Episode 054

Melinda’s Story

I was surprised how quickly the last week of classes flew by. Most of my teachers only mentioned the finals in passing, suggesting a list of topics for us to study. Thankfully, Pat had been correct. Each of my teachers suggested we prepare  one index card of notes to bring to the test.

My first in class review session was Wednesday. I went to Latin armed with all the questions I had prepared for Mr. Henderson. For the most part, I understood the material. I had questions about the test itself, such as would we have a sight reading section and would there be any multiple choice.

Mr. Henderson patiently answered all my questions. I tried to let my classmates have a turn, but  I think I may have been the only one who had started studying. Well, I knew Walter was, but he was going to ace the exam so he didn’t need to ask any questions.

When I had gone through all my list and no one else was raising their hand, Mr. Henderson dismissed us early, advising us to use the extra time to prepare for their final. As we headed towards the dining hall, I turned to Walter.

“Was I monopolizing the class?”

He chuckled. “Yes, but not in a bad way.”

“Them why did everyone look ready to shoot me.”

“Well, I was in the will she stop asking questions so we could get out early camp. But, I’m pretty sure most people were thinking how has she already started studying?”

Thursday, my physics teacher used our double lab period for a similar study session,. Again, I got the impression that I was the only one preparing for finals. A few of my classmates asked questions, but they were almost always requesting clarification on Mr. Wilson’s answer to one of my questions.

Not everyone was unprepared. The library was soon packed with new study groups. Sarah and Larry decided to move into the study room with me and Walter and Melinda. Pat was there, too, but no one minded his presence. At first, we were all annoyed with his insistence that we take ten minute breaks every hour. But, as we headed into the weekend, I realized that the five of us were a lot less stressed about exams than everyone around us.

During the term, several of us had stopped eating breakfast, at least on school days, opting to sleep a little later and just have a protein bar on our way to class. However, Monday morning, my friends and I made sure to eat breakfast at the dining hall before our exam.

Some of my classmates were using the time to cram in some last-minute studying. But, I refused. If I didn’t know it by now, there was no way I was going to know it for my test in an hour.

As I drained the last of my orange juice, I was hit with a sudden realization. I looked around the table. “You know? I don’t think I’ve ever been to the TRAC.”

I saw disbelief on a few of my friend’s faces. Jade sent me a quizzical look. “Really? Not even the locker room?”

I thought back. “No. Oh, wait. I did go the locker room to use the bathroom during a field hockey game once. But, I just went in and out that side door.”

Sarah shook her head at me. “We’ve worked in there on rainy days, not that we’ve had a lot of those. When you walk into the main entrance, there’s a large practice court. I’m not really sure what it’s for.”

Pat shrugged. “It’s a multipurpose court for whoever needs it.”

Walter turned to his brother. “Is that where the exams are?”

Pat nodded. “The desks are set up in rows. Teachers walk up and down proctoring.”

I sent him a confused look. “Proctoring?”

“Someone who monitors a test. In this case, the teachers are there to answer any questions you might have. And to make sure no one’s cheating, but that doesn’t happen too much.” He glanced at his watch. “Everyone ready?”

We brought our trays to the dishroom and headed out the main entrance. Walking towards the TRAC, I noticed something peculiar. When I started looking in all directions, Pat squeezed my hand a little tighter.

“You alright?”

I nodded. “Yeah. It’s just, it’s weird. Looking around, it reminded me of—remember that scene in last season of NeoGenesis? When everyone started swarming towards the beacon of light? They just stopped what they were doing, like they were in some sort of trance? Look around. The entire school is migrating towards the TRAC. Half of them even look hypnotized. It’s weird.”

Pat did look around and I saw him give an involuntary shudder. “Okay. I did NOT need that before my exam, thank you very much.”

I giggled. “Are you nervous?”

Pat nodded. “Exams don’t usually bother me, and I feel like I studied enough. But, I missed a lot of the class discussions. English and history are the two classes I’m most worried about.”

I squeezed his hand. “You’ll be fine. If not, then you’ll just have to repeat your fifth-form year.”

Pat feigned a look of fear, then flashed his winning smile. We followed the rest of our classmates into the TRAC, hovering in the back for a moment to get our bearings. Pat had described the room fairly well, right down to the hundreds of desks, but it was still intimidating to be in such a large examination hall.

Back at my old school, every desk was the combination kind with the table attached to the plastic seat by a metal arm. At Hartfield, I had only seen these in Latin class. The rest of my classrooms had tables of some sort.

But now, the court was now full of combination desks, all facing the opposite side of the room where several folding tables stood with stacks of papers. The last chair of every row had a sheet of paper taped to the back. I read a few of them before turning to Sarah.

