Graduation would soon be here. Who would have thought? Maggie Jean was graduating and nothing had happened yet to stop it. All of her life, whenever she was looking forward to something, she feared that it wouldn’t, it couldn’t, happen. Something would stop it—something would interfere. Whether it was a school field trip or an upcoming dance, she was sure that it would never happen. Something would come up. Her mother would decide she couldn’t go or there would be no money or the world would actually come to an end. She couldn’t imagine that anything good could ever happen to her. She wasn’t meant to have fun. She wasn’t worthy.
When her senior trip to New York had been planned, it was a given that everyone in the class would go, but she knew there would be no money. How could she go to New York with zero money to spend—either on a soda or something to eat or at least a souvenir? How could she go with nothing? Wouldn’t the rest of the class notice? It would be humiliating. In the weeks before the trip, she was convinced that something would happen and she wouldn’t be able to go, so it didn’t matter that she had no money. The trip would be cancelled. Even if they started out on the trip, the bus would break down, like it did on the sixth grade trip to Gettysburg. When these things happened, would the rest of the class know it was her fault?
The night before the trip, she asked her mother if she could have some spending money. The answer, not surprisingly, was that she had nothing to spare.
“Go ask your father,” her mother said.
She almost decided that she’d go penniless before she’d ask him for anything. That she would have to walk into the living room, where he was sitting in his chair, reading and smoking, and interrupt him to beg for money. How could she do it? She trembled, completely humiliated by the prospect. She didn’t want to ask him for anything. She hated him. In all of the fights and the violence in that house, she had always taken her mother’s side. Although her mother was not blameless, she needed to believe that at least one of them was a victim. It was easier to take sides than to try to see how they were both responsible for the toxic atmosphere of the household.
Hesitating at the doorway to the living room, where she and her mother had taken a sledgehammer to the wall—that was another story altogether—she stood there until he noticed her and looked up. He put his pipe down in the ashtray and looked over his glasses.
“My class is going to New York tomorrow . . .”
“Yeah?” He stared at her. She felt like an intruder. She had to decide what would be more humiliating, asking him for something, or going on the trip with nothing. She knew she had to ask. Besides, the world would end before dawn tomorrow, anyway.
“I don’t have any . . . well, could you. . . do you have any . . .?” She tried to breathe, but she thought she was suffocating. She didn’t know how to ask. She couldn’t remember asking him for anything, ever. Finally, she just blurted it out: “Can I have some money?”
He looked at her long and hard. When she could no longer bear the penetrating force of his steely eyes, she turned to leave, but then he stood up and reached into his back pocket. He pulled out his wallet, handed her two dollars, sat back down, and picked up his pipe and his book. He went back to reading without a word.
She stood there for a moment, looking at the two one-dollar bills in her hand. That’s it? Two dollars? She should be grateful—it was, after all, the first time she could remember that he had actually given her something. Somehow, though, she wondered if having only two dollars to spend in New York would be as embarrassing as having nothing. She folded the bills in half and climbed the curving stairway up to her room.
The world didn’t end before the morning came and she actually had a good time in New York. She bought a small replica of the Statue of Liberty. Curling up to sleep on the bus coming home, she wondered why and how it had actually happened. She had been to New York. There was a world out there that had nothing to do with home.