Elbows on the table, leaning over her bowl of Cheerios, Miller Glenn Madison smiled at the prospect of having a successful picture day this year. For her first seven picture days, MG, as she was known to her best friends, approached the day with trepidation because she knew her school picture would turn out awful. Last year’s was particularly hideous with her mouth full of braces and stringy hair. And there was the damn sweater. Now with straight teeth and a hairstyle chosen after watching hours of how-to youtube videos gave her a reason to be hopeful.
Armed with more tips for a successful picture day from an article she ripped out of the Seventeen magazine at the orthodontist’s office, she bounced upstairs after breakfast, ready to transform herself.
She crossed the threshold into her room, stopped cold, screamed and yelled, “NOOOOOO! I will not wear Gramma’s monogram sweater this year! I. WILL. NOT!
That brought Mom running to her room with Gramma close behind. Mom calmly spoke. “Miller Glenn, you know that ever since you were big enough you wore that sweater. It means so much to Gramma.”
Gramma continued that sentiment, “Yes, dear. My mother, your great-grandmother, made that for me, and I wore it in all my school photographs.”
Tears flowing, MG protested, “I know. But that sweater does not even have MY initials. I’ve checked, Gramma. Your last name initial is supposed to be in the middle. This says MGM for Mary Miller Griffin and my monogram is supposed to say MMG. Other kids know and they made fun of me last year.”
“Well, darling,” Gramma said, “the letters are the same. That’s what bonds us.”
Looking at her mother, MG cried, “Mom! I can’t wear that sweater! I’ve… I’ve… ”
Taking in a big breath, “I wear a bra now, Mom. That sweater will be too tight! Plus, I have already picked out the perfect dress that makes my eyes look so blue. And, and, and … just get out of my room! I have to do my hair.”
The two older women backed out of the room and Mom said, as she softly closed the door, “I know you’ll do the right thing.”
Her confidence shattered, MG got herself ready for school and reluctantly pulled the short sleeve crew neck over her pretty, blue floral sundress. Turning this way and that as she looked in her full-length mirror, she knew she was in for another horrible school picture. Even her hair refused to cooperate.
Mom and Gramma stayed out of sight, and watched through the kitchen window as MG ran to the school bus. Gramma smiled, but Mom was alarmed at how right her daughter had been to balk at the sweater this year.
Because they were the oldest, the 8th graders got to have their pictures taken first. They gathered for the group photo, and MG strategically stood on the 3rd row so she wouldn’t be seen. Later, lining up for the individual pictures, she crossed her arms over her chest, trying to make herself as small as possible.
Cold sweat trickled from her prickly armpits when she felt a tap on her shoulder. Caught off guard, she blushed a hot pink when she saw the boy she had a crush on. Paul, the cutest boy in 8th grade, looked at her chest and out of nowhere poked her in the middle of the monogram, right between her breasts.
“Hey! Those aren’t your initials,” he said as he continued to poke.
Caught off guard, she turned back around, trying not to cry, when the photographer stuck his head out of the room. “Next.”
“Miller Glenn Madison,” MG whispered.
“Miller Glenn.” He checked her off the list, and looked up. “Are you ok?”
Shaking her head, MG sat on the stool with the school backdrop behind her and smiled a wobbly smile. At least her teeth were straight. She started to hop off the stool and stopped, catching a glimpse of her skirt and remembering this year was going to be different. Peeling off the sweater, she said, “Wait, can you take one shot without the sweater. My grandmother made me wear this and I hate it.”
The photographer nodded. A man who truly loved working with the children and wanted to get the best out of them, he was relieved that it was just the sweater upsetting her. He had no idea what had just happened. He took a few more shots and she slid off the stool with a good feeling bubbling deep inside her belly. Maybe the flash bulb was magic. She put the sweater back on, and winked to the photographer as she walked out.
No boy had ever done what Paul had done and now that she had regrouped during her photo session, she wanted to teach him a lesson. Summoning every ounce of bravery in her 13 year old body, she stood waiting for his session to finish. As he walked out of the classroom, she stepped in front of him and blocked his way.
He stopped, startled, and she continued, grabbing him by his index finger and drawing it as seductively as she knew how toward her monogram.
In what she thought was a sexy voice, she said, “Paul, I really, really….”
After a pause as long as she could stand, MG tensed and bent his finger back hard. “… hated it! Don’t ever do anything like to me or any other girl again. Your name really isn’t Paul either. It’s Prick!”
She flipped her hair as she turned, head held high, with that bubbly power surging through her body. She didn’t even care if his finger was broken, but kept on walking as she heard him whining on the floor. Taking off the sweater once more, more than anything she wanted to drop it in the nearest trash can, but knew that would hurt Gramma too much. She even knew that she would have to put it back on one more time so her grandmother would know she had worn it, but it would be the last time.
As she walked into the kitchen after school, Gramma said, “Sweetheart! You wore the sweater. Thank you. Next year, I will find something else for you to wear for your picture because I can see this is a little snug. Come give me a big hug.”
MG obliged, hugging the older woman tightly. Then she stepped back and said, “Gramma. I love you so much, and I want to make you happy, but next year, and all the next years, I’m going to pick out my own outfit.”
And before Gramma could say anything, MG walked out of the kitchen and up the stairs to do her homework.
I am currently participating in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on writing. This one, How Writers Write Fiction 2016: Storied Women is offered by the University of Iowa. “Picture Day” is my submission for the first assignment.