The next day, the teacher read passages aloud to the class from some of the essays without revealing the writers’ names. One student had written, “I can’t sacrifice my gift because I don’t know what it is and this school has never helped me discover it. Will I ever discover my gift? What happens to people who never do?”
After a discussion about the fact or fiction of the idea that each person has a unique gift and that its discovery can bring that gift to fruition, the teacher took roll. He called out the names and made corrections to his roster as the students voiced their preferred first names.
“Charlonda Fielder,” said the teacher.
“Everyone calls me Shuck,” said a girl in the front row. She was blonde, wiry and her face was speckled with glitter.
“Shuck?” said the teacher.
It was then the teacher noticed she was wearing a baggy, threadbare STOP PRE T-shirt. He did a double take. Then a third.
“Where in the world did you get that T-shirt?” said the teacher.
“My junior high track coach gave it to me. His dad watched Pre run in college and it was his shirt.”
“You’re a runner?”
One of the boys interjected that Shuck was the defending state cross country champion and had also finished first in the 1500-meter run at state.
“So you know all about Pre?” said the teacher.
“I do. As soon as I graduate I’m getting a STOP PRE tattoo.”
The teacher was dumbfounded. Pre lived! Maybe he would inspire Shuck to run right out of Lincoln Shitty, as the students called it, and do something spectacular with her life.
In short order, faculty members filled the teacher in on Shuck’s personal story. She lived with her grandmother because her mother was a meth addict who was in and out of county jail. The mother was homeless and often seen wandering around town cursing at power poles, panhandling and prostituting. Shuck worked full time in the evenings at the Indian casino. How she found time to train at a championship level perplexed the teacher so one day he asked her. She told him she ran after her shift at the casino, ran through the streets and down the beaches of Lincoln City. She got home at two in the morning, slept a few hours, and then went to school.
That fall, Shuck repeated as the state cross country champion and was voted onto the football homecoming court. On the misty Friday night of the homecoming game, the teacher was patrolling the perimeter of the field on assigned duty. He didn’t mind the task. He got to watch the game from ground level and didn’t have to chaperone the dance.
At halftime, the school staged the homecoming king and queen coronation. Shuck was a member of the court and stood on the 50-yard line with the others waiting for the announcement of the winners over the PA
Fog began drifting in from the end zones. A local dignitary was emceeing the ceremony and delivering his canned jokes with flair. The teacher heard the dignitary announce Shuck as homecoming queen. Behind him, a chain link fence rattled and a hoarse cheer went up, “Way to go Charlonda! Fuck yeah!”
He turned around and saw an emaciated woman with stringy blonde hair, smiling, shaking the fence, really going at it with abandon, with both hands, and hopping up and down. She wore tattered pink sweats and a white hoodie. She was alone.
The teacher was intrigued so he walked up a grassy incline to the fence. The woman saw him and exclaimed, “My daughter won! She’s homecoming queen!”
“That’s great, congratulations,” said the teacher. “Why aren’t you inside the stadium with her?”
“The school banned me. This is as close as I get.”
“I’m sorry about that. Shuck is my student. In Senior English.”
“How’s she doing?”
“Not bad. I think she’ll be ready for college.”
The woman released the fence and gathered herself. The teacher noticed her face: it was the surface of the Moon.
“College?” she said. “She’s going to college?”
A battered pickup from the 70s came into view behind the woman. Headlights lit her up. A horn honked. Then again.
“I gotta go,” she said.
“Sure,” said the teacher. “Have a good Friday night.”
With that, she was gone.