Monday, October 10, 2011
The Day I Got a Black Eye
I've always been a considerate person. I was the middle child, with brothers on either side, and I think that, combined with my anxiety disorder, has made me very sensitive to other people. It also made me terrified of conflict. Mostly because "conflict" with my older brother usually meant fist fights - which weren't so bad in and of themselves (I knew how to stick up for myself, at least), but my parents' solution to our fighting was to lock us together in the tiny half bath in the hallway until we could hug for twenty seconds (the arbitrary time limit necessary to reflect forgiveness, love, and a willingness to get along in the future). It was awful. We'd sit there and stew for upwards of 30 minutes, filling the bathroom with an excessive air of loathing until we could finally agree to endure the "hug of freedom" without biting or pulling each other's hair.
So I (nervously) started Kindergarten. My teacher was Mrs. Sturm. I'll remember her name forever (and not because, when we moved back to South Dakota, I ended up going to high school with her daughter), but because of this incident. There is no warmth in my heart for this woman.
I was in afternoon Kindergarten, so we got to school right when the older kids were finishing lunch. Everyone was out at recess when we'd get dropped off, and if we got there early, we could run around the school yard for a bit, too, until the bell rang.
One of my first days of Kindergarten (or maybe it was in the middle or the end; I honestly can't remember, but it feels to me like my entire year of Mrs. Sturm was tainted by this moment, so my impression is that it happened early in the year), I got to school early and was playing in the school yard for a few minutes when the bell rang. I knew we weren't supposed to run, so I was walking quickly to get in line (the rest of my class seemed like they were already lined up, and I was terrified I would get in trouble if I didn't get there soon). I remember seeing them all lined up against the brick wall, waiting to walk inside in single file, with Mrs. Sturm at the head of the line.
All my little Kindergarten daily hopes were swirling around in my head. It was going to be such a good day. We were going to make macaroni necklaces or paper bag shoes or some other kind of magic Kindergarten craft. And mine was going to be perfect. Just the right shapes. In all the right colors.
Life was an amazing box of crafts, waiting for me to get in that line.
Then out of no where - everything went black.
I opened my eyes again to find myself on the ground, next to a big kid. A 5th grader. She was easily twice my size. And she was bawling hysterically, holding her knee.
My whole body ached slightly, the wind had been knocked out of me, but after a quick self-check, I seemed mostly fine. Except my head. It really hurt.
But this big, huge, athletic, strong, brave 5th grader next to me was sobbing. The tiny scratch on her knee was starting to bead little red drops of blood. Since I seemed to be okay, and she was clearly not, I did the only thing I could think of to help.
"Are you okay?" I asked her meekly.
She looked right in my face - and let loose another wail of wildly over-exaggerated pain. Then a teacher swooped in to help her stand up. Odd that no one was helping me up, seeing as how I was only the size of this girl's leg, but I was tough. I stood up, rubbed my head where it ached, and walked over to my Kindergarten line.
Oh yeah! Crafts were waiting for me in that line! It was going to be a good day, in spite of this little set back. So a gigantic person tried to run me over. I can get over that! I was clearly more polite (and tougher) than her. I could just shake it off and get on with my life. And back to my fantasies of Kindergarten crafts.
I got in the back of the line and waited for us to start walking in.
Then a shadow crossed my face.
I looked up to see a scowling Mrs. Sturm standing in front of me with her arms on her hips.
"Are you hurt?" she asked in a voice that clearly implied she was only asking out of a sense of obligation as my teacher.
"My head -" I started.
"You know the rules. You're not supposed to run in the school yard.
That's what happens when you run."
Those words have haunted me my entire life. "That's what happens when you run."
But I wasn't running! I was walking quickly! The monstrous, Nordic beast of a 5th grader had been running! I was just trying to get in line when she came out of nowhere and knocked me out flat! Why didn't Mrs. Sturm see the truth?! I would NEVER do something that was against the rules!!
I tried to protest, but she just ignored me and walked to the front of the line to lead us inside for the day.
The daily crafts were tainted by my shame. I couldn't believe I'd let Mrs. Sturm down like that. She must have been so disappointed in me. Even though I didn't run, she thought I had. My life was essentially over; a teacher was disappointed in me. I would never be able to outlive this shame.
As the day wore on, my head began to hurt more and more. I could feel a lump rising right above my eyebrow (hidden conveniently under my stylish bangs), but I didn't dare bring it to Mrs. Sturm's attention - it was my punishment - my cross to bear.
"That's what happens when you run."
After an hour or two, we had a routine bathroom break. I got a drink of water from the water fountain, wiped my mouth, and with the excess water, I wiped my forehead, which was throbbing by this point. I must have moved my bangs out of the way right as I walked back into the classroom, because Mrs. Sturm's face contorted as she watched me.
"Oh no..." the breath escaped her. "Let me see your head."
I lifted up my bangs, showing that the tiny scratch on my cheek was not the only injury I'd sustained in our head-on collision.
"Go straight to the nurse's office. Now."
I ran down the hall to the nurse, where she examined me quickly, handed me an ice pack and said, "well, that's going to be a black eye. You should have come in right away so I could have gotten ice on it sooner."
More disappointment. More shame. How could I be letting so many people down today? All the macaroni necklaces in the world couldn't get the foul taste of shame and self-loathing out of the back of my throat.
My eye did turn black, but it wasn't too bad. It healed, as did the Amazon 5th grader's knee, I assume. But the sense of failure at letting my teacher down never did.
In high school, Mrs. Sturm would often come to sporting events, because her daughter was a cheerleader. I remember watching all my other friends from Kindergarten (who'd gone to the same schools with each other since then - where as I moved away for seven years - to Maryland) rush up to her to say hi. They had such fond memories of her.
But not me. "That's what happens when you run." You disappoint your teachers. You bring down a great 5th grade Viking of a girl. You get an emotional black eye on your soul that you must bear for all time.
THAT is what happens when you run.