Saving Yourself

Gabi knew California would be terrible when she was on the plane, but she never imagined it like this. Gabi wanted a best friend more than anything, but her life made that impossible. She was new to South Middle and needed extra help in every subject. However, nobody gave it to her, so she was public enemy number one. Ms. Honey was Gabi’s sixth grade English teacher. She made her feel special even though the rest of the school thought she was a nobody. She actually took the time to understand how Gabi was feeling and worked with her differences.  When Gabi entered 6th grade, she was sure that it would be a miserable year. Then, she met her English teacher, and she got a sliver of hope. Maybe, just maybe, this year would be different, but it wasn’t. Ms. Honey only helped in English. Now in the middle of math in 7th grade, Gabi felt dumb for even getting a teeny bit hopeful. She was sure now. Things would never change.

Ms. Honey left to teach in another school, and Gabi felt all alone as a nobody in an ocean full of somebodies. Like she was meant to have a terrible, terrible life. Gabi’s math teacher, Mrs. Sparrow, was very strict and seemed to be against Gabi personally. Gabi wanted to fly back to New York where no one made fun of her and where she had so many amazing friends and teachers. She imagined her life back in New York quite well, for she had an amazing imagination and was a great artist, but no one noticed that Gabi. Everyone only paid attention to the Gabi who couldn’t get an answer right to save her life. Gabi liked to doodle during lunch, and sometimes during classes when things got slow, but she hid her drawings from her classmates, fearing that they would make fun of her. For Gabi didn’t believe that she had a talent for drawing.

“Gabi, do you know the answer?”

Uh-oh. Gabi had been daydreaming and hadn’t been listening at all. She looked at the board and read the problem. Of course, she had no idea what the answer could be.

“I-I don’t understand the problem.”

Mrs. Sparrow stared at her with her small, black eyes. Gabi looked away, fearing she would be turned into stone.

“Of course you don’t. I don’t know why I even bother to ask.”

The class started laughing right away, and soon enough, Mrs. Sparrow joined in too. Her laugh was high-pitched and sounded evil. Gabi’s face turned bright red, and she immediately put her head down. Even though this was happening all the time, Gabi still got very embarrassed, and she felt like a pile of dirt. Useless. Just taking up space. Ms. Honey was the only one who made her feel special, and now her specialness was gone.

Gabi’s parents didn’t know that they made their daughter’s life terrible. She had decided to not tell her parents about her school life, for Gabi feared it would only make matters worse. They were nice, but they didn’t make Gabi feel special like Ms. Honey did. They were the reason she was in this mess, after all. Anyway, they were way to occupied with Gabi’s little brother, Gregory. He had joined Gabi’s family of three when she was in fourth grade, a year before the move. Right away, Gabi saw her parents calm him down when he cried or held him close when he got hurt, even if they were just helping her with homework. She realized she would have to take care of herself more often now that Gregory was priority number one.

The ring of the bell brought Gabi back to math class. The bell was Gabi’s favorite thing about school. Well, after Ms. Honey left, it was. It symbolized the end of a boring subject that would get her closer to the end of a horrid day at school. This time, the bell signaled the end of math and beginning of art. The art teacher, Mr. Longbottom, had a round face and was very short. He wasn’t strict at all and didn’t know how to control his students. Because of this, art was basically free time. While Gabi’s classmates made paper airplanes and threw them at the poor teacher, she took the time to quietly doodle at her seat. Occasionally, a paper airplane would be thrown at her too, but Gabi just ignored it and continued drawing. This particular art class, Gabi was drawing a cat in a spaceship. She liked drawing these type of things because they were odd situations, and she felt that she could relate to them since she considered herself an oddball. When the bell rang, Gabi threw out her finished drawing and walked along with the rest of her class to the cafeteria for lunch. Little did she know, Mr. Longbottom had an eye for talent and found a great talent in Gabi, although Gabi herself did not.

Now in the cafeteria, Gabi sat down with her messy peanut butter and jelly sandwich that she had made herself, for her parents were always too busy with Gregory. She sat at the corner of the last table, away from everyone else. Some of the other kids waited on the lunch line to buy their food. Some, however, had delicious food that they had brought. Gabi quietly listened to her classmates conversations, which she had never been a part of.  She heard about Morgan’s  sparkly new shoes that were glistening on her feet and Julia’s new glasses which rested on her nose. Sighing, Gabi took out a piece of paper and a pencil that she always carried in her pocket and started to draw, taking bites out of her sandwich while she worked. This time, she was drawing a chipmunk that could talk. Gabi liked to think that the characters she drew were friendly towards her. Wishing that they would jump out of the paper where they lay and talk to Gabi and listen to her, but she knew that was never going to happen. Not in a million years. When the bell rang yet again, she threw out her garbage from lunch and her drawing, disappointed that the talking chipmunk would not be able to talk to her.

