My Life in Shame – Episode 1 – The Grade School Years

I don’t have too many secrets. It’s just not really my nature. My wife would be generous and say it’s because I like to talk and I tell a pretty good story. I would say it’s because I really don’t have anything too exciting to keep hidden away. Quite the promo for the rest of this post, eh?

What I do have is a small handful of incidents that are the items that I revisit most in my head. This is not to say they’re the only items I ever think about, because I’m not that much of a commercial for things that are depressing. They stand out because they are the things I regret the most. They hover around in my mind and flutter to the surface from time to time, largely unbidden, and make me embarrassed even when I’m alone. We can call this post an exorcism attempt.

There are two incidents from my elementary school days that come to mind.

The first is, fittingly, from first grade. I don’t remember much about what happened, except that it was the end of a school day. I don’t seem to recall being particularly rowdy (I was a pretty well-behaved student) but right as the day was closing, almost literally as everyone was walking to the classroom door to go outside and meet their parents, I was joking around with a kid who was a bit of a troublemaker, the class clown.

As we packed up to leave, he must have said something wacky or done something goofy, because I responded by picking up the jacket I’d brought with me and draping it across my shoulders and pulling the arms across my neck like they were choking me. I let my tongue loll out to complete the effect. I was very clever.

The next thing I know I was being told by the teacher that she had had enough and that I and my supposed partner in crime needed to stay after class. I don’t recall how long we had to stay (I’m guessing only 10-15 minutes), but it was long enough that my Mom wanted to know why I had taken so long. Even as a first grader I knew that this was something to cover up. Children, it would seem, become acquainted with the notion that trouble is to be avoided at all costs pretty early on. I seriously doubt that I managed to be convincing, but I didn’t crack and just maintained that things in class had taken a longer time than normal.

I’m not sure if this incident would be a good reason why I’m so averse to drawing attention to myself in situations where I shouldn’t logically be the center of attention, but it’s the only one I can think of: the time I got in trouble in first grade for being goofy when I didn’t think I deserved it. How’s that for continuity from last week’s Monday post?

The second item is from third grade. All the students were lined up to go back into class at the end of lunchtime. As I walked past two of my friends Friend #1 pretended as if he was choking Friend #2. Young boys, as these two examples are clearly illustrating, are very clever. High-class shenanigans all around.

Seeing this, I wanted in on the fake violence. So I approached Friend #1 and in slow motion did a pretend knee to the side of his leg. My recollection of the event is clearly colored by own desire to not be culpable, as I pretty clearly recall barely making any contact at all with the side of Friend #1’s thigh. My memory is not of making any contact, but clearly I must have been mistaken entirely about that.

As soon as my knee made contact with Friend #1’s leg, he went down in a pretty spectacular display of tears and wailing. Thinking that I had just been joining in on the fun and not even having the intent of making real contact with him physically, the situation became pretty alarming pretty quickly.

I was also not in a situation where this could be covered up and dealt with nicely and neatly. ALL of my classmates were within about a thirty foot radius of this and now not only was I the center of attention, but I was also that kid that made that other kid cry.

What followed was a visit to the principal’s office and what seems to be in my memory about 30 minutes of great weeping and gnashing of teeth. From me. I don’t even think the injured party was present. I proceeded to explain—thinking that my simple explanation of “Seriously, I had no intention of even actually touching him, and must have done so entirely by accident” wouldn’t fly—that it looked to me like Friend #2 was getting beat up on. So I was going to come over and try and make sure that wasn’t happening. I’m not sure how I worked in my Van Damme-age knee to the action, but I must have.

The principal at the time, a Mr. Singer, was pretty bemused. I can recall this now. I was a good kid and I never got in trouble outside of these two instances, as far as I can recall. I was even friends with his son, who was a student in our grade. I think he knew I wasn’t out to enact vigilante justice on the schoolyard. In the midst of my weeping and begging that my parents not be contacted (which I’m pretty sure didn’t happen — which means I’m blowing a perfectly good 20-year-old cover), he very calmly and probably with a smirk on his face that I couldn’t see through the tears, told me that I didn’t really need to go around policing the school. And that was that. I sheepishly returned to class to sit near a still-sniffling Friend #1 and probably didn’t think about it again in my grade school years after that day.

And here I am now, a couple decades later, and it’s still something I think about and deliver a nice, firm facepalm over.

  1. #1 by Oliver Grigsby on October 26, 2009 - 1:23 PM

    I got a couple of those memories myself. I imagine everyone does. What’s weird is how they always seem to come out of nowhere just to make yourself feel a sudden pang of guilt.

    The one instance that comes to mind, very similar of yours, is of being on the school yard (about 5 years of age) and having a teacher yell at me for “beating up” another boy. I seem to remember that we were play-fighting, I think we were playing “Knight Rider” or something, I’m not sure. Anyway, teacher was not amused by this “game” and I got in big trouble.

  2. #2 by Badmoodman on October 27, 2009 - 4:05 PM

    The next time you come to visit, young man, you can just go straight to your room.

    “I really don’t have anything too exciting to keep hidden away.”

    If you say so.

  3. #3 by Nina on October 28, 2009 - 5:35 PM

    Okay – third grade: on the playground a boy ran up and kissed me, so I decked him.
    Not so much angst over it though (cue the “Rocky” theme song).

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