Corey Hollett walked out the front doors of her daughter’s high school. She stepped into the driver’s seat of her car, where her daughter, Dana, sat in the passenger’s seat.
“Christ, Dana…” Corey said.
“What? Me? I’m in the wrong, here?” Dana said.
“Dana, this is a pretty big problem-”
“Rebecca whacked me upside the head with a goddamn math textbook, Mom! I-” Dana was interrupted.
“Let me finish, Dana. Please.” Corey said. She took a deep breath.
“By all accounts, you did the right thing. You defended yourself.” Corey said.
“Then why are you-”
“Dana. Let me finish.”
“You defended yourself. You had to. I get that. I saw the footage. Plain as day. No jury in the world would convict you. But this is serious. That girl is in the hospital. Her parents are saying they’re going to press charges.”
“Why didn’t they tell me this when I talked with the principal?” Dana asked.
“Because they didn’t want to make a decision until meeting with me.” Corey said.
“So what happened in there?” Dana asked.
Corey opened the driver-side window and took a pack of cigarettes from her shirt pocket.
“Rebecca’s mother wanted your head to roll.” Corey said.
“Yeah. I figured.” Dana said.
“I didn’t say anything one way or the other until I saw the security camera video.” Corey said, lighting a cigarette.
“Didn’t know they had cameras.”
“All the schools do now. It’s part of their security overhaul. Nobody wants another Columbine.”
“What did the cameras show?”
“Pretty much the whole thing, Dana.”
Corey took a drag of her cigarette and sighed.
“Dana, you beat the hell out of that girl.” Corey said.
“She attacked me! I mean, I feel awful about it, but still! She did this, not me.” Dana said.
“I know. They don’t care. Most schools have a zero-tolerance policy on this sort of stuff.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that they see you as being just as responsible as Rebecca was.”
“That’s….” Dana paused.
“It’s a whole lot of bullshit.” Corey said.
“So what did they decide?” Dana asked.
“They didn’t give me an answer.” Corey said.
“What do you mean?”
“We’ll know next week. They said by Monday.”
“What do I do until then?”
Corey put her keys into the ignition and started the car.
“Suspended? For defending myself?” Dana said.
“Yeah. For defending yourself.” Corey said.
“How could they even convince themselves this is my fault?” Dana asked.
“They have to right now.”
“Because you put someone in the hospital.”
“I didn’t do it intentionally, Mom! You know that.”
“Yes. I know. But they just see a quiet girl lashing out at a straight-A student.”
“What was I supposed to do, Mom? Let her beat me with a textbook? Bash my head in?”
Corey didn’t answer immediately. A tear came to her eye.
“I’m sorry, Dana.”
“For teaching you all of that stuff.”
“You don’t need to apologize, Mom.”
“If I didn’t teach you self-defense, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Dana spoke loudly.
“Mom, if you didn’t teach me this, I’d have brain damage right now. I’d be in a goddamn hospital bed breathing through a tube, hopped up on morphine, and Rebecca would have gotten off because her parents would have just made some donation to the school to make the situation go away. And you know what? If I managed to get out of it, I’d probably have still been punished because of their zero-tolerance policy.”
Corey didn’t speak.
“Let’s get out of here.” Corey said after some time.
Corey put the car into reverse to leave the parking lot. The two remained silent until they got home. When they finally got inside the house, Corey gave Dana a hug.
“You know, you’re pretty much all I have left.” Corey said.
“I know.” Dana said.
“I already lost the other person I loved and I don’t want to go through that again.”
Dana headed to her bedroom. Corey followed.
“One more thing, Dana…”
“Consider this a break from school, not a suspension.”
“What about the principal? And the school policy?”
“I’ll deal with that next week. You’ve fought enough.”
Corey left Dana’s bedroom and headed to the kitchen, where she poured a large cup of coffee from a half-full pot that was still on the burner.
Corey wouldn’t sleep any time soon.