We were going to be sewing book covers, and I had gotten last pick of the material. I folded the brown cloth flecked with green three-leaf clovers into a loose rectangle and rested my chin in the palm of my hand. I watched the second-hand of the on the school clock jerk its way through the last-minute before class would begin.
I had Home Economics as the second period of the day in eighth grade. Mornings were lonely that year. None of my friends were in my homeroom, Honors English still intimidated me into silence, and Home Ec was filled with girls in Lee Jeans and feathered hair. The boys weren’t any use to me either. I was too shy to even look them in the eye, let alone be funny or cute. I was just about invisible, partly because I had perfected blending into the background by this third year of middle school.
And that’s why I was nervously smoothing the brown cloth flecked with green three-leaf clovers. I knew – knew – that this morning my anonymity would disappear. I could feel what was about to happen in Home Economics, before we started sewing our book covers. I had some vague Judy Blume-inspired feeling that this day would bring the climax to my school day existence. Today was the day that my bland, invisible, taupe-colored life as an eighth grader would begin to sparkle and glisten. The announcement over the loudspeaker would include my name, and everyone was going to know it and be awed. I would never again search nervously for a table in the lunchroom. I would never again be the left-over lab partner in science class. I would never again have to sit out a game in gym class. My anonymity and blurred identity would become celebrity and focussed popularity. Hooray!
But even before the announcement buzzer had finished assaulting my ears, my forehead was hiding on my hands. I regretted entering the contest, and suddenly I wanted to stop time, run to the main office, grab the announcement out of the principal’s hands. Suddenly my invisibility felt comfortable and safe, not stifling. I didn’t want to lose it. I bit the inside of my cheek as the principal’s voice explained that each grade would have one poetry contest winner. That the winners should let their English teachers know which record album they wanted as a prize. I squeezed my eyes tight and wished that I could blend into the ugly brown and green material before the eighth grade winner was announced.
And then it happened.
The principal announced that I had won the poetry contest, he said my name, he read my five line poem for all to hear. Mortification. My head still down, I realized that I would now have a red mark on my forehead where I had been resting it on my hands. I lifted my head, expecting to meet 21 sets of eyes with my own. I realized, too late, that it would not be awe my fellow students would feel, but derision. My loss of safe invisibility would give way not to popularity but derision.
I took a deep breath and looked up hesitantly. Nothing. Casually sliding my eyes around the room, I realized that no one but the Home Economics teacher had even paid attention to the announcement. Or if they had, they didn’t care enough to acknowledge it. I think that’s when I finally understood that question about the sound of a tree falling in an empty forest.
The Home Ec teacher smiled at me, but seeing my terrified face, she didn’t prolong the announcement with further acknowledgment. Suddenly all business, the teacher turned to tell the class to follow the book cover patterns carefully. I bent my head in sad relief, and I began sewing my last-pick brown cloth flecked with green three-leaf clover to the rattling hum of junior high grade Singer sewing machines.