Initiation by Sylvia Plath Option 3: Different POV of response to the story: Tracy

“Wait. Slow down,” I insisted, resting my head on the side of the school gate to catch my breath. I had just spent about three minutes trying to understand Millicent Arnold’s excited jabber ringing in my ears. “What did you say?” Millicent had screamed my name at the school gate rather rambunctiously earlier today as she spotted ME walking up the pavement, beckoning me to come over wildly. It looked urgent, so I ran up the path like a madwoman, trying to ignore the fact that almost everyone on the streets was staring at me. “Betsyjohnsonjusttoldmethatigotselectedtogetintothesororityandnowallihavetodoistogett hroughinitiation – ” “Slow down!” I commanded once again, pulling up my socks so that it covered my kneecaps. “Tracy, the most amazing thing just happened!” Millicent’s whole face was glowing with pride. “Betsy Johnson came up to me this morning – ” My eyes flashed at her. Millicent caught sight of it and laughed. “No, it’s nothing like that, Tracy. Betsy told me that I was chosen to be part of the elect! Now all I have to do is to go through initiation week, which Louise Fullerton told me about, and she said that…” I froze. I was deafened. It took a while to process what she’d just said in my head. Her words droned out in my head as she went on and on. They’ve picked Millicent? I thought. Why Millicent Arnold? And, despite the fact that I didn’t really want to feel jealous… What about me? “… so in a few days when Rat Court is over, I’ll officially be in the sorority.” The word sorority brought me back to life. She finally realized that wistful look on my face. The sorority was a group of exclusive girls at Lansing High. To be part of them would be a Lansing girl’s dream come true. Once you were in the sorority, people respected and noticed you, even the boys. Millicent and I had never been invited to join… until now. The principal had once tried to stop the sorority, and I wished that she would’ve been successful in her actions. Then perhaps Millicent wouldn’t have to be part of it. But sure, the girls in the sorority came to school without all the extra make-up and fancy hair, but that only drew more attention. Millicent was going to join the sorority. During Initiation Week, she would come to

school with her hair straight and without lipstick. And everyone would notice, even the boys, that Millicent had gotten initiated and was part of the popular girls. “It won’t be any different with us, Tracy.” Millicent assured me with a smile on her face. “We’ll still go around together like we always have, and next year you’ll surely get in.” I wasn’t too sure. “I know, but even so,” I said quietly, “you’ll change, whether you think you will or not. Nothing ever stays the same.” It always happened. I remembered Jemma Orlean, who had been best friends with Anna Beckman before she joined the sorority. Jemma went arm and arm with Hayley Zimmerman since then, and Anna had been left in the dust. And soon I would be, too. The rest of the day I was quiet and sober. Millicent barely seemed to notice, gabbing on a mile a minute about the initiation and the four other girls being initiated and so on. “It’s really quite interesting,” She said, happily pulling on her curled hair, obviously trying to straighten it. “I heard that they ask you to do very strange things just to see if you can take the embarrassment. But then, once you’re in the actual sorority, it’s all worth it. You, see, Tracy, it won’t be that bad.” She winked at me when I turned to look at her. “How?” “I’ll tell you all the silly things the girls say.” She promised. “And then, you’ll eventually change, and you’ll enter the magic circle. I’ll be long done with the initiation by then, so maybe I’ll be able to help you.” “Maybe.” I repeated, mumbling. But I sat glumly by myself at lunchtime when Betsy and Louise briefed the initiating girls about the sorority over some light sandwiches. The five pairs of eyes were fixed on Betsy, her blond hair a golden sheet over her shoulders. She was the popular secretary of the sorority. Millicent was pulling away faster than I thought. Sighing, I threw away the rest of my salad and hoisted my old bookbag upon my shoulders, its faded and softened leather feeling cool against my skin. I ambled briskly over to the school hallway, passing Millicent’s table, but she didn’t even notice that I was there. The bell rang for study hall just as I walked out into the crowded hallway of Lansing High. I quickly picked up my pace, forgetting about waiting for Millicent as I headed toward the hall and to my desk. I had a lot of work to do, and I didn’t need a sorority girl distracting me. I felt a bit mean about thinking that way when I saw Millicent walk calmly into the big

