My quiz is happening today. Like it or not. (Not.)
The important thing is not to remain calm. I studied. Yes, the amount of information to study was equivalent to the contents of an encyclopedia and the amount I studied is equivalent to maybe ten pages of said encyclopedia. But that is no reason to panic. I mean, it’s just a quiz. No biggie.
When I get into the elevator, Noel says to me, “Your first quiz is today, isn’t it?”
How does he know that? I guess everyone talks about their quizzes in front of him. Other students sort of act like he isn’t even there. “Um, it is…” I admit.
“You’ll do fine,” he says. “Everyone gets nervous. But it’s not a big deal.”
I don’t know why, but this reassurance really helps me. Honest truth: I let the elevator across the hall go without me so that I could ride up with Noel this morning. I find it kind of comforting to talk to him. He’s really reassuring. It’s his voice. When he tells me I’ll be okay, I feel like I have to believe him. Don’t tell Olivia. She hates Creepy Elevator Guy.
It turns out he’s right. When I get to the auditorium where I’m taking the quiz, everyone looks terrified. I think I only maybe look an average amount terrified. The guy sitting next to me is shaking so hard that when he tries to sip from his open coffee cup, it spills all over his lap. I think it scalded him.
A teaching assistant shushes us and then distributes the two page quiz. Immediately, I see a cross section of the spinal cord. The instructions read: Draw all nerves coming out of the spinal cord, including labeling the cell bodies.
Okay, that sounds hard. Kind of open-ended. I glance at the next question: it’s hard too! This is a hard quiz.
I look around and everyone is scribbling furiously on their papers. I look down at my blank quiz.
Forty five minutes later, I’m handing in a paper I’m not very proud of. I didn’t do well. Actually, it was a disaster. I go to the bathroom and cry. I know it’s just a stupid quiz, but I’m not used to bombing exams. I’m in over my head.
Noel’s Memory Book:
Sonya’s assignment for me is to write down my first memory. Except I have two first memories.
Age three years old, my dad trapped a rat in our kitchen. The images are fuzzy, but I remember being terrified. I huddled behind ten year old Rose’s skinny legs as he picked it up by its tail and released it outside. So he said, at least. Later I found out he flushed it down the toilet.
Next is from about 25 years later. Still very fuzzy. I remember the face of Megan, my speech therapist, dangling a spoonful of what looked like baby food in front of my mouth. “Take a bite, Noel,” she said in a gentle voice.
I felt confused. I didn’t know where I was and I suddenly realized that I was sitting in a wheelchair. I had never sat in a wheelchair before in my life and when I tried to get up, I noticed the right side of my body felt really heavy. There was a belt across my lap, holding me in place, and I tried to paw at it with my left hand, but Megan grabbed my hand and shook her head no. I tried to get up using my legs, but only my left leg moved.
I looked back at the spoonful of food that Megan was holding out to me expectantly. Recognizing what she wanted, I opened my mouth for a bite. I felt the food go into my mouth and it was like my tongue wasn’t sure what to do with it. I started coughing.
The worst part was that Megan seemed completely unsurprised. It was like she expected me to be unable to swallow this spoonful of baby food. When it dribbled out of my mouth, she dabbed at it with a napkin.
Of the two, I would say the second was far scarier.
You’ll be really proud to learn that prior to coming to lab today, I read the anatomy lab manual for twenty minutes. On the toilet. It still counts. And I have to say, once you’ve used a book in the anatomy lab, reading in the bathroom seems a lot more sanitary.
As I’m walking to the lab, I see a guy with reddish brown hair standing in front of the vending machine, fumbling with his change. The guy is very cute, and I think regretfully about how long it’s been since I’ve had a boyfriend. I miss the way it feels to have a guy’s warm, heavy arm around my shoulders. For a second, I’m considering trying out my rusty flirting skills, then I realize with a jolt of surprise that it’s Noel. I’ve never seen him outside the elevator before. This seems weird, surreal. Like in high school when you run into your teacher at the grocery store and he’s wearing a sweater and jeans.
I wonder if I should go up and say hi. Also, I’d like a Milky Way. I’ve only gained ten of the fifty pounds I assume I’m going to gain this year.
I walk up to him and get close enough that I can smell his aftershave. It smells nice. Minty. “Hi,” I say.
He looks up at me, wide eyed and alarmed. He then drops all his change. I have that effect on men. “Chloe,” he says. “Hey.”
I expect him to pick up the coins, but he’s just standing there. “Um, your coins?” I say.
“Oh,” he says. “Yeah.”
I watch as he steadies himself on the wall and fiddles with his right knee before gingerly lowers himself to the ground. It is not a graceful motion by any means. My stomach churns a little bit as I now notice he’s only picking up coins with his left hand. In addition to some issue with his legs, his right hand is… well, I don’t know. It’s all curled up. Like those kids with cerebral palsy or something. How did I not notice this before? Is Noel… I mean, is there something wrong with him? There must be.
Of course, I’m staring. Noel looks up at me and he has this dark expression on his face. “Do you need… help?” I ask lamely.
“Help?” He’s glaring at me now. “No, I don’t need help, Chloe. I’m fine. Go to lab.”
My heart is slamming in my chest. Something is wrong with Noel. For sure. I mean, I don’t know how I didn’t realize it sooner. What thirty year old guy presses buttons in an elevator for a living? And also, he sucks at it. All the other students giggle about how he gets all the floors wrong.
He must be… what the word? You can’t say retarded, right? Developmentally disabled is what you’re supposed to call them, I think.
But he doesn’t seem retarded. I mean, developmentally disabled. He seems… nice. Retarded guys are not that cute. At least, I don’t think they are. But there’s something wrong with him, that’s for certain. And I can’t ask him what it is. It’s obvious this isn’t something he wants to talk about, even though I really would love to learn more about him. How could I show him that I’m not just nosy but that I’m actually interested in… him?
“Ready to crack open the ribs?” Olivia says to me as I arrive at my locker.
“Huh?” I say.
She rolls her eyes. “The dissection. Are you ready for some rib cracking?”
Oh hell. I read the wrong pages.
Noel’s Memory Book:
My hand is somewhat better since the injections, after getting stretched out by the therapists and using a splint. I haven’t been wearing the splint as much as I know I should. I’ve been wearing it at home, but not as much during the day.
So I made up excuses about how it was uncomfortable or I don’t really need it, but that’s not the truth. The truth is that I didn’t want Chloe to see it. Stupid, right? I can hide my legs under my pants and conceal my right hand in my pocket or something, but that damn splint is impossible to hide. So I ditched the splint.
This is my freaking hand. My right hand. It’s mind-boggling that I would risk use of my hand for a girl. A GIRL. But Chloe. God. She’s… well, she’s really cute. But more than that, she’s got this kind of vulnerable, lost look that makes me want to come to her rescue. Liz always told me I was a sucker for a damsel in distress. And she has a great smile when she smiles at me, which she does a lot. It’s been a really long time for me, and I admit, she’s the first one I’ve met since this happened to me where I thought for a minute that I had a chance of… well, you know. The way she looked at me. I wasn’t imagining it, I know it. There was something there between us. A little something. I’m not terrible looking as long as you don’t look too close.
Not anymore though. One look at the way I was fumbling to pick up that change and she was white like a sheet. I could see her face change. She figured out something’s wrong with me.