If I had one wish, I’d ask for a headphone jack in my head. Not a pony, or a crazy-fast car, or a big pile of money to waste on ponies and crazy-fast cars. That kind of stuff is predictable. With a headphone jack in your head, you could let anyone plug right in and listen to your thoughts, especially the complicated stuff, like the hisses and hums in your brain. I want people to understand me when I can’t say what’s on my mind.
That happens to me a lot. Most days I say a ton of things that don’t make sense because I don’t know how to say things that do. With a headphone jack, I wouldn’t have to find words to explain myself. I’d just let people plug in and listen.
One of those moments happened today, right after I hit Danny Lenix with my marimba mallet and right before the lunch lady hauled me into the principal’s office.
“Have you lost your mind?” she shouted, and grabbed the mallet out of my hand. I thought it was a rhetorical question until she said, “Say something, Sam! Explain yourself!”
All I could think to say was “I’m not sure I had my mind to begin with.” Like I said, a headphone jack would be pretty handy.
“Of all the?—” she said, before shaking her head and escorting me out of the lunchroom.
She brought me to the person I’m staring at now?—?Dr. Pullman, the tall-and-deep-voiced-to-the-point-it’s-scary principal of Kennedy Middle School.
Dr. Pullman is one of those adults who shaved his head because he was too impatient to go bald. One day his head started to get a little shinier, and then . . . POW! No hair at all! The pitch-black suit he wears makes him all the more eerie.
He looks at me and says, “Take your hat off in school.”
I pull the baseball cap off my head. I wear it so often, I can never remember to take it off when I enter the building.
“Can you tell me why you’re here?” Dr. Pullman asks.
I know what he wants me to say. He wants me to admit that I hit Danny and I’m really sorry for doing such an awful thing and I’ll never do it again. But there’s more to it than that. It’s like I said?—?if only I had that headphone jack.
“A lunch supervisor says you hit Danny with a drumstick,” Dr. Pullman says.
“That’s not true,” I say. “I hit Danny with a mallet.”
Dr. Pullman’s entire head gets seriously red. The bottom of his chin to the top of his head is a cherry tomato. I don’t know if he’s mad or trying not to laugh.
“Is that supposed to be funny?” he finally says. “Do you think you’re still in elementary school?”
“Danny said girls look stupid playing drums,” I say, looking down at the floor. “He said girls have no rhythm and I sound like I’m playing on a garbage can because that’s all my family can afford. People thought that was pretty funny.”
Dr. Pullman sighs. “Well, he shouldn’t have said that. But, Samantha?—”
“Sam,” I say, correcting him. I hate it when people call me Samantha. There’s nothing wrong with the name Sam that can be fixed with an extra two syllables.
“Sam,” he says with emphasis.
“I was minding my own business, practicing with my mallets, and he started saying my rhythm sucks and I ruin every song in band class.”
“I already said he shouldn’t have said that, but you have to learn that there are other ways to solve problems that won’t land you in trouble. You chose to solve your problem by hitting Danny with your mallet, and as a result, it is you in my office instead of him.”
“Danny’s been making fun of me all year. He acts like there’s something wrong with me for playing drums.”
“Plenty of girls play drums. Why would you even let that bother you?”
That’s easy for Dr. Pullman to say. There are plenty of men who work at Kennedy, but I’m the only girl in the percussion section in band.
“I’m sick of him saying I stink at drums when he doesn’t know anything about them.”
“That still doesn’t mean we solve our problems by hitting people or picking fights. You’re in a bigger school now, with bigger consequences.”
I nod, imagining a rubber band stretched from the top of my forehead to my chin, forcing me to bob my head in agreement.
“You’ll have to serve lunch detention with me,” he says, “and I’ll be handing these over to Ms. Rinalli”?—?he holds up the mallets?—?“until I can trust that you will only use them for playing the timpani.”
“They’re not for the timpani,” I say. “They’re marimba mallets.”
“Whatever they are, I’ll make sure?—”
“It’s just that they’re really not the same thing. Two different materials, two different sounds, and they?—”
“I get the point!” he says, louder this time. There goes my mouth, getting me into even more trouble. Why can’t I ever shut up?
“I’m sorry,” I say. “Are you going to talk to Danny? Is he in trouble too?”
“That’s between me and him. It’s none of your business.”
Well, then, I guess that’s that. No point in saying anything else.
“As for you,” he says, “you’ll be coming down to my office for the next few lunch periods. And don’t plan on seeing those drumsticks again until you’re at band.”
“Mallets,” I say. “Marimba mallets.”
“Whatever they are, they stay with Ms. Rinalli until further notice.”
Dr. Pullman writes a few notes and gives me a hall pass to get back to class. I guess our conversation was supposed to mean something, but I’m still in trouble and Danny still made fun of me for playing drums and people still laughed. Serving a few lunch detentions with the principal won’t change any of those things.
I dread going back to class. Almost everybody saw what I did, and those who didn’t have probably heard about it by now. Every...