You are an embarrassment.
Quickly, I glanced up from my phone to ensure that no one was looking. As the current reader — frankly, the name escapes me — continued to drone on from another corner of the classroom, I glanced back down at my dog-eared copy of Hamlet. I drummed my fingers on my desk anxiously and stared at the clock to my right, still dodging a pair of spiteful eyes from your direction. Glimpsing downward, I scrolled up on my phone again.
I hate that voice. Please be normal.
My eyes shot back up. My grand entrance back to the forefront of English class was still a reader or two away. I had ample time to perform a text message exegesis of my own; besides, ignoring the current amateur hour would be easy enough. The clock ticked steadily while I flipped backward in my book to catch up from yesterday. My eyes dryly scanned the meaningless text as I bit my tongue. I propped my head up with my arm and felt my eyes shut. The ticking, the speaking, and the words all blurred together and converged inside the void.
There had been another in-class performance the day prior, all following the usual routine: my line, my voice, my act. A deep bravado and inherent confidence soared from my lungs as I conferred meaning unto this blank slate of a play. Having given another grand performance — perhaps worthy of a Shakespearean medal of honor, if not a Tony — I retired back into the curtains. In the midst of my soliloquy, I was washed back into a dusty corner of the English department as I caught a glare from the crowd so piercing I could offer no resistance. My eyes gleaned for a response from the lone challenger; your familiar face buried all hopes. From atop the critic’s balcony, you spewed venom. Rather than a Tony, there was a tomato. In the melodramatic sense, a paradigm unique to a high school senior, I retired from being me that day.
Snapping back to the real world, I bore witness to a monochromatic performance purposefully on par with The Andy Griffith Show. Your words, just as cold and self-preservatory as your earlier text messages, still captured my attention as you muttered each line. How could that critic possibly think this pitiful attempt is what a performance looks like? To have the audacity to lambast my reading was criminal enough, but your hypocrisy had gone too far. I looked back to my own book in a festering shame, knowing that I, too, would be joining you shortly with a cop-out of a performance per your demand. Albeit smoldered, the flames inside my heart still burned for a chance to be free and escape your influence.
As my eyes scanned ahead for one last review, something about my assigned lines appeared conspicuous to me, almost as if this passage was more than just words. One line spoke to me like a particularly powerful episode of Dr. Phil, saying everything that I needed to hear without omitting the pain, the fear. As I heard a war drum so loud that it triumphed over both your words and my tinnitus, I remembered how great it felt to be me again: a nuisance to everyone else but in my own Technicolor way. I could never be as smart as you, but I could perhaps be funnier. My leg shook as I craved an insatiable hunger: the desire for self-expression, which could never -- would never -- again be silenced. My self-consciousness drowned in adrenaline. I would be normal, all right.
I heard my name in that teacher’s old, learned voice. I saw your smug smile turn my way. Setting aside my regard for anyone else’s opinion for the very last time, I closed my eyes. Deep inhale. I bellowed flair, charisma, and a crescendo. I gave that bored crowd in my English class something colorful, something lively — even if I embarrassed myself, but especially if I embarrassed you. I nearly stood off my chair and spat hellfire like the late Jonathan Edwards: a sinner in the hands of an angry actor! My left hand — my right was gripping the book with white knuckles — danced in the still air with each passing word. I was myself that day, and I have been so ever since, even if my classmates roll their eyes and shield their ears against the flames of my spirit. And as I smelled the smoke from a burning bridge, from my lips escaped a line.
“This above all: to thine own self be true.”