Summary: Third Marking Period, Part 1 (Death of the Wombat – Miss)
Death of the Wombat
Principal Principal makes an executive decision and changes the name of the school mascot from the Wombat to the Hornets.
Cold Weather and Buses
Melinda misses the bus, her mom is irritated and won’t give her a ride, so she walks to school, enjoying the fairy-tale “powdered sugar” whiteness of the recent snow. On the way, she stops at the bakery to buy doughnuts. As she approaches the store, IT comes out the door. If she freezes, like a rabbit, maybe he won’t see her, she thinks. Of course, he does see her, and asks her if she wants a bite of his doughnut. Melinda runs, all the while wondering why she didn’t run before.
Melinda, unable to force herself to go to school, plays hooky the rest of the day. She goes to the mall but wanders instead of shopping. She lies on a bench, watching the birds who live in the mall’s rafters. She wishes she had the courage to tell someone, to “get it over with. Let it out, blurt it out.” Fifth grade, she remembers, was easy. Oh, to be in fifth grade again.
In English, the class begins a unit on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, with a particular focus on the author’s use of symbolism. Melinda admits that some of it is fun, like breaking a code. Rachelle pushes back at the teacher’s explanations and complains that Hairwoman is making “all this symbolism stuff up.” As punishment for Rachelle’s outburst, Hairwoman assigns a 500-word essay on symbolism “That’s what you get for speaking up,” Melinda thinks.
In art class, Melinda continues to wrestle with her tree project, and consults a book of landscapes for inspiration.
Awkwardly, Heather ends her friendship with Melinda over lunch one day. She asserts that they never really were friends, that they like different things, and that, actually, Melinda doesn’t like anything. She tells Melinda she is the most depressed person she’s ever met. Heather recommends Melinda get professional help. Melinda is shocked, even more so when Heather tells her she has “a reputation.” Then Heather walks away, leaving Melinda wondering, “For what?”
Angry, Melinda skips Spanish class.
Cutting Out Hearts
It’s Valentine’s Day, and someone has taped a note to Melinda’s locker. She thinks it must be a joke. Someone wants to make her look stupid. So, she avoids opening it. She fantasizes about who might have left her the note. Maybe David Petrakis, her lab partner? When she finally gets back to her locker, the note is still there. She opens it and something drops from the card. She reads the note. “Thanks for understanding. You’re the sweetest! Good Luck!!! Heather.” On the ground is the friendship necklace Melinda had given Heather. Melinda hears a cracking inside of her.
Our Lady of the Waiting Room
Melinda arrives at the Lady of Mercy Hospital by accident. She was heading for the mall but fell asleep on the bus. She wanders the hospital’s wards and buys a fish platter in the cafeteria. She determines that nothing is wrong with her since the patients in the hospitals all have sicknesses that can be seen. She heads to the bus stop.
Clash of the Titans
A tense meeting is held to discuss the fact that Melinda is failing her classes and has been absent a lot. Upset, her parents berate and threaten her, not hiding their frustration that she won’t talk, that she won’t defend herself. It’s theatrics, they determine, an attempt to draw attention to herself. The guidance counselor asks if Melinda’s parents are having marital issues. Both parents respond with foul language. In her head, Melinda questions the intelligence of the people at the meeting.
Melinda receives In-School Suspension of which Mr. Neck is in charge. She doesn’t care one way or the other about the suspension until IT walks into the room. Melinda freezes, hoping to disappear in plain sight. IT sits next to her and blows in her ear.
Analysis: Third Marking Period, Part 1 (Death of the Wombat – Miss)
Melinda’s inability to communicate manifests as avoidance as she begins to skip school. The first time she skips school, it is after a run-in with Andy in which she has a physical trauma response. In the first encounter, she freezes and then runs away as if a predator is in pursuit; the second time she is trapped in the in-school suspension room with him. During each encounter Melinda compares herself to a bunny rabbit, symbolizing both her fear and vulnerability. Melinda’s avoidant behavior is also highlighted when she cries alone in the janitor’s closet after Heather ends their friendship. Similarly, Melinda’s parents, guidance counselor, and school principal push her toward avoidance by blaming her poor grades, class skipping, and silence on childishness and a desire for attention. They fail to recognize that it is their hostility that prevents Melinda from communicating about what happened to her.
The English class analysis of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne introduces an important extended metaphor about ostracization and how women are punished for their sexuality while men are not. Melinda identifies with the character Hester, who has been branded an adulterer and banished from her community for having a child out of wedlock and refusing to name the baby’s father. Ironically, Rachel mentions that it's unfair Hester gets ostracized while the child’s father largely escapes consequences, a parallel to Melinda's real-life situation that foreshadows what's to come. Another layer of irony in this scene occurs when Rachel accuses Hairwoman of making up the symbolism in The Scarlet Letter. Here, Rachel’s failure to even ask Melinda about what happened to her is juxtaposed with her lack of curiosity about the symbolism in The Scarlet Letter. The consequence for Rachel’s complaint is an essay on symbolism. Here the novel is self-aware of its own symbolism, literally sending a message to Rachel and everyone else that they have failed to question the signs of Melinda’s trauma. Melinda’s final takeaway from this episode is heartbreaking in its irony as she decides speaking up only leads to discomfort and pain.