RobbedPosted: June 4, 2008
Sarah found a handy and helpful book titled Thinking About Memoir and suggested we do writing prompts from it. I was more than ready. I’ve been stuck this week, sitting here in front of an empty screen. All of a sudden, I could remember nothing from my childhood. That’s no good when you’re writing a memoir. Sarah sent a few prompts after Sherry said, “Imagine yourself tossing a life preserver out into the big rolling ocean. We’re out there somewhere.”
Write two pages in which someone keeps her temper in check.
My rings are missing. I take them off during eighth grade P. E. and leave them on the steps in the gym. When I go back for them, they are not there. My friend Jilly helps me look. We have no luck.
One is a birthstone ring my dad gave me for Christmas. It has two twisted stones, blue sapphire for September, in a gold setting. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever had. The other is a “diamond” solitaire in a silver setting. It’s not really a diamond but it looks like one and makes me feel rich. I bought it at Ben Franklin’s Five and Dime for a dollar.
I am sick over the loss. I am sicker over the whole incident because I think I know who took them. I think the P. E. teacher has taken them and probably thrown them in the trash can. Why? Because she hates me.
Her name is Miss Ashley. She is young, just out of college, and beautiful. Dark olive skin. Big green eyes. Thick lips like Sophia Loren. Tall, with wide hips. She’s new to our school, and she tells us we have to take a shower after P. E. class. We have to remove our shorts and shirts and store them in a locker in the gym dressing room. We have to remove our bras and panties and get in a shower with no curtain, four or five girls at a time. This means all thirty girls in the class will see each other naked. We are not happy about this, to the point of serious grumbling and complaining. I am traumatized.
I tell my mother I do not want to do it. I cry, I worry, I dread going to class. She understands and because she is a teacher, she goes to the superintendent and asks for permission for me to skip the shower. I even have to go and explain to him why I don’t want to soap up and rinse off. I am deeply ashamed but decide it is worth it if it gets me out of baring myself in front of the class. The superintendent has mercy on me.
The teacher does not like this one bit. When I get my report card, there’s an F on it for P. E. It is not a small F either; it is a large red F. And under the Remarks section, it says DOES NOT COOPERATE IN CLASS. I am quiet, I obey all the rules, I play all the games, I wash my uniform every weekend. My only sin is not wanting to get undressed in front of the other girls. I don’t even do this in front of my sister at home.
Not only does Miss Ashley fail me, but she gives Jilly a C. Jilly is on the basketball team and is in good with the teacher. She’s an athlete and competent in gym class. Miss Ashley tells Jilly that if she keeps hanging out with me, she will get an F on her next six-weeks report.
“She’s going to punish every girl who is friends with you,” Jilly tells me.
“It’s not fair,” I say. Tears come quick, my jaws burn, my chin hardens like the shell of a turtle. My first impulse is to tell my mama what she is doing to me. And the superintendent needs to know how one of his teachers is acting toward a student. But I sense this would only make things worse, and I zip my lips.
“What’re we gonna do?” Jilly says. “She’s the teacher. She can do this. She will do this. She hates you. She said your mama didn’t have to go to the superintendent.”
“Tell her I can’t help what my mama does.”
“She said you didn’t have to make such a fuss. You could take a shower like the rest of the girls.”
Jilly takes a shower. She doesn’t care if people see her. She is big, and I am not. I have heard them talk about the girls who are not big, and I don’t want to be on that list. I’m thinking an F is worth it to stay off that list.
” What if I fail P. E. for the year?”
“I’ll talk to her. I’ll tell her you’re really mad at your mother for doing that, that you never wanted to be different, that you just want to fit in with all the other girls, and you are really, really upset.”
I am facing a real dilemma now, and it isn’t losing my rings. “Okay, tell her whatever you need to to make her leave me alone and not be mad at me any more or take away all my friends.”
The teacher never looks at me again, never smiles at me, never talks to me, but Jilly makes a B on her next report card. Then the next, she’s back to her regular A. I get a C. It is enough.