“Johnson, EN100. That’s us, right Sarah?”

Sarah nodded. “Yup. I guess we go find a seat?”

Larry pulled her hand. “We’ve got a few minutes. Help me find my teacher.”

I watched as all my friends disappeared in search of their  assigned rows. Glancing at the row beside mine, I noticed it was labeled  Price, EN 300. I smiled at Pat.

“Is your row right next to me?”

He grinned. “It looks that way. Wanna sit together?”

We made our way along the aisle between our two rows, finding two vacant seats about halfway down. I placed my backpack on the desk in front of me, saving it for Sarah while Walter plopped himself behind me, reviewing his odyssey book.

Pat placed his bag on the seat beside mine before perching himself on my desk, playing with her hair. “If I finish first, do you want me to wait for you?”

I loved that idea. But, he could be waiting for a long time. I shook my head. “Why don’t you go straight to lunch. That way you can spend the rest of your day studying for tomorrow’s exams.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. If I don’t see you at lunch, I’ll text you after my math exam. Maybe we can take a quick study break together.”

“You’re awesome.”

I could see he wanted to kiss me. I wanted him to. but a teacher in the front of the room spoke into a microphone announcing that we all needed to take our seats.

Pat traced his hand along my cheek before returning to his desk. I watched him remove some books from his bag and closed his eyes. A moment later, a flustered  Sarah rushed down the aisle, whispering as she landed in the seat in front of me. “Oh, good! You saved me a seat!”

I rolled my eyes as she passed me my bag. Mr. Johnson walked between his two rows of students, passing out the fourth form exams on his way up the aisle and the third form exams on his way back down. He placed a stapled packet face down on each desk, walked back to the folding table and returned up the aisle giving each of us a long, wide strip of paper and two small blue books.

Other teachers were similarly passing out their tests while one of the deans I recognized, but couldn’t name, continued to speak into the microphone.

“You will have three hours to complete this test. When you are finished, please review your work before turning it in. If you feel you have thoroughly answered each question, you may raise your hand and your teacher will collect it from you.”

The dean glanced around the room as he continued. “No one will be allowed out of their seats to use the bathroom or sharpen pencils. If your teacher dismisses you, please exit the TRAC quietly. No one is permitted to wait in this room while the exam is in progress.”

Sally and Mr. Birkenhead had already reviewed these rules at our last form meeting, so I wasn’t surprised when the dean didn’t ask if anyone had any questions. As the teachers continued to pass out exams, I looked at the materials in front of me.

I recognized the bubble answer sheet from the standardized tests I had taken in middle school. I was also very familiar with the small blue examination booklets. Although I had never used them for a test, my sixth grade teacher had been fond of them. I had a collection of them at home, full of short stories I wrote.

I shook my head. I needed to focus on my final. The dean was speaking again. “Is everyone ready?”

I was about to replay when I realized he wasn’t asking us. He had been talking to the teachers. When they all nodded, he again faced the room. “You may turn over your exams and begin.”

I flipped over the stapled packet, reading the directions for part one. It was the vocabulary section. I took a deep breath. On our weekly tests, we had to write the definition of each word and use it in a sentence. There were too many words for me to remember them all, but I was going to try my best.

I looked at the first word. Mr. Johnson had given us the definitions. We jut had to select the correct vocabulary word. I read it carefully. To keep away from or make unfriendly. The word estrangement popped into my head immediately. I glanced at the answers. That was option C. I filled the bubble on my answer sheet and read the next definition.

I had spent most of the term adding these words to my vocabulary journal and using them in my writing. I had been reviewing my flashcards with Walter all week. I knew these words backwards and forwards.

For every question, I guessed the word before checking the answers. My word was always one of the options and by the time I filled the last bubble, I was feeling pretty confident.

I checked my watch as I moved on to the next section. I had three hours for the exam and had only used thirty minutes. I still had plenty of time for my essays.

For the second part of the exam, I had to select my favorite Greek myth and retell it in my own words. I knew the myth I wanted to retell, but I couldn’t remember if we had studied it in class. I raised my had as I glanced at Pat. He was still bubbling in letters.

“Yes Melinda?”

I turned around. Mr. Johnson was kneeling beside me, speaking in a whisper. I kept my voice low as I pointed to my paper.

“For our myth essay, does it need to be a story we discussed in class? Or can it be any myth?”

Mr. Johnson smiled. “Any myth you’d like, as long as it was found in your book.”

I nodded. They story of Daphne and Apollo was in my book. I had reread it recently enough. I had even summarized it once in a journal entry. All the details were still fresh in my mind.

