Tuesday, March 6, 2012
My seventh grade English teacher (we'll call her Mrs. B.) probably ate a cup of staples for breakfast every day. That would explain the constant look of misery etched into her manly face. She also wore men's clothes, had pictures of tigers all over her classroom, and was so quick to drop punishments that no one dared talk in her class. She also had strong beliefs about cheating, which copying someone else's homework fit into.
I couldn't help the fact that as a kid I was terrified of punishment. My dad was pretty quick to crack the whip--if I so much as accidentally bumped his glasses, all H-E-double-hockey-sticks broke loose. My mom's favorite kitchen accessory? The small wooden cutting board with a handle--aptly renamed The Paddle-board*.
So, the day when Mrs. B. stood in front of the class and stared us down with her staple-sharp glare, I sank low in my chair and started to sweat. "It has been brought to my attention that some of you have been cheating on your homework," she said, gaze sweeping over the classroom. "I know who you are. All of you!"
I could hardly breathe. Just that morning I had copied ONE answer from my best friend's assignment. ONE ANSWER!
"Raise your hand if you're guilty of cheating!" No one did. The whole class was dead silent. Mrs. B. tightened her glare, making one of her eyes go all squinty. And then, one by one, hands started going up until everyone in that room except me, a boy with no friends, and a girl with no friends, had their hands held limply up over their heads.
My two best friends, sitting on either side of me, turned and glared at me. "Raise your hand!" one of them hissed. I clasped my sweaty hands in my lap and stared at Mrs. B., too terrified to even move.
Mrs. B. crossed her arms over her flannel men's shirt and nodded. "I thought so. You're all a bunch of cheaters. The students with their hands up will take the final exam with no notes!"
That whole class period I wanted to barf. Every time my best friends looked at me, glared at me, I felt the bile rise a little higher up my throat. After class they approached me. "You are such a liar," one said. "If you don't tell Mrs. B. that you cheated too, we're never going to talk to you again."
I sat alone at lunch that day.
The next day my two best friends ignored me when I walked into class. Instead of going to my seat I dragged my feet up to Mrs. B's desk, hugged my books to my chest, and blurted, "I cheated! I'm a cheater!"
She studied me over a pair of manly reading glasses. "Your friends put you up to this didn't they? You're too nice of a girl to cheat."
I shook my head. "I cheated," I said again--which was the sad truth, even if I was a nice girl.
Mrs. B. shrugged. "Fine. You take the test with no notes like everybody else."
With the whole class staring at me, I made my way to my desk and looked at my friends for approval. They both turned their backs to me. When I talked to them, they played deaf. When the dismissal bell rang, they put their noses in the air and walked out of the room before I had my books in my bag.
The boy on my left, the boy who didn't cheat, looked at me and said, "It's kinda hard to cheat when you don't have any friends." I figured that one out for myself.
If you want to read more about my turbulent teen years, go here.
*Author's note: My mom rarely used The Paddle-board, mainly because I hid it every time I found it (and she'll probably read this). Best hiding place ever? Under the fluffy toilet-seat cover.