closer to a normal activity, if you could call it that. The girl I thought was Anna just looked at me blankly. I wasn’t going to push her any further. I thought that maybe this was her next level of grieving. I had personally never experienced a tragedy as she had, so I was prepared to leave it at that. I resumed that day’s lesson, and the class proceeded without incident. James was quiet as well. He and Anna ignored each other for the entire period.
There was really nothing unusual to report about the rest of the day. I only had the briefest of conversations with Anna’s other teachers, including Imelda Bowles, her English teacher. I suspected (correctly!) that English would be Anna’s favorite school subject. I asked Imelda if Anna had shown any positive signs of life in her class. Imelda said no, she was sullen and completely silent. We both agreed this was completely normal. We thought nothing else of it.
The only other news of that day occurred at football practice after school. I heard from several students (whom I consider to be reliable sources) that James was, quite simply, out of control. Now mind you, I know he was very upset at being demoted to second string, but who wouldn’t be? I was actually fairly surprised James was at practice to begin with. But soon the whole school would know that James was practicing way too roughly, tackling his teammates with too much force, throwing and running wildly, clearly venting all his pent up anger. I don’t know the coach Bob Holden at all, but surely he should have withdrawn James from that practice before it started. But instead, apparently Coach publically chewed him out, which is completely uncalled for, in my view. It sounded to me like James had something to prove, and maybe he did. Everything had kind of worked up in that poor kid, one can only imagine. And then to top it all off, they took away his prized position, starting quarterback, and still made him practice! So no wonder he acted like he did. Apparently Coach Holden made a scene, and sent James to the showers in a rage. None of this needed to happen.