Personal Life Story, Cursed Cursive, and Perceived Authority
Why I am How I Am. A Personal Story of Embarrassment
We’ve all been there. The Elementary School is where the foundations of experience and learning are put in place. Mr. Earlewine, our principal, was an intimidating leviathan of a man. A flap of skin on his right eyelid distracted your attention to eye contact. Towering at 6-ft 2-in, he exploited the diminutive stature of every kid meandering in the hallways and running to be first for lunch.
The school had the permanent and familiar smell. A mix between Elmer’s Glue Stik, construction paper, hot film strips, glazed ceramic coil pots fresh out of the kiln, and the coffee-potent breath clouds of Mrs. Artus. She was my second-grade teacher. Not as intimidating as Mr. Earlewine, but twice as wide. Thick-rimmed glasses adorned her once attractive face, leaving little red marks on her nose when transferred to her forehead. She was an educated lady, who could never be tricked by her students.
There was this one time as I was walking home from school, I was passing by a fluorescent sash-and-badge wearing ‘Safety Patrol’—one of an elite group of sixth graders trained to tattle on everyone else for infringing on rules and norms –to keep them “safe.” It was every kid’s fear that the Safety Patrol officer would report him to his homeroom teacher. I saw a kid once; in fact, it was the head-gear wearing bully Brice that got it this time. He ran. Running was the unpardonable sin that was punishable by a week-long standing-next-to-the-wall at recess. ‘Flappy-eye’ would inspect the perpetrators aligning the wall and give them a good talking to. Usually a discussion of what was done wrong and what could happen if everyone was allowed to break that rule. Jumping off the swings causes busted legs and faces; running leads to death; giving other kids ‘flat-tires’ breaks their feet and is always followed by a lawsuit; frying ants with a magnifying glass will set the school on fire, and upset our mom.
None of these things were really probable either. How many ‘flat-tires’ are given a day resulting in a busted foot? Why are we made to believe this stuff?
I was visibly crestfallen when a Safety Patrol officer had accused me of spitting on him. Funny, I don’t recall ever spitting on this kid. Sure I remember spitting, on the ground, in front of me, away from traffic, and certainly away from this sixth-grade behemoth, but still he approached me. Eye contact from the beginning, he then invaded my personal space until he was staring at the back of my eyeballs. I had to look up at him. His nostrils flared as he audibly breathed a warm air that made me squint at the contact.
“Why did you just spit on me?”
“I didn’t spit on you!” was my knee-knocking reply. His authoritative stare made the mental cogwheels and pulleys formulate a different story—his story. He said that I had spit on him, and his gaze with coercion made me think that I had. I didn’t even feel manipulated. He wouldn’t let me. He had the power and authority to command all subordinates, and he used this well. I had no choice but to admit that I spit on him.
“I’m s-sorry, I wanted to know . . . y-you see, I was . . . I accidentally . . . it accidentally landed on you because I was trying to see if I could make it go over your head and miss you . . . yeah, that’s it—I was just wondering.”
To this day I can’t understand why I took the blame for something I never did. I admitted something that never happened. This whole thing could have been solved just by saying simply, “Look—you and I both know I didn’t spit on you. I spit on the ground. Look, there is the splatter mark. You never even came close to that spot.” Would he have been convinced having been shown the evidence? For some reason I doubt it. I think he was just hungry to enforce what he thought was power. To me, it was. Why do people think they can manipulate others just because they have a badge? Perhaps it was my fault. My reasoning skills were not the sharpest, and were pushed aside in order to practice the defense mechanism. As a kid, I was blamed for everything and instead of proving that I was not guilty, I shot into defense mode. At the time, I though it was my only weapon.
“I’m sorry,” the sixth grader scowled with a hint of pride in his up-turned nose, “but I’m gonna report you. Who is your homeroom teacher?”
My rigid knees, red and sore from knocking into each other were now less viscous than water. I collapsed. Never had I been in so much trouble. Not only did I spit on the sixth grader, Mr. Earlewine was going to find out. My mom was going to find out! I was gonna hafta write a disturbance paper, a note home to my mom that she would need to sign. Stand next to the wall at recess. My world ended. My life was going to end in the next few hours.
I have never cried in school, but my chin was now quivering like a shaved-naked Weiner dog in the Antarctic. Mrs. Artus shrouded me in her coffee-breath cloud. “You’ll need to write a letter to your mom. Have her sign it and give it back to me.” I remember to this day what the letter said. Written on obnoxiously thick-ruled recycled paper that tore apart whenever you attempted to erase an error were the words,
I am sorry that I spit on a Safety.”
