It was early Spring. The snow was still on the ground, and it was damned cold outside. The high for the day had been about 40 degrees. In my almost-eleven-year-old mind, I interpreted that to be shorts weather, and had gone off to school wearing my favorite black-and-white striped shorts, a light blue t-shirt with a pocket over the left side of my still-flat chest, and sandals. My mother had argued but lost the battle over “sensible clothing” that morning. I nearly froze my ass off, but never would I admit to her that I was cold. Mom was so dumb.
Our fifth grade music teacher, Mr. B., had given us the very popular assignment of choosing a song and producing a music video, which was to be filmed the next day. A natural born leader, I had bullied my buddies Candie, Carrie, and Robbie into selecting a Madonna song, which I, of course, would lead lip sync. We had initially selected “Papa Don’t Preach,” but Mr. B. put the kibosh to the plan. Presumably the idea of a pack of pre-teens performing to a song about teen pregnancy was found to be inappropriate. Our (read, my) second choice was “Open Your Heart.” The plan was that we would all wear tropical-inspired attire and do the white-kid dance, except for Robbie who, as the boy of the group, would be stationed behind the drum kit. Carrie wanted to do drums but relented once I snippily informed her that only boys could play drums, duh.
Madonna Performing "Open Your Heart" in Japan
Paul Simon & Chevy Chase - "You Can Call Me Al" (These boys can DANCE!)
I was certain that Madonna never filmed a music video without rehearsing first, so we needed to rehearse, too. We stayed after school and spent a whole hour practicing hard. After all the videos had been filmed, everyone in the class would vote on the best video. We’d heard that another group featuring my nemesis Richard was planning to perform Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” a song that was wicked popular, so we needed to be extra sharp to beat them.
When our hour was up, we scattered, running to be sure that we could catch the activities bus home. Robbie and I both lived in the country, and our parents would be super pissed if we had to call them to come pick us up because we missed the bus. We made it to the bus just in time, and made our way toward the back, looking to see just how far we could get. If there were high school kids on the bus, they automatically took the rearmost seats, but this day we had great luck! There were no high school kids on the bus, so Robbie and I grabbed those two back seats and set about making fun of everyone who came to mind. I teased Robbie about his bright red hair and freckles, and Robbie took a friendly jab at me about how my legs looked like skim milk gone bad, with my pasty white skin and goosebumps. As the reigning queen of the back of the bus, safely out of sight of the bus driver, I promptly flipped him the bird.
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Robbie’s mouth dropped open in shock for a moment. He flushed bright red as only redheads can do, then recovered and shot the bird right back at me. Feeling very grown up and needing to one up my buddy, I stuck my hand up over the back of the bus seat and offered a one-finger salute to whomever may have been in the vehicle behind the bus. I had seen the high school kids do this before, and they all thought it was really funny, so it must be. Robbie, not to be outdone, knelt on the bus seat, kept his head tucked down out of sight of the vehicles behind us, and threw a couple of #1s out the back window. Giggling hysterically, we kept it up, flipping birds that traveled off the top of the seat, down the side and back up again, birds that played peek-a-boo over the seat back, birds accompanied by a friendly wave with the other hand, etc., etc., etc., as the bus rolled through town.
All was well until the bus stopped at the railroad crossing on Main Street. We were still happily flipping off the vehicle behind us when we realized that the bus hadn’t started moving again. I felt sick as it occurred to me that this delay almost certainly had to do with our fun. I grabbed Robbie’s arm and pulled him across the aisle to sit in my seat. We looked to the front of the bus and saw a lady had climbed aboard. As she started shouting at the bus driver about the miscreants in the back of the bus, we yanked books out of our backpacks and attempted to act as though we had been reading all along. When we heard the lady tell the driver that she was a teacher at the school, we dropped the charade and stared at each other with huge eyes. I whispered, “Oh my God,” as tears began streaming down our faces. “Shit,” Robbie whispered to himself.
The lady left the bus, and the driver started driving again. As soon as the bus was clear of the tracks, the driver pulled it to the side of the street and came back to talk to us. There was no shouting, which somehow made us feel worse as the driver explained that we were in a lot of trouble and that he had given our names to the lady. A half hour later, the bus dropped a shaken Robbie at his house and, fifteen long minutes later, I was let off at my house.
“What were you thinking?” was the shriek I heard when I walked through the door. Apparently the teacher lady had immediately gone back to the school, pulled our files, and called our parents. Robbie and I were each going to be required to write a letter of apology to the teacher lady and her family, who had been in the car with her. If she decided that the letter was sufficient, we would not be suspended from school and nothing would be put in our files.
The possibility of suspension terrified me. I was something of a goody-goody in school, the girl who, the year before in fourth grade, had always been chosen to be in charge when the teacher had to be out of the classroom. I ruled the classroom with an iron piece of chalk, diligently writing on the board the names of the classmates who dared defy my demands for utter silence. There were people in that school who would love to see me get in trouble. I couldn’t give them the satisfaction.
I was so distressed by the thought of it being known by my peers that I had done something wrong, that I couldn’t eat dinner that evening. I sat down immediately and penned a lengthy and sincere apology to the teacher lady, whom by now I knew was a sixth grade teacher I would have to face come September, and her husband, who turned out to be the middle school shop teacher, and their two children. For extra measure, I wrote a second letter to the activities bus driver, apologizing for causing a disruption on the bus and putting him in the position of being yelled at by the teacher for something that was not his fault.
At bedtime, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned the night away, convinced that I would get to school, deliver my letters, and be suspended. When I finally began to doze, I dreamed about performing “Open Your Heart” in front of the video camera. In the dream, before I could finish the song, the music room door burst open and the teacher lady came in flanked by policemen. “That one and the red-haired boy!” she shouted, pointing at Robbie and me. The policemen put us in handcuffs and dragged us out of the room as the video camera captured the entire spectacle and our classmates laughed and pointed.
The next morning, I packed up my books, my lunch, my outfit for the music video, and my letters and trudged out to catch the bus. Students weren’t allowed in the bus garage, so I gave the letter to the activities bus driver to my usual driver and asked him to deliver it for me. When I got to school, I met Robbie by our lockers and we went together to give our letters to the sixth grade teacher lady. When we got to her classroom and faced her, I teared up again, certain that she would disregard any apologies that we offered and engineer our suspension. To my surprise, she gave me a hug, patted Robbie on the arm, took our letters, and sent us back to our homeroom after telling us to not worry about any more trouble.
Robbie and I never spoke of the event again. A bit more than seven years later, we graduated from high school and parted ways. We haven’t seen each other since. Of all the friends I left behind from my childhood, he’s the one I miss the most.
Oh, and for the record, our classmates voted our music video the best in the class.
- The Boy Who Played With Matches
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