Thursday, August 21

I Will Not Pull Hair

(Here's one of my favorite high school writing assignments, which I found during a recent declutter-a-thon. I wrote it when I was 15. I've edited it for some minor punctuation and grammatical errors, but otherwise it is unchanged.)

I Will Not Pull Hair
It was a gray day. Well, actually it was a confused day—gray one minute, sunny the next. I’m not sure when it was, sometime in the early spring when it was warm enough for the brave kids not to wear their coats at recess.

It was lightly sprinkling at the time. Sort of spitting, not really rain. I don’t remember what Sherry said. I think it really went in one ear and out the other. I forgot it immediately. But before the words were even out of her mouth, I made the stupid mistake of pulling her hair.

I didn’t pull it hard, just enough to make the sausage curl a little less springy. I think that’s the real reason she got mad. Not because I pulled her hair, but because I had dared, had the audacity to ruin her perfectly curled hair.

Ten minutes later, I was dragged up to the front of the classroom to be shamed by my teacher. I felt so betrayed; I had always thought Mrs. Bogart was a nice old lady. Now she was just a big meanie along with everyone else in my Kindergarten class. I remember looking at the brown-flecked turquoise carpet and wondering how they put the brown in it. Anything to get my mind off the present situation.

“Class,” she said, “we will be gone for ten minutes. Jenny was bad and has to be punished. We are going to the Principal’s office because she has to be spanked.”

What a sensation that caused! All the other kids were just amazed. Nobody, I mean nobody ever got spanked by the Principal! The entire subject was rather taboo among the children in my class; the scariest thing that could ever happen to you at school, possibly in your entire life. Getting spanked by the Principal was a thought so feared, so hush-hush, that it had only been mentioned once or twice before by my classmates. They couldn’t stop looking at me. They just sat there, staring, shocked beyond words. I started crying.

Mrs. Bogart turned me around and marched me down the hall to certain doom. As soon as we left the classroom, I hear the gale force winds that had erupted behind us from the whispering of all the other kids in my class. Nothing could have made me more miserable.

That hall to the Principal’s office always seemed so long, eternal, endless before. Now it was only a trifle larger than nothingness.

Were there really only three bulletin boards between Kindergarten and the Principal’s office? Surely there were more! It had always seemed that I spent hours wandering from one to the other, reading what they said to my other classmates who weren’t so bright.

Now I tried to stop and read the orange paper announcing parent-teacher conferences next month, and the green advertisement for school shirts and jackets.

I stopped at each of the three bulletin boards to try to make my teacher not want to punish me because I could read and the other kids couldn’t. I thought that this fact should seriously outweigh the need for a spanking.

But she just pulled me along, telling me that I should read them later, that I’d read them all before, how proud of me she was that I was so gifted. Still, she said, I had to be punished. It wouldn’t hurt. I certainly didn’t believe that.

Whit is it so quiet? I kept thinking. Why can’t I hear the other classrooms and what they’re doing? I usually can. Even our footsteps seemed to be unreal, as if we were walking in a ghost world instead of on a tile floor in a hall that usually magnified sound a million times.

The green door opened before we got there and that’s when I really got scared. The secretary looked at me pityingly and said that the principal would see us shortly.

The office smelled weird. It had that Bible smell that all churches have. I always thought that churches smelled that way to remind people where they were, even if it was just a Christian school and church services were only held on Sundays.

Under that musty smell was the smell of authority. Not just the authority of the principal and the school, oh no, the authority of God was there too.

The principal was available now and escorted us into his office. I wondered if he was going to tell me that God was going to punish me too.

We walked past his olive green metal desk to a shelf with the Almighty Paddles on it.

“You see this?” he said, looming over me, holding a new-looking Ping-Pong paddle, “we use this paddle to spank the Kindergarten through fourth graders when they’re bad.”

He then picked up a board paddle with holes drilled in it.

“This is what we use when the older kids are bad. Sometimes even the really big kids like the eleventh or twelfth graders need discipline. Do you think you’ve learned your lesson today?”

I nodded ferociously.

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“I was bad. I pulled Sherry’s hair.”

“Why did you pull her hair?”

I wiped my nose and tried to stop blubbering. “She made me mad.”

“Well, sometimes people make us mad, but that doesn’t mean we can just go and hurt them, does it? Do you understand what I mean?”

“Yes. But you don’t have to spank me; really, I’ll never do it again. I promise! Just—just make me write it a whole bunch on the chalkboard! ‘I will not pull hair. I will not pull hair!’” I was getting frantic. Crying and sniffling all over the place, looking at his puke green carpet and cream-colored walls. Anywhere but him.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t take it back. This won’t hurt, just teach you a lesson. Be a big girl.”

I still wouldn’t look at him, “I’ll try-y-y…” At that point I completely lost it.

Mrs. Bogart led me over to a chair. “Stand here, dear. You’re really crying about nothing.”

I looked at the chair I was standing in front of. It was one of those cheap metal chairs with a vinyl padded seat and back. The kind that was never comfortable.

The principal pointed to a black speck on the white vinyl, “Just look at this dot here an be a big girl.”

A huge tear fell on the spot exactly where he was pointing. “Just look at this big tear here. You don’t need to cry, this really doesn’t hurt.”

What I thought. Why was he being so nice about everything? He was the Principal after all, the most intimidating, frightening person in a child’s life—the embodiment of terror to anyone under ten years old—and here he was telling me that a spanking wasn’t going to hurt me.

It was like being at the dentist. You always knew that he would hurt you—probing around in your mouth, drilling your teeth, making you gargle that disgusting fluoride and spit it out just in time before it gagged you—yet he was always feeding you lies that you desperately wanted to believe. “This won’t hurt a bit” was always the first bad omen.

But you know, it really didn’t hurt. The actual spanking wasn’t what I really felt; it was the humiliation of it that really wounded me. Now that I had survived the spanking, I realized that I was going to have to go back and face my peers. And I thought that I had been terrified before.

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