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Excerpt from Modern Day Fables–The IV Club

JULIA BARELY HEARD what Kelly was saying.  She was too busy internally questioning her choice of putting butterfly barrettes in her hair along with a ponytail this morning.  The idea had been to go for the cute and innocent look, but as the day had worn on, her fear that she looked more like a six-year old girl kept growing.  She decided to take them out.

With the burden of her big decision finally off her mind, the real world zoomed back into focus, and Julia caught the tail end of what Kelly said while pointing at a flyer taped up on the wall next to the girl’s bathroom.

“What?  The IV Club?” Julia asked her friend, taking a closer look at the flyer, which showed a simple illustration of a sun rising over a field.  “What is that?  A bunch of hospital patients getting together to discuss their meds?”

“Innocent Victims Club,” replied Kelly, rolling her eyes.  “It’s new.”

“Huh?”  Julia was antsy to get to the bathroom and fix her hair.

“Innocent Victims.  I actually went last week to their first meeting.”  Julia arched a skeptical eyebrow toward Kelly.

“The idea is that everyone has a story to tell about their lives where they have been treated unfairly,” she continued. “So you get together and you share your experience.  The goal is to realize that you’re not alone in what you went through, and to come to understand that you didn’t deserve to be treated that way or to experience that.  It’s a very supportive environment.”

Julia laughed unintentionally, then checked herself when she saw how serious Kelly was.  “Isn’t that kind of personal stuff though?” she asked.

“It is, but in trusting a group of people enough to share some of your deepest pain or fears, you can heal from what you went through.  I didn’t get to share last week, but the people who did told some amazing stories.  I’m going to share my story at the next meeting.”

“Wow, I don’t think I could do that.”

“You should come with me!  You might be surprised.  It’s tomorrow after school in room 304.”

Julia knew she didn’t want to participate but at the same time, was curious in the same way you would slow down to gawk at a car wreck.

“Yeah, maybe,” she said.

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AT 3:30 THE NEXT DAY, Julia and Kelly, along with a group of about fifteen other students, sat in a circle of chairs facing each other in room 304 of Glenwood High School.

“Wow,” Kelly whispered excitedly to Julia, “Last week there were only seven of us.”

Julia didn’t reply but instead looked around at the faces of the other students.  She knew a few of them casually from classes.  Some looked nervous, but others had a look of serenity on their faces, as if even just coming to the meeting had already bestowed upon them some sort of inner peace.

The door to the classroom opened and the willowy Ms. Eddy glided in with a flourish.  She was the teacher for AP English, known to be challenging but generally popular by those who had dared to take her class.

“Hello everyone!  Sorry I’m late.”  Ms. Eddy fumbled around for a bit, pushing a strand of short blond hair back behind her ear as she took off her coat and put her bag to the side.  She stood up straight and paused to take in the group of students, then breathed in deeply before generating a beaming megawatt smile.

“Welcome to the second meeting of the IV Club!”

Some awkward smiles, a couple of lonely claps, mostly silence.

“I know right now this may seem a little strange or different to some of you, so I commend you and your courage for coming.  While the IV Club may be small right now, I have confidence that over time it will become much bigger and have a social impact that none of us can even imagine.  And you will all be able to look back and say that you were the ones who pioneered it!  Our mission is to show people that being treated unfairly, or going through difficult experiences, or having been born with disadvantages, none of this is your fault.  And by learning this, you can stop being a victim.”

Julia had to admit, the lady had some pretty powerful charisma, plus her words were spoken with such passion and conviction.  She thought of some experiences she’d had in the past – being caught as a child between her now-divorced parents’ brutal arguments, being taken to the police station for egging her teacher’s house in 9th grade while her friend Britney who had done all the throwing got away scot-free, being born with a damn uni-brow which needed constant tweezing – the idea that these things that had caused her so much inner torment could be gone for good was very seductive, in a way.  But something about the woman’s words rang hollow, though Julia couldn’t quite put a finger on what it was.

“We don’t need to live in pain,” Ms. Eddy continued.  “We are all taught to believe that suffering is a natural part of being human, but it isn’t.  Pain is unnatural, and undeserved.  You are all beautiful and unique beings, and come into this world filled with innocence, but then the world starts to teach you that pain is normal.  We grow to believe that we deserve to suffer.  Is that fair?”

“No!” came the replies from a couple of brown-nosing students.

“Very sad,” deadpanned Julia under her breath, who immediately regretted it as Ms. Eddy’s head swung swiftly around, locking on to where she sat, surprise and self-righteous anger hovering just beneath the surface of her perfect smile.

“It is sad,” Ms. Eddy replied, somehow both curtly and profoundly.  Julia felt her face blossom like a rose.  She hadn’t really planned to say that aloud, it just sort of came out.  “You’re new here, right?”

“Umm, yeah.”

“And you are?”

“Uhh, Julia.”

“Julia,” Ms. Eddy drew her name out, letting it hang in the air like a guillotine.  Then she grinned.  “Glad to have you here, Julia!  And all of you, new and old.  Sarcasm may be a tool for self defense, but here at the IV Club, we try to create an environment where everyone can feel safe to be themselves.  Why don’t we take a little time, go around the room, introduce ourselves and share a little something – just something small, like what you like to do for fun.  Later, we can take volunteers to share our more personal stories.”

Julia subtly sank deeper into her chair, willing herself to disappear.  What, she thought, did I get myself into?

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ONE EXCRUCIATINGLY PAINFUL hour later, Julia cringed as Kelly raised her hand to speak next.  She had already gone through the “breaking the ice” exercise and shared her joys of going on hikes and eating ice cream, which already felt like more than she had wanted to share with this group, and somehow felt inadequate.  Next, a guy named Ernie confessed his life-long struggle with overeating, spurred on by an overbearing father and an over-babying mother, shedding profuse tears that rolled down his large cheeks and pooled under the folds of his neck.  Afterwards, the whole group was compelled by Ms. Eddy to say to him, “It’s not your fault, Ernie,” while he sat there grinning as if he had just discovered the joys of playing with his wiener for the first time.

Ms. Eddy chose Kelly to share next, but before she could begin Julia quickly picked up her backpack and apologetically dismissed herself, while trying to avoid meeting Ms. Eddy’s accusatory stare.  “Piano practice, sorry,” she mumbled, as she awkwardly headed for the exit, even though she had never played the piano before – it was just the first lie that came to her mind.  Truth was, she just didn’t want to see her friend in a new light.  She had always liked Kelly just the way she was.