A tater tot for a fruit snack is a rather fair trade


Marley hands me a fruit snack. They are so full of chemicals; I shouldn’t eat them—what if I get fat? I pop it into my mouth. The orange bursts into my mouth with the tastes of winter when oranges are ripe. Little chewy pieces get stuck in my mouth just like they did when I was a little kid. Being pushed in a stroller, pretending I was a popular girl who chewed gum, wishing my mom would let me have a piece of real gum was a time before my sister told me that if I swallowed gum, a gum tree would grow in my stomach—before the stresses of my life, whether small or big, came into view.

“You ready for the test?” Marley (my best friend since third grade when she asked me why rabbits get to hop while humans are stuck walking) asks. “I heard it’s pretty hard.”

“Huh? Oh, no,” I respond hazily. “Random facts keep popping in my head, yet none of them are going to be useful.”

“Yeah, I’m not ready either.”

My food looks less and less appetizing. I eat it all anyway. Mom always says nutrients help your brain, and helping your brain helps you succeed on tests.

The bell startles me out of my staring contest with my lunch box. We make our way towards doom. Towards the killer of grades. Man, I hope I get a good grade. I need an A in this class, and if I fail this, who knows how long it will take to revive my 97%. The rows of seats that line the room await me, and they are each separated as if a deadly virus was rampant in the world. As I set my twelve-ton backpack down and slide into my seat, my leg starts its bouncing. Oh how I wish this hour would be over. This hour of my life that sums up tears in my bedroom, nights falling asleep to the peaceful sound of chemistry teachers trying to lead me to a path of enlightenment, texts of confusion, and 32 pieces of paper which murdered a poor tree.

That stupid bell echoing in my thoughts won’t help with the paper that was just placed in front of me. Alright, who was Mendeleev? What a fun name. Written out, it looks like some exotic adjective a genius would use, not me, for I am not a genius. Oh shoot, I am taking a test. Mendeleev was the one who made the first usable periodic table. Yes, next question: the columns on a periodic table are known as what? These always confuse me. Was it the small family like mine or the small period like art class? Ugh. If only chemistry could be like eating a doughnut: quick, colorful, and sugary. Instead, I have to wallow away drowning in chemicals. Oh—long periods like these hours! Families are columns.

As words of stoichiometry and elements like rubidium bounced around on the paper and in my head, images of rubies and stocks hit them and deflect to the part of my brain that distracts me. I make it to my last hour of the day, my sanctuary. I am safe.

“That was rough,” Marley says with a huff.

“Yeah, I kept getting sidetracked. My brain just doesn’t work with chemistry, I guess.”

We make our way towards doom. Towards the killer of grades.”

I failed that test. There is no way I didn’t fail. As my teacher always says, you’ll know if you did well or not when you walk out of the room, and I certainly did not do well. I just have to get through this hour, and then I can collapse on my bed with my best friend, and we can laugh and forget our troubles of the day. Ha! Like that would happen. My troubles are permanently with me. Even if they disappear for a time, they always come back and stronger than before my distraction.

The hour was a struggle. We learned about the conjugation of -re verbs, and I am completely lost. This next test will be hard. It feels like I have a test everyday. Chemistry today, English tomorrow. I need a break, yet the district will never let me rest. I’m tired of the tears streaming down my face. I’m tired of the salt ending up in my mouth. I can’t hide them anymore. I thought I was improving my skills of masking my emotions, yet the only one I can’t hide is the one I don’t want people to see.

“How are you doin?” Marley asks.

“Good! Glad to be done with school.”

But maybe I am good at putting up a facade. I can lie to my best friend. But I feel that she knows I am lying. Who knows. As we sit here at the dinner table, I hand her a tater tot off of my overflowing plate, and a weight leaves my chest. For the most microscopic moment, I don’t feel like crying.