I tried to remember as many details as possible. I couldn’t remember the name of Daphne’s father, but I knew he was a river god. I couldn’t remember what type of tree she became, but I remembered Apollo made it an evergreen.

Although the story was short, I tried to use my vocabulary words and personal reflections to embellish it. I ended up filling most of my blue book. As instructed, I made sure she wrote her name, class, and Part 2 on the front of the booklet before moving on to the final part of the exam.

For the long essay section, I was to write an essay about Odyssey. Mr. Johnson had given us the topic on our last day of class, encouraging us to write our outline on our index card.

When studying, I had written my outline in ny notebook, finding quotes to support my ideas as Mr. Johnson had taught me. Writing very small, I managed to fit it all onto the notecard.

Once I started writing, I had no trouble finding the words to express what I wanted to say. But, I didn’t have enough paper for all of my thought. When I reached the last page of the blue book, I raised one hand, continuing to write with the other. I was on a roll and didn’t want to lose my train of thought. A moment later, Mr. Johnson squatted beside me again.

“Yes, Melinda?”

I pointed to my essay. “I need another blue book. I filled this one.”

I must not have been the only student with this problem, since Mr. Johnson had several of the booklets in his hand. He passed me one with a smile. Perfect timing. I started the next paragraph in the new book.

My hand hurt from all the writing, but when I finished my essay, I glanced at my watch. I still had over an hour left of the exam! I turned back to the first page, examining my answers to each vocabulary word. I double checked that my bubbles matched  the word I thought best fit each definition. Other than fixing the occasional stray mark, I didn’t make any changes.

I re-read my story about Apollo and Daphne, finding several mistakes. Mst were in my punctuation, although I found the occasional   “he” instead of “she” or vice versa. Having just reviewed all my vocabulary words, I looked for places where I could incorporate them into my story.

Finally, I edited my essay. Again, I found many grammatical and punctuation errors I found plenty of places to show off my vocabulary words.  I also made sure to make a note on the back cover of the first book that my essay was continued in the second book.

Assembling all the materials in a pile on the corner of my desk, I raised my hand as I read through the extra credit assignment. If I wanted, I could  choose one of the first five entries I wrote, even if I hadn’t presented it in class. The assignment was to rewrite it, using my increased knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. Of course, we were only allowed to pull out our journals after Mr. Johnson collected our test.

Mr. Johnson again appeared beside me. “Yes, Melinda?”

“I’m done with my test. I’m ready to do the extra credit.”

“Excellent.” He traded my exam for another blue book. “Please label it Extra Credit when you write your name and class on the cover.”

Nodding, I pulled my writing journals from my backpack. I had been very inspired this term and filled the first one before Parents Weekend. I flipped to the beginning and found the first entry I had read to my class.

I remembered it well. I  had written it in the journal during the week. Thursday night, I typed it out without making any changes. I cringe reading it now. It sounded so immature and my punctuation was atrocious.

After reading through the entire thing, I opened my second journal and copied the entry on the back page. Although I made a few changes as I rewrite it, I went through it again when I was done, improving my word choice and punctuation. Then, I copied the revised version into my blue book.

Melinda’s Journal

Monday, November 20

Everyone has their own Thinking Place: a place to sit and simply, well, think. Unlike most people, however, my Thinking Place is unique because it exists solely in my imagination, making it extremely precious to me. My Thinking Place cannot be invaded by anyone else, allowing me to spend as much time as I need to contemplate whatever needs pondering.

There are two entrances to my Thinking Place, depending on which relaxation method I select to enter. I can take a long staircase, then push through a tall bush to enter, or I can ride a very slow elevator that “dings” as I delve deeper into my subconscious, the doors opening directly into my sanctuary.

It is very difficult to describe my Thinking Place, because it changes slightly with every visit. Upon entering, I find myself in a large clearing in a gentle forest, the water pounding down the waterfall providing the most vibrant sound. A river winds from the waterfall past my Thinking Place, disappearing among the verdant grass and trees. During my meditation, I occasionally hear the quiet rustling of the wind whispering through the trees or the distant call of a small woodland creature, which never enters my sacred ground.

I like to visit my Thinking Place as often as I am able, though it has been difficult finding the time this term. Sometimes, I attempt to visit right before for the evening, but lately, the elevator doors open only long enough for me to espy my Thinking Place before abruptly closing and whisking me either back to reality or directly into dreamland. Other times, as I am descending the staircase, a sudden noise behind me forces me to abruptly turn and race back up the stairs, denying me even that quick glimpse. My one comfort has been that, since my Thinking Place exists solely in my head, I remain able to continue to visit, even though I now live here at Hartfield.

