Toad in the Hole

November 18, 2005

WHY, Cont'd: A Grade School Moment

Junior high, to those of you with US public school backgropunds, and it was rather more fun than a clarifying click generally is.

I grew up in Harrisburg, but was born north of there, in the (anthracite) coal region. I prized my out-of-town connections. My uncle Jackie had given me one of those "automatic" pencils, imprinted with the name and address of a relative's car-repair shop in Girardville. (The smell of fresh rubber still gives me flashbacks of the place.)

Sixth or seventh grade. We were usually seated alphabetically, so a kid named Billy Schell was right in front of me most years. (They shuffled our class of 60 in various combinations between two rooms from year to year, I guess so no one would get bored.) There was some weird energy between him and me; I never did quite understand it.

The teacher (Da Nun, whose name was, honest, Sister Mary Aloysius) stepped out of the room for some reason, leaving us with instructions to shut up and work. probably phrased differently. Billy reached behind his back and grabbed that pencil out of the pencil groove on top of my desk. Pissed me off, he did -- I couldn't replace it easily. I grabbed his wrist so he wouldn't get away with my pencil.

Now, I spent much of my asthmatic childhood using a hand-held nebulizer to inhale epinephrine solution. I carried the damned fragile weird thing with me most of the time -- it was glass, about six inches tall, with an intricate little set of glass twists inside, two rubber corks, and a squeeze bulb to make it go. Bigger than a perfume atomizer; you had to use your whole hand to pump it, and it took several sprays every time. So I developed rather a strong grip without ever noticing, until then.

When I grabbed Billy's wrist, I just wanted him to drop the damned pencil. But he wouldn't, and he'd let me get him in a mild hammerlock, with his arm twisted up behind him. He stood up, and I stood up with him. I didn't do anything else, but I didn't let go either. Actually it didn't occur to me to let go. Billy was a sandy-haired freckley kid, and was turning bright red at this point. The rest of the class was noticing, and the boys especially started hooting. "Lookitthat, she's beating him up, she's twisting his arm!"

I was about to indignantly deny that -- though scrawny and sickly, I wasn't real dainty even then, and if I'd been twisting his arm it would've been rather more strenuous -- when we heard the Footsteps of Doom in the hall, that unmistakeable stomp of nunshoes and the jingle of the big rosary she had looped in her belt.

Billy dropped the pencil. I reflexively sat down. When the nun came in, Billy was still half-standing and bright red. Of course Sister Aloysius had heard the hoots and racket and I was sure I was in trouble. She demanded that Billy, obviously the focus of it all, tell her what had happened.

He wouldn't. I was baffled. it wasn't as if were were buddies and he wouldn't rat me out -- there was plenty of that in that class. He got detention and I got away clean and nobody else ratted me out either, also surprising because I was never particularly popular, and I knew some of the girls thought I was a snob and most thought I was Too Smart.

Honest to the god of your choice, it wasn't until somebody else told me that I realized it was just that Billy would never admit to anyone, including Da Nun, that he'd been "beaten up" by a girl.

Posted at November 18, 2005 10:07 PM