Tag Archives: elementary school

The Fall Guy

Totally Hair Barbie came out in 1992; I was in first grade. I brought the barbie to school with me because I was proud of her. I mean, she was the latest and greatest in Barbie. Her ridiculously long hair reached all the way down to her toes. All of my Barbies had names, but I can’t remember this one’s.

My best friend at the time, the same one who stole and then ate my strawberry crayon (and blamed me when it did not taste like strawberries), was incredibly jealous of my Barbie. “Give it to me,” she demanded, her hand thrust out in the expectant way that only a first grader who had everything could manage.

“No.” I hid the doll behind my back. When we went out to recess, I hid the doll in my desk. I didn’t want it to get dirty. But when we came back in, it was gone.

“I’m gonna cut her ha-air,” my friend said, holding the doll up by her deep brown strands and swinging her in front of me. My friend was, of course, several inches taller than me, and my attempts to jump up and down and try to snatch the barbie as she jumped up and down to keep it away from me drew the attention of our teacher.

“S*,” she ordered, “go sit in the hall on the red crate.”

God, the red crate. I hated that red crate. I was always on it for something. Reading in class. Chewing my fingers in class. Talking in class (no, really, SHE STOLE MY CRAYON). Honestly, most of the instances that landed me on the red crate were the result of my friend, not me. When she wrote on the bathroom wall, I took the fall. When she stole the teacher’s copy of Charlotte’s Web and hid it, I took the fall for that too. I was always her fall guy.

The crate needed a shiny golden plaque with my name on it. But alas.

When my teacher finally let me back in the classroom, I found out she had put the barbie away in her desk. I wouldn’t receive it back until the weekend. That was fine. I was patient. I was used to losing.

When I got her back, I braided her long hair into a bajillion teeny tiny braids. I had always wanted to learn how to braid, and a complacent subject was great for practicing. I used the braids to string her up from a branch of the tree in my grandma’s backyard, and I swung her back and forth. Eventually, I cut off her hair. Because she had been bad.

Tagged , , ,

Mrs. Thomas

(A new thing that I’m trying–the short essay, 500 words or less.)

I thought the phone call was about Chuck e Cheese.

I urged my Grandma to answer the phone. It rang a lot before she got to it. I was practically bouncing up and down into the plaid couch cushions.

You see, my best friend, Alanna, was supposed to be having a birthday party. At Chuck e Cheese. I didn’t get to go there often, only for parties. But I loved the games and the fun little prizes I could get with all of the tickets I won at the games. The day before said party, which was to be the highlight of my third grade winter, Alanna came down with the chicken pox. A massive phone tree went out. No more party. We couldn’t have a bunch of third grade girls coming down with the scratchy sickness and missing the last days of school before Christmas vacation.

My grandma answered the phone when it rang, on the little pink landline that still hangs in her kitchen to this day. The hello was her normal bright tone; I was listening carefully while also keeping an eye on my episode of Rugrats. But then she took the phone and disappeared down the hallway, the curly pink cord stretching into her bedroom and the door shutting behind her.

It wasn’t about the party then. I went back to my cartoon, having rapidly lost interest in whatever was occurring in the bedroom.

My grandma came out of her room a few minutes later and quietly hung up the phone, but I didn’t pay much attention until she crossed the room and stood in front of me. “Shut off the tv for a second.”

I did, annoyed that it was in the middle of my show.

“So listen.” She sat down on the fluffy pink armchair next to the couch. “Your second grade teacher, Mrs. Thomas, passed away last night.”

“Passed away? What does that mean?”

“She…died.”

“She did?” My eyes were quite wide. Death to me was a thing relegated to tv shows like The Simpsons, not something that happened in real life. “How?”

“She had a problem inside her head. She went to sleep and she didn’t wake up.”

“Okay,” I replied. I clicked the remote on button and went back to my tv show.

