In the sixth grade, I tried to break a bone. I did it because I wanted someone to feel sorry for me. I wasn’t trying to break a specific bone; any old bone would do just fine.
I was sure that flinging myself down the porch steps would do the trick. Yet every time I tried, I landed in a clumsy heap with all of my parts intact and no injury that required more than a band-aid. I was hoping for at least a sprained ankle. Throwing myself off the front porch was not easy and it hurt a whole lot, but all I had to show for my efforts were red scrapes on both knees and blue bruises on my butt.
I really wanted an injury that would show so when people looked at it they would suck in their breath and say through clenched teeth, “Oh, gosh. That needs attention.” It had to be something that would make me an invalid for a while so they would feel sorry for me the way they felt sorry for Arlene. She had always gotten more than her share of the limelight, but when her mother delivered her to school in a wheelchair with a bright white cast on her foot, you would have thought Arlene was a celebrity. She got more attention than anyone should get in a lifetime. It made me sick.
“Arlene — what happened?”
“Arlene, can I sign your cast?”
“Arlene, lean on me and I’ll help you hobble to class.” (That offer was made by the new boy at school who I’d hoped to marry some day.)
I hated Arlene. I’d hated her since she stole the limelight by bringing that ugly pewter compact to show and tell when we were in the first grade. Now she had a new bike, a cast, and the boy I loved. She probably got out of chores for six weeks because of her injury, too. I knew that if I had to wear a cast, Mom would do the same. She would stay home from work to take care of me, which meant that she would keep my brother and sister in line instead of expecting me to do it. Bob and Patty wouldn’t dare sass Mom the way they sassed me.
But breaking a bone on purpose was not that easy. Even though I wanted a cast more than I wanted a bike (and I really wanted a bike), it looked like I wouldn’t get either of them. Maybe, just maybe … if I was real nice to Arlene, she’d let me borrow hers since she couldn’t ride with a cast on her leg. I might even fall off while learning and break a bone by accident.
Excerpt from “The Home for the Friendless,” page 118
illustration by Betty Auchard