Tuesday, August 07, 2007

UV Lights, Madelaine, and Science

When last we visited 4th grade Ruthie Hammell was locked in a closet. The janitor Nick was soon to release her and we were soon to return to our classroom. In 4th grade I encountered something I'd never bumped up against before. Work.
Mr. McIntire was a harsh taskmaster. His tests were essay types. "Tell me all you know about the Civil War". His comments were brusk and nasty. He had no worries about public humiliation.
On top of this my childhood asthma jumped into high gear. And I wet the bed. And my father, in an effort to help me with my studies, got a lamp for my desk. Unwittingly he outfitted it with a UV bulb for plant growing. My eyes hurt each day following my arduous studies. I was forced to wear sunglasses even in the classroom. I was wheezing. I could barely compete in sports and when I did I was wearing shades. 4th Grade being a poor place for non-conformity this did nothing for my self esteem. I was shuttled to various doctors to determine the problem with my eyes. I kept saying I thought it was the light. Finally after months one doctor asked to see the bulb and solved that problem.
I still wet the bed. I still wheezed like a steam engine. I still failed class after class or more accurately muddled through. The only good part was all of us were just muddling through. There were no stars in Mr. McIntire's class. Though there was one pretender: Madelaine Pillings. She of the pixie collars and flounced skirts and turned up nose. If we knew the right language we would have called her by her right name: stuck up bitch. Sadly we just muttered under our breath: "Teachers Pet". Though this was not true.
For miraculously Mr. McIntire detested her right along with us. It was the first time in our little lives we realized adults might think and feel as we did. She was a little dickhead and he hated her right along with us. It's just that he had a job and couldn't torture her like we did.
Now, in retrospect, Madelaine might have been a fine and decent young woman. She may have grown up into a beautiful adult woman, had wonderful children and now lives in a great house with her husband, her kids and a dog named Waldo. But that seemed unlikely at the time. As unlikely as I would become a poet or play softball or ski or marry or stop pissing the bed.
The quintessential, well not really, Madelaine event was one afternoon when Mr. McIntire had to leave the room for some reason. He told us we must be good and he appointed Madelaine our monitor. He gave her permission to rat us out on his return. Sure as shit we were little monsters screaming and running wild and tormenting Madelaine. She was shrieking and crying and upon Mr. McIntire's return did just as he asked. Then he declined to punish us. Then she wept bitter tears. But they hate me! She cried. And hate her we did.
He looked at her and slowly, with great deliberation, said, "I feel for you Madelaine, here..." and fumbled about his body as though for his heart, "or here..." and fumbled again. She leapt from her desk and ran from the room in tears. We were in kid heaven.
This was not right. Mr. McIntire displayed little or no empathy. Madelaine was a rat. We were justly vindicated and walked home telling the story again and again. We tell it to this day on the sidewalk on the 4th of July. Like a Greek myth or a great lesson.
I went home that night and had an asthma attack. I wet the bed. I woke up and went back to school.

1 comment:

Karen said...

What was it about 4th grade, anyway? That's when I started having a hard time in school too. See you Mon at your reading.