study hall, sitting down satisfactorily at her desk, a hint of a smile on her face. Perhaps, I thought, perhaps I should spend more time with her. Then she won’t forget me at all. I should be supportive to her in this so she can get me chosen to join the elect. “Yes,” I murmured to myself as I worked my way through the Physics questions Mr. Burns had given us. “That’s what I’ll do. Maybe I’ll invite her for an ice-cream this afternoon, after school. Yes. That’s good.” The bell rang for study hall. I quickly swept my books off the table and stuffed them into my bookbag. But suddenly my heavy physics book fell out of the bottom. I panicked, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Millicent leave the room, with Louise walking along with her. Wait! I wanted to shout. But I didn’t, of course. “What seems to be the problem, Tracy?” Mrs. Smith, the supervising teacher for study hall, asked me, watching me frantically stuff my books in my bookbag again and again, looking bewildered as they kept on falling out again. Mrs. Smith sighed impatiently, and before I could say anything, she snatching up my bag, holding it high up in the air, examining it. “Dear, me, Tracy!” she exclaimed. “There’s a big hole in your bag!” “Of course there isn’t!” I cried, protesting. I looked up myself, and the hole was there. It was already to the stage of ripping when I was carrying it around at lunch, but the physics book must have done it. “You’ll have to ask your mother to fix it.” She shoved the bag back at me, shaking her head. “No!” I wailed, completely in hysterics. “Grandfather passed this bag down from years and years and mother just gave it to me. I didn’t want it but she forced me to take it to school. She’ll be very angry if she finds out.” “You’ll have to fix it in home economics, then,” Mrs. Smith rattled on. “It doesn’t matter now. Go and pick up your books or you’ll be late for your next class.” It felt very stupid indeed, carrying my books, tucked under my arms, and my empty schoolbag trailing behind me. All the girls, and some boys, not all of them part of the sorority or fraternity, stopped and stared at me as I walked by. My cheeks were burning red as I headed to English. Home economics was after that, so I hoped I would be able to finish fixing my bag before going home today or else I wouldn’t be able to get ice cream with Millicent. Millicent was already gone by the time the last bell had rung. I asked Anna if she’d seen her. “Oh,” she said. She obviously knew that Millicent was about to go through initiation. “I think I just saw her go off with Louise Fullerton. They were headed for the drug store, I

reckon.” “Oh. Thanks.” I walked away, all the way back home, disappointedly, fingering the thick dark green stitches on the bottom of my bookbag. “Tracy, what have you done to grandfather’s bookbag?” Looking up heavily, I saw mother tapping her foot, holding up the old, green, tattered thing and pointing at the stitches on the bottom. “Oh. About that,” I said, my head bent low over my essay that I was writing. “My physics book completely went through it. It was far too heavy.” I heard her sigh in return, and I turned back to her as she lowered the bag onto the ground. Then she held out a pair of knee socks, soft red with yellow diamond patterns on them. The only thing is, they weren’t knee socks any longer. They had been cut foolishly with scissors down to the ankle, leaving a raggedy rim around it. “Tracy,” my mother prompted as I quickly went back to my work. “Would you like to tell me something?” I didn’t respond. I just focused on the words I was writing. I looked at them so long and hard that my vision blurred. Mother sighed once again and sat down on my bed. “Tracy,” she began, “I know that it’s ‘fashionable’ or whatever you girls call it these days to be wearing normal socks. But it’s cold out, and health is more important than beauty.” “But, mother!” I whined, throwing down my pencil. “All the people at school laugh at me. No girl at Lansing High would be caught dead with knee socks, no matter how cold it is!” “Yes, I know that, dear,” my mother replied absent-mindedly, “But you need to keep your legs warm, especially during the winter – I’m not having them go numb.” “They won’t go numb, mother!” I scoffed. “Who’s ever heard of numb legs? It’s not even winter yet!” Mother stopped and stared at me hard and cold. I stopped and started to squirm uncomfortably in my seat. “You will wear these socks to school.” She said harshly. “There is no need for further discussion. Goodnight, Tracy.” Millicent, the next day, was required to walk with Beverly Mitchell to school. She had told me so when she ran to my house beforehand and left a note on the porch. I read the note silently, and then carefully folded it and pushed it into my pocket. Walking to school alone was never fun. I tried not to look at the sorority girls across the road as I tried to stroll pass effortlessly, pretending that I didn’t care at all. But I caught sight of Millicent and the other four girls being initiated on the pavement.

Beverly and some other girls were screaming at them, shouting, “Hurry up, gophers!” and the boys were all snickering. I stared at Millicent. She was doing a Charleston step and I could tell that she was singing a song, trying to drown out the other four girls. Shaking my head in bewilderment, I kept my head straight and walked through the iron gates of the school. “Beverly calls you ‘gopher’, doesn’t she?” “Yes, she does.” Millicent mused, walking along the ground with me to the nearby icecream stand. “Did she make you do anything… unusual yet?” I asked, interested, as we lined up behind a schoolgirl with two fiery orange pig tails. “Well, this morning as we passed through the square, she handed me this huge colorful parasol that she’d been holding the whole time.” Millicent explained, taking out stray coins and bills from her pocket. “She made me walk through the square and sing ‘I’m Always Chasing Rainbows’. It was very strange, indeed. Loads of people were staring at me.” She added proudly. I stepped forward to the ice-cream man, who smiled kindly and asked me what I wanted. I told him, and he bent down to prepare my sundae. “It sounds sort of embarrassing.” I said to Millicent. “Yes.” She agreed. “But even so, it’s sort of worth it.” Sort of? I questioned in my head. I was about to ask her more about this, but the icecream man interrupted me. “Here you are.” He said cheerfully, handing over the vanilla ice-cream with chocolate sauce and a cherry on top as I paid him. “Thanks.” I muttered gratefully at him. “You go ahead. Save us a spot on the counter.” Millicent suggested, and then she turned to the ice-cream man. I sat down only a few feet away, setting my ice-cream down, dipping a silver spoon into and into my mouth, tasting its cold and delicious sweetness melting on my tongue. Looking over at the ice-cream man smiling at Millicent as she explained what type of sundae she wanted, I remembered that he’d smiled the same way at me. To the ice-cream man, we are all as important as another. He doesn’t judge us at all, never asks rude and unnecessary questions. We are his customers, and he is already grateful for that. So why was I unworthy of being one of the elect? Why did the ice-cream man think I was important, working hard to fix up my sundae? And why didn’t the girls of the elect think so? The ice-cream man was, like the sorority girls, a human being, after all. But they thought I

