- The Girl Who Went Away
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After I came home from going away and the Russians decided not bomb us into smithereens, Dad said it was time for me to go back to school. I didn’t need urging. My old life, bc, Before Child, my humdrum, what-are-we-going-to-have-for-supper life, had begun to seem like a pair of serviceable shoes that had been stolen by a thief in the night. Now that they had magically reappeared on the floor of my closet, I was eager to step back into them, not because I was preparing to have a good life, a regular life; I’d long ago lost any hope of that when my mother went and did what she did, leaving her dead and us high and dry. (This, I will add, was why I didn’t go out into the county and get some backwoods “chiropractor” to hack up my insides the way she’d done.) But now that I was home and had to stare at what had been Daniel’s house across the street every day, I felt even worse than I had when I was mopping floors at the Virginia Spenser School for Girls. At Virginia Spenser, I’d been lost in a fog, everything gray and indistinct; at home, the sun came out and I saw what I had lost. I needed to get busy, I needed to get moving.
I also had the uneasy feeling that somewhere in my travels I had misplaced myself: the real Grace, the girl who’d loved the reticulated giraffes at Overton Park Zoo and her mother’s coq au vin, had turned into a shadow, untethered to flesh and bone and heart.
The first day I dressed up. It was early November by then, cold and drizzling, an exquisitely miserable day. I had a bit of a crush on John Kennedy, thinking him very brave for standing up to Khrushchev and saving Cuba, so I decided to wear red, white, and blue to show my support: a blue skirt and white blouse, topped with a red sweater, all a bit tight on me now. I put my hair up in a ponytail and tied it with a red ribbon. I added some blue eye shadow and Electric Red lipstick. June said I looked absolutely smashing and patriotic to boot. I barely glanced at her; I found my sister hard to look at. I wanted to forgive her for ratting me out to Dad about the baby; truly, I wanted to let bygones be bygones, but her open, girlish face revolted me in some unfathomable way. Sometimes her grin just seemed to get bigger and bigger, her mouth reaching out to swallow me whole.
We got to school early. I wanted to get settled in my new homeroom before the other students arrived. I wanted my homeroom teacher, Miss Holcomb, to assign me a seat and give me my schedule. I wanted everything to go smoothly. At Virginia Spenser, I’d worked hard to keep up my studies and was confident that I could take my place with the other seniors. Dad had talked to the principal and arranged everything.
Miss Holcomb wasn’t there. I didn’t know where to sit so I stood beside her desk at the front of the room, my shoes soaked through and my ponytail drooping. The other students filed in, laughing and chatting, talking about the football game on Friday, the fall dance. I recognized most of them and halfway raised my hand to say hello. When they saw me standing there, up in front of the class, everybody [End Page 58] stared. The girls began to snicker and whisper; the boys winked and looked me up and down. One of the boys began to whistle “The Star-Spangled Banner” and some girls broke out laughing. One pretty girl wagged her little finger at me, sending the others into a fit of giggling.
About that time Miss Holcomb came through the door. She was sporting her perfect blond flip, helmeted down with hairspray, and she had on a hot pink...