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Sweatpants & Sanity | The One Where I Cry in Class When a Fictional Character Dies

By Jerusha Gray

The sunlight streamed through the window panes at the back of my eighth grade language arts class.

You were teaching something from the front. I am positive that it was important. I am also positive that I was completely ignoring you and re-reading Where the Red Fern Grows as surreptitiously as I was able. I nodded along to the lesson, bouncing my eyes back and forth between the front of the room and the book tucked into the crook of my desk. I could hear your words as one does the conversations at other tables in coffee shops; low and non-distinct. I knew I should have been listening to you, but I couldn’t. The stakes were too high.  Increasing feelings of dread gained momentum with each page turned. This was not my first round with Mr. Rawls’ classic. I knew that Little Ann’s (a dog in the story) fictional life was rapidly coming to an end. The only way to halt the progress was to squeeze my eyes shut and stop the story. How could I do that to the other characters in the novel? Why did she have to die? My tears spilled over my acne-covered cheeks and onto the homework I was supposed to be studying in the first place.

Damn the whole world. Burn it to the ground.

Little Ann is dead. I started to sob in earnest. I sucked in air in great gulps, trying to get control of myself.

“Jerusha. Goodness. What happened? Are you okay, Jerusha?”

Your voice broke the death knell over the tiny dog laying cold between the pages of my book. I looked up to find your concerned face along with all the eyes of my classmates trained on me. At this point I may have died too – from sheer horror of being noticed. What the hell was I going to do?

I could hardly say, “I am currently mourning the loss of a dog in a book I’ve read six times, when I should have been listening to the lesson. I am sorry, but not really. I am sorry I got caught, because now I have to explain all of this to you and I need to get back to the business of mourning my loss.”

Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.

Instead, I mumbled, “female problems” and blushed furiously.

“So sorry Jerusha, what was that?”

“I am having FEMALE PROBLEMS!” and clamped my hand over my wide open mouth, appalled at my own response.

Your eyes widened in shock. You ushered me towards the door and in the direction of the nurse’s office. You even had a classmate accompany me; I am positive to ensure that I made it there in one piece.

I told the nurse I had cramps and requested a hot pack and a place to lie down. I collapsed onto the cot behind the curtain, clutching my battered copy of the book in my hand.

Six times in. Still hurts.
Every. Damn. Time.

Jerusha Gray

Jerusha Gray is insatiably curious. This curiosity, coupled with a brain that never shuts up, drives her to paint and draw, read prodigiously, make music, write, and sing in grocery stores.

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