Middle School Lesson
The Story of Erica
A deafening silence swept across the room as Erica V. stood
and pulled a piece of paper from the hip pocket of her jeans.
Nineteen uncertain pairs of eyes watched as she slowly stepped
to the front of the room, placed the crumpled wad of paper
on the podium and wiped her hands across its surface in a
desperate attempt to iron out the seemingly permanent creases.
It was Celebration Day, a day when eighth grade emerging
writers slurped and sipped sugary teas, dunked homemade cookies
in milky coffee and hot chocolate, and shared their best pieces
of writing from the past quarter in an environment where they
felt safe and protected. One by one they proudly read their
masterpieces — final drafts of writing developed over
a period of nine weeks. Disbelief filled the room when Erica
V., who hadn’t written more than a line or two the entire
last half of the year, began to read.
“My Best Friend,” she started.
Eyes moved quickly away from Erica as students, glancing
nervously at each other, shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
“My best friend was somebody I don’t remember,”
she continued. “Many people loved him and a few didn’t.
He had an alcohol addiction since he was 17 years old. He
had a police record and was hardly ever sober. His name was
Erica paused. Silence and surprise continued as she once
again became the focus of all attention, this time for her
words rather than her actions. This was not the unpredictable,
angry 14-year-old they had become used to.
Erica V. wasn’t entirely new to our class. She
had been with us all through elementary school. She laughed
with us and played games with us on the playground. When seventh
grade started, Erica didn’t. Rumors flew about “juvie”
and something about a home for girls in Iowa. Halfway through
eighth grade, a different Erica showed up in our English class,
this one with an image to protect, one punctuated by the snake
tattooed on her arm, the too-tight jeans and the tough-girl
walk that carried her through the halls.
“I don’t write,” Erica said slowly
and calmly as Ms. Crowley stood next to her chair the day
“We all write in here, Erica,” Ms. Crowley
returned. “And we share what we write with those we
trust. You’ll come to know that this is a safe place
“Maybe you didn’t hear me. I … don’t
… write,” Erica said as she leaned back in her
seat, stretched her legs and glared. She wasn’t about
to risk her image because of a dumb woman who didn’t
have a clue.
“Mike had a lot of good in him,” Erica V. went
on. “He liked to hunt and fish, and he liked to drink.”
Erica paused again. A tear slowly streaked its way down her
cheek as she related the story of Mike and his friends, Jimmy
and Charlie, drinking at a party, driving home and speeding
into a tree, instantly killing all three of them. After a
deep breath, one that lifted her shoulders a full four or
five inches, Erica looked up from her paper and finished.
“Mike was my dad.”
As she walked to the back of the room, she wiped a final
tear from her eye and slipped into her seat. Three minutes
of complete silence was finally broken when one by one, students
began applauding and Tim stretched his arm across the aisle
to rest his hand on Erica’s shoulder.