was too vulnerable. But we are all human beings. I thought again. Why are some people more important than others? Because they’re more beautiful? Something stopped me sharp. A boy, walking towards the ice-cream man. Millicent seemed to see him too, and for a nanosecond she looked a little fussed, but then it seemed like she had decided that she knew what to do. It was Herb Dalton, the captain of the basketball team, the most handsome boy at school. Walking towards Millicent! As she accepted her sundae from the ice-cream man, she turned and smiled mutely and sweetly at him. There was a rule that girls mustn’t talk to boys in school. If Millicent was caught talking to Herb, anyone could report her and she would get a black mark. I leaned closer to Millicent so that I could hear what Herb was saying. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Beverly stomping over, her expression maddened. I desperately wanted to tell this to the sickly smiling Millicent, but I knew it wasn’t possible at the moment. “I know you can’t talk to me,” I heard Herb say to Millicent, his voice growing quiet. “But you’re doing fine, the girls say. I even like your hair straight and all.” Millicent carried on smiling. Beverly came over to them, her mouth set up in a bright, calculating smile. “Why waste your time with gophers?” she asked Herb very tenderly. “Their tongues are tied, but completely.” The back of her head were almost like throwing daggers at Millicent. “But that one keeps such an attractive silence.” Herb winked at her as he walked away with Beverly. Millicent was still grinning as she joined me at the counter. Most of the times, the girls who weren’t chosen to be part of the elect scoffed at the initiating girl’s methods to hide their secret envy. But this time, I thought, I will be different. “Was that Herb Dalton?” I merely asked. “Oh, yes.” Millicent replied, taking a bite out of her sundae. She didn’t offer any more words to the topic, so I went back to my own ice-cream. “What are you doing after school?” I asked eventually, licking my cherry. “What’s the next part of the initiation?” “Tonight’s the worst, I guess, Tracy,” Millicent told me while she ate. “I hear that the girls are taking us on a bus over to Lewiston and going to have us performing in the square.” “Just keep a poker face outside,” said I, who knew about the rule of no-smiling-unlessyou-get-permission-from-a-sorority-girl, “but keep laughing like mad on the inside.” She smiled satisfactorily at me. “Yes,” she was amused. “That’s exactly what I’ll do.” Millicent laughed. As she laughed, I looked into her eyes and heard the strange laughter. It sounded…

different somehow, a little worrying, as if she really was having a hard time making some sort of decision. “I quit the sorority.” Again, the words took a while to process themselves in my brain. What? She quit the sorority? Millicent stood before me, a dazzling smile on her face, her eyes so bright and happy, and her cheeks flushed red. “What?” I finally managed to say. “You heard me, Tracy, I quit the sorority. It was too much. And the girls were so discriminative. I figured that I would be better off being friends with you.” Friends with me? The knee-sock-wearing, old-bookbag-carrying Tracy? Millicent giggled when she saw the look in my face. “Don’t worry, Tracy, they’ll never let me back in now. Bev is almost ready to murder me, same with Betsy, but Louise understands. I think,” she added, “that I figured out my own initiation.” “Your own?” I marveled at her, kicking the dust. “But you can’t start your own sorority. The girls would be so very angry at you, and then they’d get you into all sorts of trouble – ” “Not that sort of initiation, silly.” Millicent laughed, beginning to walk. “To quit the sorority is a big thing, something no girl at Lansing High has ever done. But outside of the sorority, I get to be whoever I want to, I get to smile when I want, and I’m free. My initiation is to see whether or not I can really do that.” “… Wow.” I said, but smiling like mad. She was right, of course. Everyone had to go through this once in their life. Everyone. And Millicent had been brave, leaving the sorority. And, despite all the girls and odds stacked up against her, she was smiling, too. “Let’s go,” I said, tucking my arm in hers, and we sauntered down the street, the sun shining on our bursting faces, the leaves dancing around our hair. And there, out of the corner of my eye, I spied the ice-cream man waving and smiling.

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