Friday, July 08, 2005

The Ritalin Years, Part Two

If I look back and try to find the positive, character-building messages I received from my teachers during my stint in the gristmill of the Fort Worth Independent School District, I come up with fuck-all. Well, to be fair, there was that Breakfast Optimist Club Award I got for reading skills, which afforded me a fuzzy photo in the community newsletter. But that was the same year I had to endure Mrs. Ashburn, who seemed to be unclear as to which century it was. If we so much as looked like we were thinking of misbehaving, she would dig her bony thumb deep into the flesh between our shoulder and neck and hold it there until she had slowly recited the class rules. She also made us stay in from recess once a week to listen to Bible stories. How I hated her. I saw her years later selling panties at Stripling's and Cox, barely ambulatory in what was surely her final decade. I remember thinking that evil made people live longer.

With each beginning of a new grade, there was hope that I would straighten up and fly right, that I would forsake my disruptive ways and fulfill my destiny as a posterchild for the success of the public school system. The principal and my new fifth grade homeroom teacher decided that, despite my love for clever potty humor and for sharing it during the pin-drop silence of spelling tests, I should be cultivated as a leader. With responsibility given to me, I would begin to walk the straight and narrow. I was offered my first job. Instead of enduring my regular social beat-downs at recess, I was given the task of tutoring first graders who had fallen way behind.

Walking to the first grade classroom from lunch was a grand moment in an otherwise miserable day. Where once I had trugged along the hallways, embarrased of my embroidered coulottes and greasy hair, I now held my head up high. As the only tutoring student, it was clear that all the teasing and harrassment I received daily was mere jealousy . I told myself: all those other kids now had nothing on me. I was no longer just a student, I was a member of the staff, possessed of authority and power. I would be a great teacher one day, and the rest of the snotnosed brats would collect my garbage at the curb.

My first student was a boy named Fred who just couldn't wrap his mind around either the social graces or the alphabet. He was smaller than the other first graders, and lacked all his teeth, and I wondered if someone had mixed up his birth records. He liked Snoopy and whispering the word 'shit' and snickering. My task was to make him understand that his success in society for the rest of his life hinged on understanding the words 'please' and 'thank you'. It seemed to be a simple enough lesson to me, and that my own mastery of the two words empowered me to pass this on to him. But it wasn't that simple.

I drew a picture for Fred of a stick figure holding a ball, and another stick figure saying, "May I please have the ball?" I explained---very thoroughly, I thought---the concept of politeness. I then drew the exchange of the ball, and Stick Figure Two saying "Thank You!". Both stick figures had wide grins, which I intended would show how politeness makes everyone happy. "Now, let's try," I said to Fred, putting a hand on his shoulder to make him stop squirming and giggling. "Let's pretend I have a ball, and you would like to see the ball for a while, what do you say?"
"Gimme the ball!" he declared.
"That's the old way. We wanna do it the new, polite way. Look at the picture. What do you say?"
He studied the picture for a second, then pulled at my shirt. I leaned in.
"Shitty shit." he whispered, then burst into laughter, covering the left side of my face with a fine spray of child spit.
Mrs. Baker, who had been working at her desk, came over and spoke a few stern words into Fred's ear, and he shriveled like a salted slug. She had her doubts, I knew, about the little guy, and about me. When she walked away, I felt I had to level with Fred.
I leaned in, with an eye on the retreating teacher. "Okay, sweetie, look. You gotta learn this stuff, so that Mrs. Baker gets off your case, and I gotta teach you this stuff, because I'm going to be a great teacher someday, and I need the practice. So what say we help each other out here?"
"Mrs Baker is shitty," he whispered.
"Yeah, she is. So do we have a deal?"
"Please-thank-you," he said.

As my slow but sure progress proved my competency, I was given another student, and I alternated in between them every other recess. My pupils adored me, and grinned like puppies when I came into the room. With this extracurricular responsibility, my own grades improved. I began to see a future forming ahead of me, one that would take me to heights at which I could look down upon my previous tormentors with sweet pity tinged with retribution. There was not only hope for me, but at last, a clear path to my destiny as The Most Intellegent, Capable Woman Ever To Walk The Earth. But thanks to the Bee Gees, it would all fall apart very soon.

2 Comments:

Blogger Mascorrolandia said...

Christ, Tee, this is bringing back some memories. Mrs. Ashburn haunts me, to this very day. I can still smell her, for chrissakes - and hear that unforgiving thwack of her pen on our impressionable, first-grade skulls. Not only was there that bony death-clinch of hers - remember how she'd also jerk on our ears, or thump our skulls if she didn't have a pen handy?

And not only did she violate our young psyches, she also totally violated the U.S. Constitution when she made us stay in from recess to hear those Bible stories. Was it really just once a week? I guess back then, those sessions seemed fucking endless to me. If we were the seedy, litigious types, we could go back and sue the FWISD for violating our civil rights. The statute of limitations has probably long since run dry, though, and besides that, we'd end up re-living all those other happy Meadowbrook moments with Mrs. Puckett and Mr. Morgan, too. No thanks.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that Ashburn was still alive, though. Because you're absolutely right about how it's always the most evil people who live the longest. Could it be their karmic retribution for all those years of hatefulness they brought into people's lives? I'm hoping that is is, that they're stewing in their own hatred for the rest of miserable-ass days, consumed with mental anguish, unable to shut off their minds as they rot in the hell of their own making and hopefully discover what it means to have a conscience. Yeah, right.

What childhoods, man. No wonder we're thirty-something miscreants on antidepressants. I know we're super-lucky compared to a lot of other chilluns out there, but with us, it was first the Puckett Experience, then Ashburn, and then the whole degrading experience of being bussed across town to Mitchell Boulevard. Were you taking the Ritalin during that period as well?

9:57 AM  
Blogger taj said...

Mrs. Ashburn was an undead cunt, and to this day I shudder when I think of her.

I honestly can't remember when I stopped taking the Kiddie Speed...but I think I took it through the Mitchell Blvd. years, 'cause that's the year they used to follow me into the cafeteria to make sure I didn't buy anything sugary...as if the sixty cents I got daily would cover the luxury of Twinkies! Phuukers!

OMFG, I'm totally using this as an entry later.

7:47 PM  

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