A Million Pieces

Part 1

My teacher walks up and down the rows of desks, handing back our graded assignments. He hands me a stack of papers, but I only see the number on top: 12/20, a D-. I feel a sinking sensation in my chest when I think of my angry parents. I want to rip the paper into a million pieces so they will never see, but even if I did, it wouldn’t make a difference. My parents can access all of my grades online at the click of a button.

I can’t focus during the rest of my classes. I’m barely present at basketball practice after school, and I almost get hit on the head by a stray ball. After practice ends, I wait outside the gymnasium, dreading my encounter with my mom. I watch the cars pulling up to the sidewalk, hoping that my mom’s silver SUV isn’t among them.

Inevitably she comes, and I slump into the passenger seat. She asks me something about my day, and I mumble a response. For an instant, a sliver of hope hits me that she has not seen the grade online yet, but it fades when I feel the weight of the graded assignment in my backpack. As we near our house, I wish I could stretch time out into infinity, just to avoid what I know is coming.

Part 2

The weekly summary email from the online gradebook pops into my inbox. I take a break from drafting my report to check up on Andrew’s grades. I click into his math course and scroll down the list of assignments. Among the list of As and A+s, an odd number makes me doubt my vision. 12/20? I double-check the grade, but it remains the same. I don’t even need to pull out my calculator to know what a 12/20 means—a D-.

I sit there, shocked. My first inclination is to email Andrew’s teacher. Surely he must have made a mistake. But halfway through writing the email, I decide to check the physical copy of the assignment first. I return to drafting my report, my head still buzzing. I’m sure there’s a logical reason for this, I reassure myself.

When I pick him up after his basketball practice, Andrew averts his gaze. What if he actually did receive a D-? Anger rises up in me, and I struggle to keep it down. I try to reason with myself. Among Andrew’s usual stellar grades, one D- is a minor blip. But what if it’s the start of a downward trend? What if he’s starting to slack off? If Andrew’s to get into a good college—if he’s to have a good future—there’s no room for slacking off.

We pull into the garage. Andrew seems eager to get out of the car. When I enter the living room, he’s racing up the stairs. “Andrew, please leave your backpack downstairs,” I say.

He turns around, a dejected expression on his face. He trudges down the stairs and hands me the backpack. “Stay here,” I say. I dig out the assignment from the bag, and there it is: 12/20.

I open my mouth to scold him, but I see his crestfallen expression. If Andrew really doesn’t care about his grades, why would he be so upset?

“Andrew, is everything okay?” I ask. He runs into my arms, and tears trickle down our faces.