About one month into the 9th grade, we were practicing for a nuclear bomb attack, because Fidel Castro had been caught with Russian missiles aimed at the United States, and President Kennedy was sending the warships to blockade Cuba.
It was scary. We could hear the fear in the voice that came on the loud speaker in Mrs. Singleton’s English class, telling us to go out into the hallway, and in effect, practice for the end of the world. And stay calm.
And so we stoop and filed out of the room, into the dim-lit, green painted hallway, and nobody wanted to sit down on the floor, as we were told to do, especially the girls, because the floor was dirty.
Suddenly came a scream of terror, not a girly sound, not a squeal, but an eruption of terror.
I see that it’s Tricia Forrester. She holds her hands next to her face, not touching, the fingers rigid, trembling, as if her face were on fire, that beautiful face. The hair stands up on the back of my neck, and I feel the instinct rising to run.
Tricia is going out of her head. The teachers stare at each other in dumb wonder.
Tricia is braver than most girls, she chain smokes Tareyton cigarettes whenever there’s a place to smoke; maybe she could feel the authenticity of nuclear power, as the rest of us couldn’t, didn’t, refused to.
The teachers are afraid, all but one tiny woman with a huge nose walks over to Tricia and shakes her by the elbows. This increases the terror, Tricia can’t help it. Her hysteria is about to radiate through the crowd like seasickness. All of us seem to be shuffling our feet, rolling our eyes at each other, in a mounting impulse to stampede.
The little teacher slaps Tricia Forrester. We all hear the crack of her palm.
The screaming stops.
There’s a rush of relief in the silence. My first sensation is shock, that a teacher has slapped Tricia Forrester. Girls are never punished in this way, only boys, and boys are never slapped, never hit with bare hands, only paddled with appropriately fashioned sticks.
Tricia holds her cheek, it turning red as fire indeed, red as an American Beauty rose. At the corners of her eyes, tears of indignation well where the panic had held her dry.
She is Tricia Forrester how has anyone had the nerve to slap her? What is the world coming to now?