Test 3, Day 1

England 171 for 4 (Cook 82*, Stokes 21*) v South Africa

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My sister is a very smart woman. But she also worked very hard in school. She always did her assignments and always turned them in on time, she never faked a stomach cramp to stay home and watch cartoons all day, and she would always do the extra credit if it was offered. And because of her hard work, and her smarts, she was an ace student. Straight As across the board from 1st grade all the way through high school. She spoke at her high school graduation, was ranked in the top 10 of her class, and was accepted into a fancy private college in Duluth, Minn.

One of the most indelible images I have of my sister growing up is coming home from school in junior high, coming in the front door, and seeing my sister at the kitchen table of our house in Bloomington, Minn. doing her homework. She was there every day. Every single day. The minute she walked in the house she would start on her homework at the kitchen table and wouldn’t stop until it was done. If I close my eyes I can see her. Plain as day. The low winter sun coming in through the sliding glass door as she dutifully highlighted sentences in a text book.

In school I was the opposite of my sister. Sure I was smart enough, I guess, to be able to coast through and get good enough grades until I hit junior high and school started to ask for at least a little bit of effort. I never did the assigned reading. I wouldn’t start writing papers until 10 p.m. the night before they were due. I never turned in my homework. I faked stomach cramps. I skipped class to go see movies by myself or go to the record store. I did the absolute bare minimum to get by. And my grades plummeted. From straight As in elementary school to solid Cs by the time I graduated high school. I was a disappointment. A disappointment to my parents and my teachers. I received too many lectures about “failing to realize my potential” to count.

Despite the fact that my grades were falling off a cliff and I never showed up for school, I was still placed in all the honors classes. I took advanced math, and AP European history and AP American History and honors English. I must have been grandfathered in. Or maybe my mother’d had words with the administrators. Who knows? But there I would be, surrounded by the smartest kids in school, sleeping through a discussion on A Tale of Two Cities or Plato’s cave.

My sister was of course also in all the advanced classes, and as I was only two grades behind her, I had a lot of the same teachers that she’d had, and as such even had a few of the same assignments. One of these assignments was to read — and write a paper on — the novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I am sure you are familiar with it. Mrs. Danvers and Mr. de Winter and Mrs. de Winter and that killer — killer — opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

For some reason, I actually read this book, I don’t remember why, of all the books assigned, I had decided to read this one but not others, but that’s neither here nor there. I read it, and I remember liking it. Manderley reminded me of Glensheen mansion in Duluth which we had visited the summer before, and it was good story, well told, with just the right amount of tension and suspense. I still think about the book now and again, and particularly the scene in which Mr. de Winter (spoiler) describes his killing of the first Mrs. de Winter in the boat house, and how there was so much blood, that he couldn’t believe how much blood there was, that he never could have imagined there would be so much blood.

Unfortunately, while I had read the book, I made no effort to start the paper. It had to be at least five pages long — double spaced — and it had to do more than just sum up the plot and the major themes, it had to analyze the story, the characters, compare, contrast, critique. I started writing it the night before it was due on the computer in our basement and I had maybe two paragraphs when I remembered that my sister had written a paper on Rebecca as well, as she had taken the same English class two years earlier. And, of course, because of her meticulous nature, she would still have a copy of it, and, of course, thanks to her smarts and studiousness, it would be a really good paper.

I asked her if I could borrow it. My intentions initially were pure, I swear, I was just hoping it would give me some good ideas, that it would be a good jumping off point. “Just don’t copy it, please,” my sister asked as she handed it to me from the shelf in her bedroom.

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” I replied, truthfully (at the time).

I read it in the basement next to the computer — a massive PC with a fan that sounded like a jet engine and a word processor that used a blindingly blue background – and I was right, it was really good. Way better than any paper I could have written. And so it didn’t serve as a jumping off point, as I had hoped, instead it served to demoralize me. “Why even bother?” I thought to myself. “Whatever I write is going to be garbage anyway.”

I left the computer and went and watched TV again. I was tired. It was after 11 p.m. and I had track practice in the morning. And so I decided, quickly and decisively and without a shred of guilt, to do the one thing my sister had asked me not to do: I decided to copy the paper. Re-type it word for word and hand it as my own. I didn’t think about the consequences, or how obvious it would be, I just did it. I was tired and I knew it was either copy my sister’s or turn in nothing at all. The latter was not really an option as I was for all intents and purposes failing the class already, so I chose the former, and away I went. I typed, printed, stapled and was in bed just after midnight.

The next day I turned the paper in without even a hint of regret. I was 15. I was invincible. The teacher reads 100s of papers a semester, I thought that there’s no way she would recognize a paper from two years earlier. And she didn’t. I got it back two days later. B+. (Why I didn’t the same A that my sister had received I’ll never know). And with that grade I didn’t have to worry about failing English any longer, I could coast through to June, take my C- and be done with it. And even better I hadn’t been expelled for plagiarism. It was a win-win.

I never thanked my sister, as I never told her what I had done. And in fact that this is the first time I have ever admitted it in public. But I should thank her, I really should, for she — my reliable, dependable, studious, smart, meticulous sister — had saved my semester.

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