It’s seven o’clock in the morning. Cold, so the custodian let several of the kids in to let them get warm. The usual crowd of freshmen and a few sophomores had been dumped on the curb by parents going to their 7:20 shift at the plant. The shadow in the darkest corner of the hall was Evie Hokee, but none of the other kids knew that. They didn’t really see her or know she was there. As the hallways filled with students the closer it got to first bell, the more Evie faded into anonymity.
The sharp sting of the razor had brought her awake that morning. Buried in the corner, wrapped in the worn coat that had been her grandmother’s, she remembered the pungent smell and the sweet iron taste of her blood when she held the opened vein in her wrist to her mouth while fumbling for the gauze wrap. The awkward bandage was hidden under the long black sleeve of her ragged sweatshirt. Her hand throbbed from the stricture of the bandana tied too tightly over it all. She hadn’t bandaged yesterday’s cut as well and blood had oozed like the futility of her life out onto the page of the pop quiz in first period Spanish. She wadded up the stained vocabulary, stuffed it into the pocket of her coat, and didn’t add it to the stack passed to her from behind. One more zero wouldn’t matter.
Zeros. She thought briefly of those perfect circles, like the braided cords she wore around her neck. It was a strange necklace, but no one saw it. No one saw her. She could feel the long tail of the yet unbraided cords down her back. Maybe tomorrow she would finish it.
With the incomplete stack of quiz papers she tapped the girl ahead of her on the shoulder. She was new just that morning. Unlike the other students who simply reached without looking over their shoulders for the papers, this girl turned completely around in her seat, looked Evie directly in the eyes and with a beaming smile said, “Hi! Sorry, I don’t know the procedures in here yet. Thank you.”
Evie was so stunned to be seen, to be recognized in any way, all she could do was open her mouth and hand over the papers. With that look she felt as if she’d been slapped or dunked in a tank or struck by lightning that surged through her body, but it was all so warm and delicious at the same time. And all too brief. The only times Evie had been this aware of herself and her world was when the blade of her razor drew quick lines of pain down her arms and her own warm blood welled up. But this was not pain. Far from it. Only it was fleeting, also, like a door opened to a flash of summer sun and then slammed shut again on darkness.
The rest of the morning Evie again moved unseen among her fellow students, the teachers, counselors, administrators, and staff. During her lunch period she found her usual place in another corner as far removed as possible from the crowd. The silence of her solitude was a dam against the flooding din of conversation, but the students’ shared familiarity still washed accusingly over her, a drowning wave that forced her to the bottom of her Sea of Depression.
The bell rang for her next class after lunch, and Evie waited for the cafeteria and hallways to clear somewhat before she left her seclusion. Just as she looked up to start for the door, the same girl from Spanish class was passing by. Again she saw Evie, looked right at her, and, with that same bright smile, waved a greeting—an acknowledgment of Evie’s existence—as she went through the door. A gasp for air brought Evie to herself. She’d been holding her breath, unable to move, to stand, to think. Then the moment was gone as it had fleetingly left that morning. Alone and anonymous then, she left for her next class.
After shivering for an hour under the bare tree in front of the school at the end of the day, Evie again walked the four miles home. Her mother either had to work a double shift or had simply forgotten her once more. The apartment was dark when she let herself in. She cut the mold off of the heel of bread that remained in the bag, spread the last of the peanut butter over the edges and onto her fingers, and ate for the first time that day. Running cold tap water into same glass she’d used that morning, she washed it all away.
In her room a single bulb gave her the light she needed to work on her braiding. Evie pulled the circle of cords over her head, slipped that noose of intertwined strands over the doorknob, and drew them tight. One over and around the other she laced together an intricate pattern of connected lines and finally reached the end. Seven feet of re-braided survival cord from a wristband she’d managed to shoplift from the corner convenience store, a sturdy necklace with a long tail. After knotting together the five loose ends, she widened the loop from the doorknob and once again placed it over her head. The chafed abrasions around her neck stung like the still open wounds on her arms. Her work hadn’t taken very long, but after tucking the braids under he sweatshirt, she lay down or the bed and eventually slept.
Morning came, but she woke as usual in darkness. She didn’t know if her mother was there. It didn’t matter. Evie smiled, but it was an odd expression that did nothing to dispel the sadness and despair in her eyes and in her heart. This was a smile of relief and finality and purpose.
She was still wearing the clothes she had worn the day before, the same ones she’d worn the day before that, and probably the day before that. She didn’t remember. There weren’t many choices. Her grandmother’s coat had been her blanket, and she slipped her arms into the too-long sleeves. A freshwater clamshell she had found several years before on a rare trip to the nearby lake was on her bedside table. She held it in her hand for a moment, remembering that warm afternoon of light, then put it in the left pocket of the coat, the pocket without the hole in it. Her eye caught the photograph pinned to the wall. Two little girls were smiling. Evie barely recognized the one on the right as herself just six years ago. On the left was Mandy. Mandy had been her friend, but her family had moved that year. They’d both wept and promised to keep in touch. Now Evie had no idea where Mandy was.
That picture triggered another memory this time. Evie remembered the new girl at school who had, for some reason, done what no one else had bothered to do in so long. Usually if one of the other students recognized her, it was to use the same old derisive playground rhyme: “Hey, Hokey Pokey! Shake it all about, will ya!” She had hated her name then for the teasing she didn’t understand. Later she had tried to find a meaning for it, but baby name books weren’t any help, and the Internet was too confusing. Eventually she quizzed her grandmother not long before she died. It made sense then. Hokee. A sort of misspelling of a word from some Native American language: Abandoned. Fitting.
Lost in thought, she dropped the photograph and once again thought of the new girl and her smile. Picking up the picture, Evie whispered to her younger self and her long lost friend, “OK. We’ll see.” She put the photograph on the wobbly nightstand with the broken leg, then took off her grandmother’s coat. This morning she’d shower and see if she had any other clothes to wear.
When the bell rang to warn students that they had five minutes left to get to first period classes, Evie went to her locker for her Spanish book. With the door open, she didn’t see the girl arrive at the locker on the other side until she spoke.
“Oh, hi! The office finally got me a locker today. Guess you must be an ‘H,’ too. Alphabetical, you know? Wow, that’s a really cool braided necklace. I love braiding, but I’ve never seen that pattern. You’ll have to teach me.”
Slowly and deliberately Evie pulled the trailing end of the braided necklace of cords from beneath her blouse and coat and held it out. She was so stunned to find this unusual girl right there before her that for a moment she couldn’t speak and merely offered her the end of the braided cords.
“Uh, ‘H.’ Yeah. Hokee. Evie Hokee. It’s Indian, American Indian, I think.”
The new girl took the braid and held it up for a closer look. “Wow! That’s really crazy that you have this thing so long and it’s a necklace! Hokee? That is unusual. I like it. It makes me want to dance!”
The smile she gave Evie seemed to light up the hallway, and Evie actually expected her to suddenly start dancing right there with the ends of her braid like a leash in her hand. Instead, still holding the cords in her left hand, she extended her right to shake hands with Evie and said, “I’m very glad to meet you, Evie. I’m Amy. Amy Hope.”
[Do you really see those around you? Take a look. Smile. You may never know whose lifelines you hold in your hand.]