Mr. Ralph Melon's eighth grade art room was a mixture of glue, stale air, paint and teen spirit. Cliques formed faster than our class could prepare origami figures. The gossip mill churned out more rumors than I could produce charcoal drawings. I'll never forget that October when tittle-tattle surrounded our art teacher.
Over the summer Mr. Melon's marriage disintegrated. He tried to hide his pain with a new hair color and a modified name complete with French accent: Raphael Melon. Both my merciful best friend Cheri and I were fixated with Mr. Melon and his plight. His altered life changed his attitude. The top students only received brief grunts. Mediocre students received a blistering critique. Cheri and I guessed instead he was grading himself as a husband.
My own family was on the fringe of divorce and as annoying as I found school, home was no picnic. My dad was in the throes of alcoholism. Mom threatened divorce daily, placing "Hope for the Alcoholic" brochures all over the house as she warned. Dad responded with rotating his stash of beer to new hiding places around the house. My fifteen year old brother Matt and I walked on eggshells hoping to avoid a confrontation with either parent. Only Cheri, my best friend since kindergarten, knew the tension and fragility I was living under.
Mr. Melon, or Mel-Own as he pronounced it those autumn days, seemed as unenthusiastic as I was when he announced open house night. He asked that we organize all our work for parent display. I winced. Although my pastel tissue paper mosaic jar was pretty impressive for even me, my silhouette self portrait was a horror in art and in real form. I had three hours sleep the night before and could barely master scissors. I showed Cheri and although quiet, she was direct.
"Did you do your best?" She asked. I nodded. Cheri shrugged.
"Then that's all that matters."
I kept Cheri's words in my heart over all things in my life, not just my wretched self portrait. When Mr. Melon called me to his desk the day of the open house, he caught me off guard. Cheri eyed us as I took a seat next to his desk at his gesture. Before he spoke, he ran his hand through his newly touched up roots.
"Justine I want you to know I looked over your displays for your parents and I'm going to remove the self portrait. It must be hidden. It's a disgrace. The mosaic is your best work. We'll let that speak for your work. It's best for everyone, most of all, you." His words were without emotion, his eyes never meeting mine. I nodded and stood, my lip quivering and tears already sliding down my tired face.
"Did he just say what I think he said?" Cheri quietly asked. I saw her ears turning red, a sure sign she was angry. I waved her off knowing she had a heart for the underdog. She was forever trying to teach me compassion against the tide of gossip and mocking our peers were so pleased to participate in. The red ears though, I knew. She stood and held her mosaic jar above her head. The sudden movement captured his attention, just in time for Cheri to let the jar drop and shatter.
"Miss Lockhart just what ARE you doing?" Cheri folded her arms and addressed him as if they were the only ones in the room.
"Just because you're hiding your own self portrait under hair dye and a foolish name don't put that on us. Like the jar you feel like your life is in a thousand pieces that can't possibly be put back together. The thing is, it can. Pick up the pieces. Use glue that will put things in place, not like before, but better somehow. And when you look at your silhouette, when you examine who you really are, you'll be okay. Because Mr. Melon, you'll know you did your best. Justine did her best. Don't hide her work, and don't hide the real you. God will help you, really." Mr. Melon stood and left the room without a word.
Only at open house did we know his response. All work was on display, including my portrait. When he introduced himself to my parents, he warmly shook their hands and looked them in the eye.
"I'm Ralph Melon. Come see your daughter's precious work."
Julie Arduini, http://thesurrenderedscribe.blogspot.com/, is devoted to writing for Christ in ways that encourage and inspire. A graduate of the Christian Writer's Guild, her writing resume is on her blog's sidebar. Happily married to Tom, they have two children.
@2009 by Julie Arduini
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