One City, One Story 2015 “Tell Your Story” Contest

Category:  Grade 9-12

3rd place

Coming to America

by Elizabeth Nail, Grade 9


Eleanor Beaumont // The First Day of School


All through last night, I’d been up planning my outfit and wondering what the first day at my new school would be like. I’d dashed off a few emails to my friends back home in Lyon, but the time change put us too far apart from each other; they were all asleep in France. The reason I wasn’t there with them was because my parents had finally divorced. My mother, wanting to start afresh, had requested that she be transferred to the American branch of her business company. They agreed, and promoted her along with it, so now she has plenty of work to keep her happy and occupied. I was dragged along with her, and spent my summer brushing up on my weak English while all my friends tanned on the beach and went shopping. But now, summer had come to a close and I was standing in front of my closet, with my hair freshly braided, rethinking the clothes I had chosen last night to wear for today. They were bright and cute and trendy, but it might look like I had put too much effort into it. And I had heard American teenagers had no sense of style; perhaps they might see me and laugh at me and then ostracize me for the entirety of high school. I considered for a second longer, and then instead threw on a dark hoodie and scuffed shoes. I left the braid in, though.

When I entered the kitchen, my mother was nowhere to be seen. I grabbed the strap of the backpack I had spent a week filling with colorful school supplies and called in the general direction of her bedroom, “Au revoir!” I heard some rustling, and she called back, “Good luck at school!” I waited a few more heartbeats for her to say something else, or to come into the kitchen and hug me, but when she did not show I turned and left the house to walk to Westbrook High School.

Westbrook High. What a name. It sounded as though it were carefully constructed by some unimaginative administrator to sound like every other American high school and be as inoffensive as possible. And yet, that was the place I was headed, walking down the concrete squares. The trees hadn’t even turned color yet.


Patricia Rodriguez // The First Day of School


My mother stood behind me and braided my hair carefully as I closed my eyes and sighed. Butterflies had seized a hold of my stomach and were making me quite uncomfortable. The one day that I had needed to go so right was turning out so wrong, and it had only just begun. For starters, the shirt and sweater I had planned to wear today were damp from the washing machine, and there was no way they would be dry in time for me to wear them today. So I was wearing an old sweatshirt I had donned in frustration. The nice new shoes my mother had purchased for me just four days ago had been found by Mullido, our dog. Now they were all torn up and dirty, and there was nothing that could be done to remedy it. I was just lucky my backpack, packed with all the books I’d need for my new high school, had been left on top of my dresser, where Mullido couldn’t reach.

Superficial raiment was not the only cause of concern. My family had moved to the United States from Mexico because my father wanted to open a bicycle business here, and wanted to give my little brother Antonio and me a sense of cultural appreciation. That being the case, I was afraid I would not be able to make any friends at my new school. I desperately missed my many companions back in Mexico City. If I could have had just one of them by my side, it would have been a thousand times easier to face the first day. As it were, I was determined to make the best of it.

“There!” my mother exclaimed, stepping back from me and admiring her handiwork. I reached back and felt the glossy braid, smiling and thanking her. “Oh, Patricia,” she said, tears in her eyes, “I hope you have a wonderful time at Westbrook!” She embraced me, and then looked at the clock hanging on the wall of my bedroom. “Look at the time! You need to go to school!”

I sprang to my feet, snatched my backpack off my dresser, and kissed my mother on the cheek. Yelling, “Adios, Papa! Adios, Antonio!” in the general direction of the kitchen, I sprinted out the door and down the pavement to Westbrook High School.

I arrived at the imposing concrete building three minutes too late. I located the principal’s office, where I had registered earlier in the summer, and went in for a tardy slip. Upon entering, I saw another girl who looked to be about my same age, with a small orange leaf tucked into the end of her braid. She looked up and smiled nervously at me, and then turned back to the principal, who was searching for a pen.

“You know how it is, first day of school,” she was muttering, ransacking her desk and file cabinet, “can’t seem to find a thing!”

I swung off my backpack and ruffled through it until I found my pencil case. Withdrawing the pen set, which I had secured together by a purple rubber band, I asked, “Are you particular about the color?”

The other girl was looking at me strangely, and I felt a warm flush rise on my cheeks. Perhaps she thought I was a brown-noser for helping. The principal didn’t seem to notice. “Oh, what a dear,” she said. “Do you have green?” I handed it to her.

“Now,” she said, more sternly, leafing through a binder for the tardy forms, “what are your names, grades, and reasons for delay?”

I looked at the other girl, but she was silent. After a pause, I replied, “I’m Patricia Rodriguez, I’m starting ninth grade, and I left the house too late to arrive on time.” The principal noted it, and then turned to the girl with the leaf in her hair. “Yes,” she said, with a strange, heavy accent. “I am Eleanor Beaumont, and am also in the ninth grade, and was… late in leaving the house.”

The principal glanced up at her for a moment, then handed us our late slips, which we accepted quietly. “You’ll both be in room 206, second floor on the right,” she chirped, and Eleanor and I filed out.


Eleanor Beaumont // A Possible Friend


I was late to school. I had left the house early, and figured that I had plenty of time to walk around the area, so I departed on a search for trees with bright warm leaves. I became wholly engrossed in the experience, and did eventually find one about half a mile away from the school. I took one of the leaves and inserted it into the tail of my braid, and then promptly forgot about it when I realized the time. Charging back to Westbrook High, I thought ruefully that I must be the only person to be tardy on such an important day; however, soon after I entered the principal’s office, another girl rushed in, clutching a stitch in her side from running. I followed her eyes to the orange leaf in my hair and blushed, smiling painfully. Her name was Patricia, and she was in the same class as me. I was slightly heartened to see that she did not look as though she was fully aware of everything that was going on, either. Perhaps we might bond in our shared confusion and sloppy style (for she was wearing an outfit much the same as mine).

We entered room 206 right in the middle of the teacher’s speech. Patricia looked as unsure as I felt. The teacher recovered from his aggravation that we had interrupted him, and said, “Oh, look, it’s our two international students!”

The kids in the classroom had mostly ignored us as we made our clumsy entrance, but at that they turned and stared at us. Patricia and I looked at each other. Two bright red spots had appeared on her face, and I imagined my own cheeks mirrored hers.

“Yes, yes,” the teacher said, beaming, “why don’t you tell us where you’re from.” He started the sentence with a question word, but his voice did not lilt up at the end. It was not interrogative, it was imperative.

“I came from Mexico,” said Patricia. Immediately whispers echoed through the room.

“I came from France,” I soon followed, eager to be done. The whispering intensified. I believe they were attempting to imitate our accents. Then Patricia and I made our escape to the two adjacent desks in the last row, while the teacher called the class to order. She smiled at me, and I smiled back, glad not to be alone.


Patricia Rodriguez // A Possible Friend


Eleanor and I quickly took our seats in the back of the classroom, and the teacher settled the class. It eventually transpired that the children were very nice, and Eleanor and I liked most of them. But none so well as we liked each other, if only for surviving that first day of school together.



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