I shifted in my seat, waiting for the right moment. Half the kids on the bleachers were talking or nodding off, so I needed something that would at least keep their attention for a little while. I fiddled with the zipper on my sweatshirt and thumbed the corner of the notebook on my lap. When a blare of horns and the thump of a drum caused an audible gasp, I knew the time had come.
The marching band was coming in through the two sets of double doors. Two lines through each door merged into a column of four that stepped rhythmically toward the other side of the gym and then turned in unison to face away from the students on my side and then toward them. The space around us was filled with their slightly tuneless rendition of the school fight song. Conversation was impossible and many an afternoon nap was cut short. It was time.
I stood up.
I unzipped my sweatshirt, shook it from my shoulders, and let it slide off my arms and drop onto my seat, revealing the white t-shirt I’d worn to San Francisco, still covered in Emmie Hatcher’s blood. I flipped my notebook open to the spot with the folded over corner, the one where I had written the words “NO WAR” in dark capital letters on one page and then again on the facing page. Folding the notebook completely open, I ended up with a two-sided sign. I held it over my head so it could be seen by the students across the gym as well as those behind me, then I stepped up onto my seat just to be sure everyone could see me.
At first the only reaction came from the students around me. Those on either side leaning away from me and craning their necks to figure out what the heck I was doing. Then a few shouts from behind, “Hey!” and “Down in front!” Then the pointing started on the other side of the gym. It was like a ripple on water. Someone would point, elbow the person next to them, and then point at me again. Then it would carry on with the next person, left and right, up and down.
The crowd on my side couldn’t see my bloody t-shirt, just my sign, and those on the sides couldn’t even see that. But they could see the reaction on the other side of the gym, and students in the bleachers beside me were flowing down to the gym floor to get a better look.
The band was too focused on their performance to notice anything. They marched on, blaring out their tune, until teachers who had been checking their watches and shifting their weight from foot to foot seconds ago realized what was going on and ran out with arms waving in a downward motion like they were pushing the sound of the instruments to the floor. Horns squeaked and drums rattled to a stop, while some marchers, their eyes focused on the music in front of them ran into others. There was a split second of near silence before the murmuring voices grew to a crescendo.
Teachers became sheepherders, trying to direct a crowd of students out of the gym when all they wanted to do was gawk at me. The principal’s head snapped from side to side. He shouted at students, he shouted at teachers, he waved his arms as if signaling to a plane landing on an aircraft carrier.
No one thought to run up to me, pull the notebook out of my hands, and wrap my sweatshirt around me. Instead they shooed students out of the gym as if it were filled with something contagious. But really, that’s exactly what I was hoping for. I had something that I needed everyone to catch.
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