I found out later that the “problem” my grandma had been referring to was an aneurysm. My former teacher’s brain had literally exploded; they hadn’t been able to get her to the hospital in time. My former teacher, the one who fixed my broken zipper at recess, the one who french braided my hair, the one who encouraged me to read, was gone. The former teacher who had given us all a red apple Christmas ornament before our second grade Christmas break.

It was Christmas time. I found the ornament on the tree, and there was a tiny chip out of it. Like someone had taken a bite. A piece that was forever missing.

Tagged , ,

The Ramifications

I have weird thumbs. They’re at a funny angle to the rest of my hand, but that’s very me. There’s a lot about me that’s unique; that’s a funny angle to the rest of life.

In our elementary school, students picked instruments in third grade that they would play in fourth. I wanted to play one of the big brass band instruments. The older kids all sat in a line in the cafeteria—a flute, a tuba, a saxophone, an oboe, a bassoon and some sort of horn. I stopped in front of the girl who was playing the trumpet. She was a fifth grader, so much older than my third grade self. She was tall and pretty, with long blonde hair and preppy clothes; in other words, the complete opposite of me. I was short and a little pudgy, with brown hair and hand-me-down clothing. 

“Here.” She extended the trumpet my way.

“I don’t know what to do with it.” I wanted to know though.

She brought the trumpet back up to her own mouth. “Like this.” She puckered her lips up against the mouthpiece and somehow made a pretty sound. (Or, as pretty as trumpets can be).

I took the trumpet gently. I too wanted to make a pretty sound. But when I held it up to my mouth the way I had seen the older girl do, but nothing happened. 

“You’re doing it wrong,” she told me, taking the trumpet back. “Like this.” She demonstrated again.

I took the trumpet back with a dubious glance at her. 

“You have to get your lips better on the mouth piece. Sort of like a fish-face, but sort of not.”

I tried again, but I still couldn’t make the instrument make any sound.

“I think your lips are too big,” she informed me, in the voice of a much older and wiser student. “They’re a little…weird.”

I heard that all the time. I was weird because my clothes weren’t brand label. I was weird because of the food I brought for lunch. I was weird because I always had my face shoved in a book. But this was different. She wasn’t talking about something I was doing, something I had a choice in. She was talking about…me. 

I realized then that I wasn’t right for brass or wind instruments. I didn’t fit. My lips were, as she had so eloquently put it, weird.

With that, a string player was born. I liked the violin. It was small and compact and made lots of high notes; I was a soprano back then, and had a firm appreciation for the higher register. But the violin cost money to rent, money that we didn’t have. In the back of the tiny orchestra room where not many students gathered were two racks; one rack had a line of cellos, and the other a line of basses. The school loaned them out to students, using the appeal to finances to draw them away from the shiny appeal of the violin. And I went for it. I chose the cello because it was not quite as heavy as the bass.

Playing the cello ended up working out for me. I played on the school’s cello until I got to high school, at which point I started teaching private cello lessons for a downtown music store to help pay off my own cello. Eventually I played at weddings and in symphonies. So while I started out with the cello because I didn’t have any other option that fit me, it became a part of me. 

Not all teasing works out that well. That girl teased me, and it ended up leading me to something positive I still do to this day. But teasing and bullying don’t always end positively. There are many ramifications that never get considered. And things stay with you. The good, and the bad.

My thumbs never really bothered me until I started playing the cello. They kept me from holding my bow properly. To this day, they still do. The other kids would make fun of me; my hand gets tired easily from trying to hold the bow, so I have to switch periodically to an almost club-like grip while playing to give myself a break. My teacher used to offer me prizes to hold the bow properly, but I never really could. And in my head, I thought that if she was offering me something for the desired end result, there must be something wrong with me if I couldn’t change myself. 

My thumbs have always been the way they are. But I never knew they weren’t normal until I realized there were things they kept me from doing. Until my teacher told me they were wrong, my grip was wrong. That’s the funny thing, about being weird. Weird isn’t weird until someone points it out to you.

Once you know, it’s like none of you fits. So sometimes, it is one hundred percent better to say nothing. To not know.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,