After lunch was social studies. The teacher, Mr. Marazo, was different from the other teachers. He had a sense of humor, but still ran a tight ship. He tried to make his lessons seem fun, but still made them seem like lessons. He was mostly everyone’s favorite teacher, including Gabi, but just because every other teacher was terrible. In social studies, they were learning about ancient Egypt. Mr. Marazo was talking about this and that. At one point, the class laughed. But, Gabi was not listening. She was thinking, New York was great, then came along the job offer for dad, and I had to move to California. Hmmm, then what? Oh yeah! Then, I’d been bullied in school until now. Hmmm. what’s going to happen next? Hmmm. Maybe, a magical unicorn will fly to South Middle and save me! Then, it will take me back to New York. That sounds happy. Impossible, but happy. Gabi sighed. She knew a magical unicorn wasn’t going to save her, but she wanted to believe that somebody would save her. Anybody. Gabi didn’t care who, just somebody.

Mr. Marazo’s loud voice brought Gabi back to social studies, but she still wasn’t in the mood to listen or to learn, so she looked around the classroom. Posters of ancient places covered the wall on Gabi’s right, and quotes were hung on the back wall of the classroom. One of the quotes was, “There are two types of people in the world, those who are Greek, and those who wish to be Greek.” Gabi didn’t understand that one. She wasn’t Greek nor wished to be Greek. Whatever. On the left of Gabi was a row of windows. In the front of the room was a starboard and a chalkboard, and in the corner was Mr. Marazo’s desk. It was quite messy with papers scattered on top and drawers slightly open. That made sense to Gabi, for Mr. Marazo didn’t seem like the neat type.

The bell rang, and Gabi moved on to English. The new teacher, Mrs. Plumpberry, was like the art teacher. Small and round. However, Mrs. Plumpberry’s personality was unlike Mr. Longbottom’s. She was extremely strict and mean to everyone. Gabi wondered if Ms. Honey would’ve left if she knew Mrs. Plumpberry would be her replacement. Hmmm. Gabi didn’t think so. Ms. Honey was just too nice. The most annoying part of English was that you had to listen. If you didn’t, she would catch you and make a fool out of you, and Gabi hated being humiliated. So she stared at the board, listening to boring this and boring that, not understanding a word of it, but listening all the same. Everyone looked alike, staring at the board, and trying not to drift away. It was harder for Gabi because she didn’t understand anything but had to listen anyway, which was basically useless. Gabi watched the clock. Five more minutes till English was over and she could go home. The clock seemed to be going backwards. She kept watching. Four more minutes. Tick. Three. Tock. Two. Tick. One. Tock. RING RING RING! Gabi nearly ran out of the room, eager to get home and take a nice long nap.

When she passed the art room, Mr. Longbottom called her in. Seriously, Gabi thought. She reluctantly walked in and saw Mr. Longbottom, smiling, sitting at his desk with her drawings in front of him. Gabi’s jaw dropped. I had thrown those out! How did he get them? Questions were racing around her mind.
“You might be wondering why you are in here, when you could be heading home,” Mr. Longbottom began.

Gabi didn’t say a word.

“Well, I couldn’t help but notice your wonderfully brilliant talent for drawing. All of these drawings look marvelous.”

Gabi’s eyes widened, but she still was speechless.

So, Mr. Longbottom continued, “I would love it if you could come to my room everyday after school and just draw, and maybe we can play some art games together. Would you like that?”

Gabi took a long time to answer, but finally she said, “I-I yes!”

Mr. Longbottom looked very pleased, and not even a paper airplane could ruin it. When Gabi got home, she shared her news with her mom, smiling the entire time.

“That’s wonderful news, honey. I’m so proud of you.”

