The first day that I met her, I had no idea that she would make such an impact on my life. She was about five feet, two inches tall with dark coffee-colored skin. Her thick black hair was a mass of tight braids, which, like her personality, went in a hundred different directions. At just fourteen years old, petite, lively Shmeka Jones had a smile that could blind the rising sun.
"Carla, why don't you take Shmeka today," the special education teacher suggested. It was the first semester of eighth grade and, in an effort to get out of homeroom everyday, I had volunteered to be a helper for the special ed. class. My job basically included keeping an eye on Shmeka in the mornings and safely delivering her to her classroom before the first period bell rang. I tried to force a smile as I trudged over to the rambunctious little girl with the devilish grin. I was not too very excited about being saddled with the wildest student in the class, but decided to make the best of things. "Hi!" I said with forced enthusiasm. "My name is Carla." "Hi Cahlah!!" She said without skipping a beat. Instantly friendly, she grabbed my hand and practically dragged me out the door. "Bye Fogel!" she hollered to her teacher, tossing a quick wave over her shoulder. I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me!
"How are you today, Shmeka?" I would ask each morning, and the conversation would takeoff. Once Shmeka started talking, it was hard to get a word in edgewise. She would chatter on and on about school, her family and even stop to ask me questions, eager to hear about my life. Though her speech was slurred and, at times, incoherent, her face was always alive and full of energy. She would smile up at me as we ambled down the hallway, her eyes dancing with mischief. I would often get lost in my own thoughts, worrying about the day's tests and unfinished homework. But the sound of Shmeka's happy laughter ringing throughout the halls could always snap me out of any negative state of mind I was in. She always seemed so happy to be alive, grateful for the day. That is what I liked the best about her.
As time passed, the two of us began to grow closer. My initial thoughts about the "wild", or so I thought, girl who was, undoubtedly, "up to no good", were long gone. I began to grow very attached to her and looked forward to our morning visits. She would proudly show me her new corduroy short-alls, exclaiming, "Daddy bough' them for me! They're pink!" I would tell her how cute they were on her and that they matched her rose-colored socks perfectly. Soaking up the praise, she would continue on with stories of the previous afternoon and all of her friends. I knew all about Brad, who threw toys into the fish tank. And about Lamonte, who loved to wash the dishes, sang the Mr. Clean television jingle and took nutrition very seriously. "Eat your greens, Selma Green!" He would say. Nobody knew where that one came from! There were days when I would look down at her smiling face and wonder, "how can she be so happy?" I would try to picture myself in her shoes. I was s!
o fortunate to be considered "normal" by society's standards. I could not even fathom a life of constantly being spoken down to, treated like I was helpless and just having the knowledge that I was not like the rest of the kids my age. None of these things seemed to bother Shmeka. She held her head high and walked through the hallways of Lanier Middle School like she owned the place. Little Shmeka knew more people in that school than I did. She was on a first-name basis with practically everyone, including most of the teachers and every last one of the administrators. "Hey there, Shmeka!" they would call out with a big smile. She loved the attention.
Some mornings we would sit in Mr. Roger's room, her favorite teacher, and she would draw dozens of pictures for me. I have kept them to this day. Their bright colors and crooked stick figures still bring a smile to my face. When I crack open my eighth grade yearbook, cannot resist flipping to the very back page. Crammed in the upper right corner, the page reads, in large, shaky writing: "to cahlah, love shmeka."
Little did I know that my attempted "escape" from eighth grade homeroom could result in such a close relationship. The time that I spent with Shmeka was, and still is, very special to me. She taught me more about myself than anyone ever could. I learned that there is a part of me that cares deeply for other people and that I can truly make a difference in someone else's life, and someone else in mine.
"This is going to be great!" Alice certainly seemed excited about playing a joke on Marilyn. I was scared, however. I had never really been a part of a practical joke before. I just nodded my head whenever Alice said something about the prank we were about to pull on Marilyn. I was too nervous thinking about not messing up my part of the plan to respond with actual words.
We made our way around to the back of Marilyn's house. I shivered as we waited for Darcy to show up from checking on Marilyn. Even though it was already the beginning of April, there were still at least two inches of snow on the ground, and it was very windy.
"Hey!" Alice and I spun around to meet Darcy's face. She giggled when she saw us. "You should have seen the expressions on your faces! It was hilarious!" Darcy giggled some more and then settled down. "Just think of what it's going to be like when we play this trick on Marilyn!" Darcy's big grin faded from her face when she saw my expression. "Hey, Jane. What's the matter?"
I sighed and explained to her what was on my mind. "I don't know. It's not like we're doing anything wrong. I mean, it's just a practical joke, right? But we all know how much Marilyn doesn't like to be scared. She's going to get really mad at us."
"So what if she does? She'll get over it. Besides, it serves her right for playing all those jokes on us."
"I guess you're right." But I still couldn't shake a rotten feeling. I did my best to clear it out of my head and focused on the directions Darcy was giving.
"So here's how it's going down. I'm going to climb up to the second floor with you, Jane. We'll climb into the house through the window, and you're going to stay at the top of the stairs on the left side, so she'll have to run to the right. I'm going to be at the end of the hall by the bathroom. Alice, do you know your part?"
"Yeah. In about eight minutes, I'm going to go to the back porch and sneak in through the back door. I'll pop up in front of her with the knife." Alice pulled out a big rubber knife she borrowed from her little brother. "She'll get scared and try to run away. I'll chase her up the stairs and into the bathroom where we spray her with shaving cream."
"Good. Everyone have their ski masks and shaving cream? Jane and I will see you later, Alice. Oh, by the way, the door's unlocked and Marilyn has her headphones on and is facing away from the door, so she won't see or hear you until you're right in front of her."
With Darcy giving Alice her final instructions, we made our way to the side of the house. I could see that this was more than just a little joke to her. This was sweet, sweet revenge for all the stupid April Fool's jokes Marilyn played on her.
We scaled the trellis and slipped in Marilyn's open bedroom window. This was the easiest part to plan because Marilyn always leaves her window open. We crept to our designated spots and waited. I was shaking with all the tension. All of a sudden, I heard a thud and a scream. I could see Darcy's smiling face down at the other end of the hall. I peeked around the corner of the stairs and saw Marilyn racing up the stairs with a figure dressed in black and a ski mask pulled over her face close behind. I knew that to be Alice only because I was dressed the same way. Marilyn was almost to the top of the stairs. It would be my turn soon. As I was getting ready to spring into action, Marilyn's body came hurtling toward me, and we collided. We both fell to the floor, and Marilyn dropped something. It was a cordless phone. "That can't be good," I thought to myself. Marilyn quickly picked the phone back up, and scrambled to the other end of the hall, only to be startled again by Darcy. !
The last thing I saw as Alice was dragging me to the other end of the hall was Marilyn slamming the bathroom door behind her and locking it. Darcy was pounding on the door.
"She locked it! I can't believe she was actually smart enough to think of locking it!" We were pounding on the door when we heard Marilyn's shrill voice call out to us.
"Okay sleazeballs, get ready for trouble! I just called the cops, and they'll be here any minute to arrest you." We stopped pounding on the door and just stood there in shock. In moments we heard sirens and saw police swarming us and taking us away in cuffs.
"Wait, wait!" Darcy screamed. "We're her friends! It was an April Fool's joke!" Everyone stopped and stared at us, then at Marilyn.
"Is that true, miss?" a tall officer asked Marilyn.
A big smirk crept over Marilyn's face. I could see she was planning something that would make us regret ever having played this trick on her. She opened her mouth, and said "I have never seen these girls before in my life."
LaGrange, Illinois, United States