She Said There Were Oceans Of Oysters With My Name

Kim Henderson


Ours was a Royce Academy family.  Mom graduated with honors, Dad was captain of the wrestling team, Peter founded Robotics Club and Jude took the school to Nationals every year for debate.  The summer before ninth grade, at my fourteenth birthday breakfast, they sat playing Memory Matrix and speculating on what my reputation would be, what mark the final Meyer would leave.  I was the shy one who cried if called on in class, who disappeared into a blanket of books while my parents smashed the neighbors at Cranium and my brothers networked at conferences for youth leaders.  They were sure things would change for me at Royce.  Royce could bring out anyone’s inner gifts.

It turned out there was a disease hiding in my head, a keepsake from some great-great granny as improbable as most people’s Cherokee chief grandpa.  But she was real, and when I left Arizona and settled in among those smartly-dressed New England boarding school kids, I discovered I was good at striking up conversation without my family around, as long as I talked so fast I couldn’t hear my own words.  On dorm dares, I sampled mothballs, drank hairspray and pierced body parts, impressed older girls with elaborate made-up jokes and stolen cigarettes.  The Saturday after midterms, I was invited to the football field to smoke and kiss older boys.  My mood spun away like a pinwheel, spun into ecstasy, and I was on top of the social scene, I was on top of the world, I was on top of the administration building with four guys at once, and then I was Slut, Two-Timer, Liar, Thief, and I was back home, surrounded by a team of psychologists and my blinking family.

People at Chandler High call me Nice and Quiet—I will give them nothing else to say.  But when I am alone, which is often, I think of Royce, and how there are four hundred or so people in the world who will remember me as the first-expulsion-of-the-year freshman, the twisted tomato who stayed up all night pulling a train, banging the most popular girls’ boyfriends.  My brothers no longer reminisce on their years at Royce, and my parents quit donating to the annual fund.  Nobody provides cheery updates for the alumni newsletter or talks about what they’ll wear to the reunion.  My mother monitors my medication and tells me what I did back there doesn’t matter.  Her voice is too soft to be believable, but I nod anyway when she touches the knots in my spine and calls them pearls.


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