Pat’s Story

The week leading up to finals was extremely stressful. I essentially moved into the library with my brother and his friends. At first, they were a little freaked out—about the exams, not me—but Melinda had some good study tips that seemed to calm everybody, including me. I also kept insisting on study breaks so that by the time classes ended and we had three days to focus on studying for exams, we were probably the five calmest people on campus.

I felt bad for Walter. During study breaks, Melinda and I usually took one chair while Larry and Sarah took the other. Walter either pulled up a chair from the desk or sat on the floor. Even though we were just talking, I couldn’t help but wonder if Walter was feeling like a fifth wheel.

One of the things keeping me from stressing too much about finals was my daily run with my brother. We used our stretching time afterwards to have some of our best bonding moments.

“Man, I’m gonna miss this run,” I told Walter the morning of our first exams.

“We’re only going home for a week.”

I shook my head. “Once the snow starts, we have to move indoors. They don’t maintain the sidewalks well enough. I nearly broke my neck last year.”

Walter made a sour face and I completely understood. Although running the indoor track was better than a treadmill, the two of us preferred running outside no matter what the weather.

“So, you ready for today?” I asked him.

He nodded. “I think so. I’m not worried about the vocabulary too much. Just the actual essay writing. I always seem to have trouble organizing my thoughts on timed essays.”

“Spend the extra couple minutes to outline your thoughts. It really does make a difference.”

“I’ll try to remember that.” He paused for a minute. “It’s been cool having you studying with us. It felt like home.”

“Are the four of us making you uncomfortable?”

Walter shook his head. “Nah. I just close my eyes and pretend none of you are there. I’ve been studying alone all week. It’s amazing how much I could get done.”

I sniggered. “I’m serious.”

“Me, too. I’m fine. I told you I would let you know if I was uncomfortable, and I’m not. Don’t sweat it.” He headed up the stairs to his dormitory. “See you at breakfast,” he added without turning around.

Seriously? Did my brother just invite me to breakfast? With all his friends?

As I listened to the conversation around me, I wondered if Walter had invited me so I could reduce everyone’s anxiety. This was their first final at Hartfield and they were all so clueless. It was kind of funny.

Somehow, Melinda had managed to get through the entire term without ever setting foot in the TRAC, so Sarah started describing it to her. After she described what the multi-use court looked like, I explained how it would be used for exams.

After breakfast, we all headed towards the exams together. I felt like a third-former again, walking en masse towards the TRAC. I held Melinda’s hand as we walked, noticing her looking in all directions with a concerned look on her face.

I squeezed her hand slightly. “You alright?”

She smiled at me. “Yeah. It’s weird. It just reminded me of…Remember that scene in last season of Neogenesis when everyone started swarming towards the beacon of light? They just stopped what they were doing, like they were in some sort of trance? Look around. The entire school is migrating towards the TRAC. Half of them even look hypnotized. It’s weird.”

I looked around. She was right. The entire student body was streaming towards a single building from every direction, and many had glazed eyes. It wasn’t weird. It was downright unnerving. A shiver went down my spine.

“Okay. I did not need that before my exam, thank you very much.”

Melinda giggled and asked if I was nervous, so I explained how I was most concerned about my history and English exams, the latter of which was first. I knew the material, but I had missed a lot of the class discussion because of the movie. She tried to reassure me and I had to admit I was calmer by the time we entered the building.

Melinda’s teacher and mine were right beside each other, so we were able to sit in neighboring desks. Walter sat behind Melinda, who saved the seat in front of her for her roommate. While Walter crammed, I saved my seat with my bag and sat on Melinda’s desk. I played with her hair while we discussed meeting up after the exam.

Someone announced that it was time to find our seats. I wanted to give her a good luck kiss, but I didn’t want to make my brother uncomfortable right before his exam. Instead, I traced my hand along her cheek before sitting in my seat. I removed my pens, novels, and notecard from my bag and closed my eyes. While the teachers passed out the exams, I did some breathing exercises I used when acting. Usually, they were for getting into character. Right now, however, I was emptying my mind so I could focus on my exam.

The first part of my exam was all vocabulary. I had aced every vocabulary test, but I think using those words when playing Weddas helped make that section so easy. Then there was the timed essay. The teacher had given us the assignment in our last class. We had to compare any two of the novels we had read this term, creating our own thesis. I spent a lot of time last week trying to figure out what I wanted to write, but every outline came out horrible. During first study hours last night, I had finally figured it out and wrote the entire essay. During second hours, I wrote it as an outline and printed it in an incredibly small font so I could tape it to my index card.

Although the essay was easy to write, it did not leave me much time for my extra credit. Since we had to compare two characters from novels we didn’t use for our essay, this was a little harder to complete and I wasn’t sure how well I did.