I was terrified that my mother would read this note. Her discipline was 100 times scarier than Mr. Earlewine, Mrs. Artus, or all sixth graders combined. I took evasive action.
My sister Emily was just a few years older than me. She would have us think that she eclipsed us all in scholastic superiority and involvement. I asked her what Mother’s signature looked like in cursive. I gave her explicit instructions: “I want to see what mom’s name looks like—the way she writes it. I’m just curious.” Eager to show off the advanced writing skill that all her subordinates didn’t possess, she littered the torn and wrinkled page I gave her with Mom’s signature.
Like I said before, Mom cannot under any circumstances find out about this incident. I will be grounded for a year and be forced to eat worms and cardboard until I am twenty-six years old! I secluded myself in the basement. Sweaty, and with shaking, but confident resolve, I took a felt-tip black pen I found in the top drawer of the computer desk. It was tucked away in a personalized niche designed just for pens. Unfamiliar with the first couple of letters of my mother’s name in cursive, I quickly shifted my eyes between the paper Emily had supplied for me, and the wide-ruled paper I was to write the forged name upon. I started at the very top of the page. With every glance toward the template, I paused to memorize the next unfamiliar letter. The ink from the tip of the felt blotted and expanded into the ever-absorbent paper.
The finished product was a blotchy, inky mess. The signature was about two inches high to reach the top and bottom of the obnoxiously wide lines designed to teach young people to write. The length of the name went on to the very edges of the paper, with the last few letters being scrunched to fit. The relatively small name “Susan Ellis” was somehow made too big within the lines. I was still confident. This was a very necessary move to avoid serious lifelong repercussions by very intimidating people. I had finally prevailed.
I almost gave away my flawless plan with my over enthusiasm in giving it back to my teacher. I set it on her desk just behind her nameplate festooned with cartoon crayons and dancing pencils to remind everyone of her desk-ular domain. I almost frolicked back to my assigned seat. Ben: 1, Eternal Misery: 0
Later that day, I was called into the hallway by my teacher. What could she possibly want? She couldn’t have known of my forgery. Still, I was a bit apprehensive. I tried to cloak my anxiety with the only available smile I could muster—a crooked smile with a hint of force and a dash of apprehension. Mrs. Artus’ coffee cloud became a coffee missile, blowing apart my perfect plan, cocky confidence, and the flawless felt-tipped fabrication.
“Did you sign this paper?” The quivering chin returned. I knew I was caught and my body language yelled at the blatant truth in an embarrassing declaration to that fact. There was absolutely no way to cover this up. What was the point? “My mom was just tired; she broke her arm; she asked me to do it cause she was sick; I think my mother was abducted by aliens and implanted with a new brain that messed up her handwriting.” None of these excuses would work. To me, the signature looked authentic. Wait, maybe not. I guess the dark black ink-blotched circles gave it away, and finally convinced me that not only was I a terrible artist, but that my whole plan never reckoned for success.
Twice in two days was I conforming to the will of a superior. They smelled the blood of the Englishman and fee-fi-fo-fumed their ways through my brain. I was such a weakling; so manipulated so easily. Legally, neither the Safety Patrol, my teacher, nor Mom could beat me up. It wasn’t physical harm. It might have been the fact that I was so inexperienced with being in trouble. I didn’t know the process. I didn’t know the punishment. I didn’t know how to be in trouble. Big people were scary and intimidating!
Older people are of a more experienced breed. They know more than children. This is ingrained in every young child that is told to listen from birth. I was just a little trusting child, willing to believe older kids and adults no matter how fanciful their claims. It makes me wonder why we put trust in front of truth as young, impressionable minds, only to switch to manipulation of truth even if it is there in a small puddle of frothy saliva. It doesn’t make sense to be afraid of punishment, accept punishment, live with consequences, just because one with power bends fact.
When I arrived home after school, I knew my mother had been called by Mrs. Artus. They most likely were plotting to hire kids to make fun of me as I stood against the wall at recess. I was ready for my lickin’. I presented a new note. I remember to this day what the letter said. Written on obnoxiously thick ruled paper that tore apart when you attempted to erase an error were the words:
I’m sorry that I spit on a Safety and signed the note.”
Mom and I had a chat. I recounted the story that the Safety Patrol officer told me was correct.
“I just wanted to see if I could spit over his head, and I guess it landed on him.”
To my surprise, she wasn’t mad, but had a kind of snicker she was hiding behind a bit lip. It must have been the foul impression of her signature. She was trying to keep in a snorting laugh while still fronting a stern disciplinary disposition.
Inscribed on the bottom of the obnoxiously thick ruled paper that tore apart when you attempted to erase an error, was the perfect cursive conclusion:
“‘The real’ Susan Ellis.”
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
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