Thursday, May 17, 2012

LAWD, I'm glad that part of my life is over!

One of the selections for Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop this week was to share a story from fourth grade, so my story is about spending the year at the mercy of an unlikely bully.

Warning: some profanity ahead.

Many, many, many years ago, I read in a magazine where Woody Allen, I believe, said in an interview that sometimes he'll have nightmares about being back in school, then he'll wake up clutching the mattress and thanking God he no longer has to go. I searched and searched online for this and it was nowhere to be found, so make of that what you will. I could have had the wording wrong, or the public figure wrong, or maybe I just dreamed it myself. Regardless, I can certainly relate. I, too, sometimes have nightmares about being back in school, and wake up truly thankful that *I* no longer have to go.

Fourth grade was, hands down, one of the worst times of my life. My Dad and his girlfriend, who I really liked, had broken up. My best friend and I were split up in school after previous years of having class together. And this was the year I had my first experience with a really horrible teacher.

The year hadn't actually started out too bad. I still got to see my best friend at recess and in our second block of classes. And I was really excited because I got assigned to the new teacher, Mrs. S. She was so pretty, and praised me so much when I was the only kid in class who spelled encyclopedia (a bonus word) correctly on our first spelling test! Unfortunately, that was the only good thing I remember about my time in her classroom aside from her reading The Pilgrim's Progress to us later in the year.

The whole drama started off like this: she was our Spelling, Reading, and English teacher. We sat at circular tables in her class instead of at desks, and one Friday right before a spelling test, Lindsay, the girl to my left, looked underneath the table where she'd covered a teensy slip of paper with her foot. Of course, this got my attention and I followed her gaze to it as well. This was later determined to be a cheat sheet, though I'm not sure if she needed to cheat, or if she just wanted to see if she could get away with it. But Mrs. S started walking around, and Lindsay either tried to hide the paper better or decided against her cheat sheet altogether. She picked the paper up, scrambled to put it away, and had to leave it alone when Mrs. S approached our table. As it turned out, Lindsay's paper had floated down from wherever she'd stuck it, and landed close to my feet. Mrs. S picked it up, saw what it was, and rounded on me immediately. I was given a zero on the test and sent to the office when I didn't admit the paper was mine and didn't give her the explanation she wanted. I was later paddled for this incident.

Another week, I was getting a book out of my cubby and accidentally dropped it on Lindsay's head. It was utterly and completely unintentional, and Lindsay knew this and was fine, but.....Mrs. S had seen it and insisted I had hit Lindsay on purpose. Even Lindsay told her that I hadn't, but I was still sent to the office and paddled for it all the same.

Then there was a time when I'd gotten to my seat late for whatever reason, and just yanked a piece of paper out of my notebook for the spelling test without looking at it. I really should have, since it was the sheet I'd written my spelling words on for practice the night before. I opened my notebook to put it back, but Mrs. S snatched it up off the table before I could, accused me of trying to cheat, and once again I got a zero on a spelling test - a test in a subject I would NEVER have to cheat on - and was sent to the office and paddled.

The drama didn't stop there, either. There were many small incidents where she was just a bitch for any and every and no reason whatsoever, like the time I forgot a notebook in her classroom. I was out of the classroom, and her next class was already in it and some of them were seated and getting ready. The door was shut, so I just opened it to slip in as quickly as possible. There were kids surrounding her desk, so I grabbed my notebook and headed back out. Mrs. S had gotten up by then, though, and grabbed the notebook from me at the door. I figured I was about to get sent to the office and paddled again, but this time she only told me that I needed to learn some manners and demanded that I go back outside, shut the door behind me, then knock and request permission to come in. Which I did. Once inside, I asked if I could have my notebook. She gave it to me, then told me to apologize to her class for interrupting. I hung my head in shame and apologized at a barely audible level, so then she made me do it louder while making eye contact with the boys and girls who were, by now, whispering and laughing.

I don't remember the time frame of all of these incidents, just that they must have all happened on Fridays and they must have all happened during the first month or two of school. Because every Friday from there on out, I started getting violently ill before school, therefore not being able to go. Or if I did make it to school, I'd get sick there and my Mom would have to come get me. This went on for literally months on end. I went to my local doctor, who eventually suggested a specialist when he could never find any medical reason for me to be sick. I went to a specialist in Memphis who conducted numerous tests, and still came away without a diagnosis.

By now, you're probably wondering what my parents had to say about all of this. Well, they were baffled, because they had no idea that I spent every Friday being either publicly humiliated and/or paddled. I never told them, because I was afraid I'd get in trouble at home, too. They didn't figure out what was going on with me until almost the very end of the school year. It was not on a Friday this time, but a Tuesday when Mrs. S made the dire mistake of finally getting my mother involved.

I'd gotten into poison ivy or something over the weekend, so to keep me from clawing my skin off at school on Monday, my Mom had slathered me with calamine lotion and dressed me in a sleeveless shirt and a cardigan-type sweater. It was a bit cool in the morning, but as the day wore on, it became quite hot. We didn't have ACs in the schools back then, and when I started getting hot and itchy, I took the sweater off. Mrs. S demanded that I put it back on because my tank top was "too revealing." For what it's worth, I was nine years old, completely flat-chested, and had no body hair, little boys were still yucky according to little girls, and little girls still had cooties according to little boys.

I didn't question Mrs. S, though, I just put the sweater back on. The temperature continued to climb. I had eaten lunch in a hot, stuffy lunchroom, played outside in the hot sun at recess, and finally rode a hot bus to the babysitter's after school - all in a long-sleeved, warm sweater. I had gotten sweaty. I had gotten itchy. But I didn't dare take the sweater off because I was ashamed of being dressed in something inappropriate. Instead, I had just absentmindedly scratched. And scratched. And scratched. I had opened and created more oozy sores throughout the course of the day which then stuck to my sweater. I cried peeling the sweater off, and I'd made such a mess of my arms! The sitter was horrified, and asked why on earth I hadn't taken my sweater off. I had to tell her what Mrs. S had said about my shirt, and I guess she's the one who broke it to my Mom.

My mother was furious. So furious, in fact, that she took the next day off work to come with me to school and hav a "talk" with the principal. The principal called Mrs. S in at some point, and my mother WENT OFF. Over and over again, and that was just over the sweater incident. When Mrs. S tried to defend herself by telling my Mom I cheated on tests, was rude, and a troublemaker, I thought Mom was going to hit her. She did tell her that she'd better never embarrass me again, or tell me I wasn't dressed right again, and she'd damned sure better never paddle me again, or she'd live to regret it. I'd never seen my Mom so angry, and I'd never seen Mrs. S so frightened and humbled. And we finally figured out why I was sick every Friday.

That year has shaped me in ways you cannot imagine. I'd dealt with bully-ish kids before, and that was hard enough. But it's not always the kids who are bullies. In my experience, there was a world of difference between mean kids and a mean adult.


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