Gabi, pleased, walked to her room, which was now pale blue and lay down on her bed, ready to take that nice and long nap, but she couldn’t sleep, far too excited about her new talent. Gabi didn’t consider herself a nobody anymore, she considered herself a somebody with a gift. She decided to draw, so she took a seat at her desk and got a paper and pencil. She drew a pencil that could write by itself. Gabi decided to sign her name in the bottom right corner, something she had never done before. This time, she didn’t throw her drawing out like all the other times. Instead, she hung it up on her wall, pleased with herself for making a teacher proud for once.

When school ended the next day, Gabi joined Mr. Longbottom in the art room. It was a messy room with folded and crumpled paintings hanging on the walls and paper airplanes scattered on the floor. There were paint splatters all over tables and chairs from kids who squirted paint at poor Mr. Longbottom. Looking around, Gabi got an idea, something that rarely happened.

“If you would like, I can help you clean up. No offense, but this room is a mess!” Gabi ended with a smile, waiting for the teacher’s reply.

“None taken, and if you want to help, no problem for me!”

So, Gabi and Mr. Longbottom spent the hour turning the art room into a shining masterpiece, telling stories and getting to know each other through the process. When it was time for Gabi to leave, laughs had burst out and smiles automatically appeared on faces. Both had a great time and both couldn’t wait for the next day.

When Gabi’s father got home from work, she excitedly told him about her first day with Mr. Longbottom, just as she had done with her mother. Charlie, Gabi’s dad, laughed at some parts and looked surprised at others, smiling the entire time. Jen, Gabi’s mom, was so proud of her daughter that she ordered Chinese food for her, even though she then had to make something else for Gregory. Gabi smiled the whole evening, munching on her favorite food and telling her parents more marvelous things about Mr. Longbottom, who was now, by far, her favorite teacher.

Gabi was surprised at herself the next morning when she eagerly got ready for school. She thought the day where she couldn’t wait for school to start would never come, and it was all because of Mr. Longbottom. Gabi wanted to thank him for all he did but didn’t know how. She finally decided to simply draw a picture for him of a hamster painting a picture, knowing that he had said that he loved hamsters the day before. Once she was happy with her drawing, she wrote, Thanks for Everything on the top. Holding the piece of paper at arm’s length to examine it, she finally deciding it was complete and put it in her backpack for school. Then, she put all her materials away and started to get ready.

Through the entire school day, Gabi stayed on the edge of her seat, waiting to jump up and get closer to the end, not because she could go home, but because she couldn’t wait to spend time with her new friend. Gabi suffered through math, drew through art, ate through lunch, day dreamed through social studies, and finally listened through English. Once the final bell rang, she raced through the hallways, till she reached the door labeled Art Room. She nearly flung the door open and ran inside, eager to have a great time once more. However, the art teacher was nowhere to be found. Disappointed and a wee bit curious, Gabi walked around. Eventually, she ended up sitting in Mr. Longbottom’s chair, opening and closing desk drawers which were organized and neat from the day before. Finding nothing important, she looked at all the papers on the desk, picked them up one at a time, and read their contents. Most of the papers contained boring teaching stuff that she couldn’t understand nor cared about. The sixth paper she picked up said “RESIGNATION LETTER.” Horrified, Gabi read the contents and stormed out of the room, crying.

“What happened, sweetheart,” Jen asked when her daughter got home early.

Trying to hide her tears, Gabi lied and said, “He was sick.”

She couldn’t even say her art teacher’s name. Before another sob could burst out, Gabi raced to her room and cried in one of her pillows. How could he do this to me? Didn’t he realize he was my only hope at having a decent life? Questions raced around Gabi’s mind like race cars. Her pillow was soaked when Gabi got up and opened her backpack. She found what she was looking for and took it out. Tears poured down her cheeks once more and dripped on the piece of paper. Anger overflowing her, she crumpled up the painting hamster and threw it in her waste basket.

When Gabi woke up the next morning, she slowly remembered what had happened the previous day and tried to go back to sleep, hoping her dreams would fill her with happiness that the real world could not give her.

When her mother tried to get Gabi up and out of bed, she mumbled, “I don’t feel well,” which was not a lie, Gabi’s stomach was queasy, and she had a lump in her throat.

Jen felt her daughter’s forehead and replied, “You don’t feel too warm. How about you go to school, and if you really don’t feel well, you can come home.”

Gabi wanted to argue, but she knew her mother was not going to change her mind. So, she shuffled out of bed and started to get ready for a miserable day of school.

