No one believed her name was Esperanza, but honestly, none of us cared enough to try to ferret out the truth either. Since Esperanza means “hope,” a lot of people called her Hopeless behind her back. Although her hair was always brushed, it never actually seemed to be clean, and she never did anything with it. Her clothes were clean enough, but we weren’t sure her mother had an iron.
Laurie had to share a locker with her, since their last names were so close together alphabetically. Poor Laurie. She said everything Hopeless had – her furry navy blue winter coat, her school books – all smelled like cigarette smoke. Rhonda said it could be worse; she wasn’t sure Hopeless bathed all that often and the cigarettes probably covered up worse smells.
Don’t think for a minute though that Hopeless smoked. We thought smoking was sort of cool, and so of course we ruled out right away that it was her own cigarettes that we were smelling.
Mr. Norris hated her. He was our English teacher. Everyone knew that he taught high school English so that he could stare at cute teenage girls. His coffee cup would have a half-dressed girl when the coffee was hot. Unbuttoning the top couple buttons of your blouse, wearing short skirts or low cut tops, these are the things that brought your grade up in his class. She wasn’t even a little cute and didn’t even try. Worse, she thought he was a dork.
Naturally, everything she turned into him was slashed to bits by his red pen. The thing he killed the worst was her poem. It was nearly Christmas, and she wrote this:
Of course I remember every word of that short poem, because it was a dig at me. Not that I was all that crazy about my name, but it wasn’t hers to mess with. So anyway, when she wrote the poem, I knew that I was on her radar. That might sound a little weird, but really, until then she mostly pretended none of us existed. Now I knew that she was perfectly aware of us, or at least of me. It wasn’t that great of a feeling, to be honest. So I wrote my own poem. An acrostic.
OK, so it wasn’t exactly a Shakespearean sonnet. I wrote exact in there because she had this weird meticulous thing she did. Things had to be on her desk and in her locker just right. But not everything. Like, her books were always stacked largest to smallest, and always smack up against the right side of the locker, but at the same time her papers would be just shoved in next to them. Everything on her desk was perfectly aligned, but it looked like her purse hadn’t been emptied in years. That’s probably why no one knew how long she was carrying the gun.
So anyway, one day Mr. Norris asks her to stay after school. It’s nearly Christmas, so it’s stinking cold out and it gets dark early. She has her dark blue furry coat that stunk like cigarette smoke, and she’s mad at Mr. Norris because he destroyed her Holly poem. He’s mad at her because she said something against me, and she stunk, and she wasn’t pretty, and she didn’t care. And she thought he was a dork. I don’t know if she didn’t have the sense to have a friend go with her to his class after school, or if she just didn’t have a friend, or if she asked someone and they said no.
Mr. Norris said that she was distraught over her poem. He said that he got shot trying to take the gun away from her, but she’d already shot herself once. Luckily for him, he only had a minor wound. Before she died, she said that she’d shot him trying to protect herself, that he attacked her. Pushed himself on her. You know what I mean. Of course, no one believed her. I’m sure if she had a funeral, only her mother went. Her mother, smoking the whole time, no doubt. Stinking.
I didn’t think about her after that. It was almost Christmas vacation. When we got back to school, Laurie got a new locker partner, some girl named Evalyne. She was more normal, and life went on. We had a lot to do, like get ready for finals. Time just sort of passes, you know? And then it’s another semester, although I didn’t have Mr. Norris this time, and then it’s finally summer vacation.
I ran into Mr. Norris over the summer. End of July, early August. That time when you’re bored of summer vacation but don’t want to admit it. So one of my babysitting jobs turned out to be in the same apartment complex as Mr. Norris. The money was decent, but the kids were pretty awful. Mr. Norris said I could come over and have a beer when I was done. He said I looked like I really needed one.
So it turned out that Hopeless was telling the truth. Esperanza. But I didn’t tell anyone. Not then. Neither had Rhonda, second semester. Nor Laurie. When school started again, though, Laurie guessed. She gave me a piece of paper that had been in her locker.
Neither of us said a word. But I managed to add a little something to Mr. Norris’s coffee cup a few days later – think of it as a little bit of hope for the girls who came after us.