I’m six years old. On Saturdays, my dad takes me to Coral Reef Park to feed the ducks. I stand on the edge of the canal and toss handfuls of stale bread at Waggy, my favorite in the flock. He always comes to me, as if he knows his name.
In my kindergarten class, we draw pictures of birds. I’m telling my friends about my duck in the park—his speckled feet and wrinkly face that looks smeared with jam. Then a boy marches up to our table.
“I killed that duck,” the boy says.
I’m crying so hard, I choke. The teacher puts her arm on my shoulder. She wants to know what happened. When I try to explain, it doesn’t come out right. The boy laughs. He says it’s all a big joke. I’m not sure what to believe. But I know one thing:
I’m scared of that boy.
I’m twelve. I’m getting C’s on my tests instead of A’s. My best friend moves away to Texas. I spend a lot of time hiding in the library, the only safe place I can find. I doodle my own comic books about spaceships and the end of the world. I try to imagine what would happen if the aliens torched my school. No more running laps in P.E. while the coach blew that stupid whistle. The bleachers with the splintery planks. Guys always trying to look up your skirt. The square pizza in the cafeteria. The aliens would zap all of it to dust.
Every morning, I wake up with my stomach burning like acid because I’m scared of going to school.
I’m eighteen. The aliens don’t invade my school, but a hurricane peels the roof off the library. I have a new best friend. She likes to read physics books for fun. She doesn’t laugh when I tell her my secret: one day, I’m going to write about all of this. At least, that’s the plan.
We take a test, WHAT CAREER IS BEST FOR YOU? and bubble in the answers with number two pencils. I tell the guidance counselor that I’m going to be a novelist. She says that’s cool but I need a “back-up plan.” I slam the door on the way out. Then I crumple up the test and throw it in the garbage.
I’m not scared anymore.