Unlike the day before, Gabi sat far back in her seat, and when the bell rang, she shuffled out of the classrooms like a turtle. She turned back to the girl who hated school and wanted to fly back to New York on a magical unicorn with rainbow hair and shiny wings. She turned back to the girl whose only friends lay in paper. She turned back to the girl who threw out her drawings without signing her name on them. Gabi became a miserable girl once more. Sighing heavily more and more each day, she never smiled, a sour expression stuck on her face. She wished more than ever to have a best friend. They would have fun together and have each other’s back and share secrets. It would be magical. However, Gabi knew her imaginary friend would stay in her imagination forever and ever. Or at least till she was old enough to fly back to New York by herself. But even then, Gabi knew her old bestie, Jesse, would have a new bestie and Gabi would be all alone. So… it really was more like forever. Sighing yet again, Gabi reluctantly listened to Mrs. Sparrow.

“Jessica and Helena each had two cookies. Jessica ate 0.9 and 0.7 of the second. Helena ate 0.4 of the first one and 0.9 of the second. How much more did Jessica eat than Helena?”

Most of the other classmates said it was easy and raised their hands to share the answer. Gabi, however had a hard time figuring it out. Hmm. It’s out of ten right? So for Jessica it would be 9/10 and 7/10. That’s… 16/10! What about Helena? Hmmm 4/10 and 9/10 is… Hmm… 10/10, 11/10, 12/10, 13/10! Now what? Hmmm. Oh! I have to subtract. Darn it, I hate subtracting! Hmmm. 16/10-13/10 is… 3/10? Hmm. Yeah, cause 6-3=3 so 16-13=3, too! Wait a minute, I solved that answer? Oh my god! Out of her thoughts, Gabi waited for Mrs. Sparrow to call on someone to see if she got the answer right.

She pointed at Josh and he said, “3/10.”

Taking deep breaths, Gabi waited for Mrs. Sparrow’s response.


Seriously, Mrs. Sparrow? Just spit it out! Gabi hands were sweaty, and she was shaking.

“Correct,” Mrs. Sparrow announced, unimpressed.

That was just a warm-up after all. But for Gabi, it didn’t matter. She got an answer right! She wasn’t useless. Now smiling, Mrs. Sparrow moved on to the next problem, which was much harder. However, Gabi was thinking just as hard and when Mrs. Sparrow said, “That’s correct,” once more, her smile grew and Gabi sat up, eager to answer more questions, but too afraid to raise her hand. Math class went on like this, Gabi’s smile growing bigger and bigger.

The rest of the school day was like this: Gabi never stopped smiling and getting answers right. Nervous to raise her hand, but getting them right all the same. She felt like a somebody again, and she did it all by herself. She didn’t need stupid Mr. Longbottom. After the school day of getting answers right was over, Gabi promised herself that tomorrow she would raise her hand. Her teachers and classmates needed to know that she wasn’t completely useless. So, she walked home, not bothering to stop at the art room. Mr. Longbottom didn’t deserve to have a friend.

“Mr. Longbottom will no longer be teaching for South Middle School.” Mrs. Huggins voice was loud next to the microphone.

It blanketed the students sitting on the floor and crept into their ears. Whispers were shared, and students were shocked. But Gabi stayed expressionless, not caring at all. Gabi wanted to kick Mr. Longbottom at of the school herself. The principal introduced the new art teacher, Ms. Doherty, who looked nice. Curly brown hair and hazel eyes. Her smile was big, and she had glasses. Gabi only hoped she was as nice as she looked.

During math, Gabi kept the promise she made, raising her hand when she thought she knew the answer. Everytime she got called on, she answered correctly. The first time, Mrs. Sparrow and the rest of the class widened their eyes and their jaws dropped. Some of them even clapped! Gabi couldn’t be more proud.

The new art teacher turned out to be super nice and appreciated Gabi’s talent for drawing and even let her practice during class.

During lunch, Gabi no longer sat alone, and she even got to take part in her classmates’ conversations!

Mr. Marazo was getting funnier everyday, and Gabi laughed along with the rest of her class, now understanding why they were laughing.

Even English changed. Mrs. Plumpberry started to get nicer and nicer and even let her students play word games together.

At home, Gabi’s parents paid more attention to her as Gregory got older, and she even learned to have fun with her little brother.

Overall, Gabi knew her life would never be perfect, but she was going to enjoy every minute of it, knowing that she had saved herself.


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