The class was staring at me when Mr. T asked me which one of my parents I lived with. Everyone knew that my dad was gone, except for my teacher.
I grew up in a town that was small, but at the same time, it wasn't that small. Everybody knew everyone else at school, and I could recite almost all of the names in my graduating class, give one or two details about their life, and identify them, but that was about it. It was like that with everyone. All of my classes were filled with strangers who slightly knew each other. And that included history class.
I enjoyed history. In all honesty, the content sort of got boring at times, but my teacher, Mr. T*, managed to make it interesting for his classes. He would often conduct in-class "surveys" about our lives, managing to somehow connect the results to whatever chapter we were studying, and keeping our attention because it was about us. One fateful Tuesday, that was exactly what he did.
Mr. T had just finished explaining a concept and was getting ready to explain a new one to our class. So, he asked a general question:
"Raise your hand if your parents are divorced."
I, like many others, raised my hand.
"Now," he continued, "keep your hand up if you remember the divorce."
My parents had gotten divorced when I was young, but I remembered some things, so I kept my hand up. When I looked around, though, I realized that my hand was the only one up. Mr. T turned towards me, getting ready to talk. I was ready to answer a few questions, which would somehow lead him to a point, and I sat up in my seat.
"So, Natalie, how old were you when your parents got divorced?"
I replied quickly, expecting him to give one or two more easy questions.
"Was it hard at first?"
"But, I'm guessing things are easier now and less tumultuous." He paused, acknowledging my nod.
Then came the last question. I could tell that Mr. T was ready to connect my answers to the notes, and I was relieved that I had given him the answers he needed.
"Do you live part-time with both of them now?"
I froze. The shoulders of the person in front of me tensed up. My friend exchanged looks across the classroom. Almost everyone in that room knew about my dad, except Mr. T, and all eyes were on me. Everyone was staring at me, waiting to see what my response would be.
It felt like ages before I gave my answer, even though I knew that only a few seconds had passed. I looked back up at my teacher, who was still waiting for my reply.
"Um... yeah," I began, "Uh, we used to split time but, um, I just live with my mom now."
Mr. T smiled, nodded, and turned back to the rest of the class. "So, as Natalie said, hard situations get easier over time, such as..." I didn't hear the rest of what he said that period. My heart felt like it was pounding out of my chest, and my hands were shaking as I finished writing my notes. I felt like I was going to cry, vomit, or do both. In a split second, I had left out my grief. I gave the answer that Mr. T wanted instead of the full truth. And, it felt pretty nice.
In a split second, I chose to be "normal." To not bring up the complicated story that was my life. It felt nice, even for just a few seconds, to pretend that my dad wasn't gone.
*Name has been changed for privacy purposes.
Written by Natalie Adams, the creator of Teenage Grief Sucks.