Saturday, February 12, 2011

Invisibility is a Gift

It's been a bad couple of days at work.  Stressful.  Painful.  Ridiculous.

For some reason, I keep associating it with something that happened when I was small.

This childhood memory also explains part of the reason that I would be the WORST CRIMINAL EVER.

A long, long, time ago, back when I was in the first grade and living in Glenwood Spings, I was dishonest about something.

OK, that sounds lame.  Kids can be randomly dishonest.  I understand that.  But I was seriously a goodie two shoes.  Believe it or not, when I was in the first grade, I was one of those silly girls in the frilly dresses and patent leather shoes and perfect little braids who usually got A's and was arrogant and cruel in the way that little girls can be and I never, ever broke the rules.  Ever.  I didn't like to hurt people's feelings on purpose, it was more of an innocent cruelty, which almost makes it worse.

Anyway, on this particular day, we were in school filling out worksheets.  This is not the incident where I did the entire assignment in mirror image because I accidentally picked up my pencil with the wrong hand, scaring the crap out of everyone that I was dyslexic or something, this was something far more nefarious.

The problem was that I was filling out the worksheet with a dull black crayon, even though the teacher told us to use a pencil.  It was a little packet of papers that we were doing in class held together by a paper clip.

And I messed something up.

Some scribbling and smeared black crayon later, I realized there was no room for me to write the correct answer, because I was writing so big with the crayon.  It was horrible.

I was also one of those little girls that cried at the drop of a hat.  OK, maybe I still get misty-eyed at the occasional Hallmark commercial, but it was crazy when I was little, and I would hyperventilate over a missing brown crayon or if someone took my jump rope (even it it wasn't actually mine, but belonged to the class).  I also really really really hated crying because I have never been a pretty crier, but one of those blotchy-skinned-red-rimmed-eye-frayed-hair monsters when I cried.

So I was looking at this completely messed up worksheet, and I could feel a familiar pressure behind my eyes and a tightness in my throat as I struggled to keep from falling apart.  I may have had some kind of anxiety.


I picked up the paper, thinking I could hide it, or throw it away and pretend it was missing from the packet, when I realized the paper underneath was exactly the same.  The teacher had accidentally given me two copies of the same worksheet in the packet.

I pulled out my pencil and quickly filled it out, with all the corrections.  It was perfect.

But what should I do with the bad one?  I couldn't stand up and throw it away.  Everyone would know.

My solution was simple.

There were two other Laura's in my class. The one that sat closest was Laura W.

Laura W. was actually my friend at the time.  She was another frilly pink girl, only she had this wonderful permanent and died her hair red that year (something like Little Orphan Annie).  I was insane with jealousy about it because suddenly my almost white blond hair that hung in straight perfection wasn't interesting anymore.

I took my black crayon and crossed out the "K" in Laura K, and put in a "W".  I glanced around, not looking suspicious at all, and then put the paper face down on the floor, kicking it slightly in my patent leather shoes  and pushed the paper into the center of the aisle.

I then proceeded to work on page 2 of the packet, pretending innocence.

Within moments, Mrs. M. spotted the paper on the floor and picked it up.

I concentrated on my assignment.

"Whose is this?" she said.

Whose is what? I thought, It isn't mine, obviously.  It doesn't have my name on it.

"Laura?" she said.  My head snapped up.  She was looking at Laura W.

"I didn't do it," she said.  "Someone," she looked at me, "must have crossed out their name and tried to blame me.  I'm using a red marker."  She held up her hands to prove it, her fingers speckled with bloody red ink.

"It wasn't meeeee," I said, trying to look as innocent as possible, "Someone put the wrong answer right there," I pointed.  "Besides, mine is right here."

A boy in the class who sat behind me said, "Well, someone crossed out the old letter.  They're trying to frame Laura W."  The little know-it-all.

"Or maybe," I said, feeling desperate, "Maybe they messed up the W the first time and tried again. That's what you get when you don't use pencil."

Laura W. looked daggers at me.

"Can I see it, Mrs. M.?" the little know-it-all said.

She smiled and handed him the paper.  He turned it a little in the light.  "You can almost make it out..." he said.  I drummed my fingers, and he glanced up at me, then back to the paper.  "I think it's a C," he said, "See how it curves?"

Mrs. M. turned to look across the room.  Laura C. hadn't been paying attention, still working on her paper.  I remember she was "weird".  

"Laura C.?" Mrs. M. said, "Is this yours?"

Laura C.'s chin wrinkled up, "N..n...Noooooooooooo?" she burst into tears.

I was close to tears at this point, too, but I valiantly tried to hold onto my lie.  What excuse would work?  Maybe it was from another class...?  There was a Laura S. in the other class... Or.. or... "Maybe Laura W messed up and then tried to put a C over her name, and then felt bad and put it back to W."

"It isn't mine!" Laura W. said, starting to cry, too.

"Stop," Mrs. M. said.  Girls and boys were crying all over the room at this point.  "It's OK, everyone.  No one is in trouble.  Just go back to work."

Mrs. M. had one of those calming and authoritative voices that are also vaguely motherly and required for teaching small children.

The room was quiet in moments, nothing more said.  Mrs. M. crumpled up the paper and tossed it in the trash.

For a moment I was exhilarated.  I was amazed that I had gotten away with it.  The next moment I felt horrible, and cried quietly at my desk while I filled out the rest of the worksheets.

I was also shocked that on my report card the teacher put "intimidates other children" about my behavior.  It never occurred to me that the little know-it-all behind me was scared of me.  He did cut my hair in art class some time later.  I thought he just liked me.  And Mrs. M. wasn't fooled for a second.

So anyway... this memory keeps coming up this week.  Some deep repressed guilt?  I'm sorry, Laura W. from something that happened 28 years ago!  Is that it?


I know.

Because work has been horrible, and all I want to do is cross my name off of my account, and pretend it's someone else's responsibility.  But I can't because if I do Laura W. will push me off the swings at recess.

Maybe it would be better if I just cried.


LTD said...

Wonderfuly written.

Now Laura K you can put that black crayon back in it's box! Your work is beautiful.


P.S. Thanks for your comment on my blog. I'm not sure how that blog post got on the front page of my blog. It was from one year ago.

Glad you liked the photo anyway, but just in case you came back looking for it I wanted to let you know I put it back where it was intended on February 12, 2010.

Anonymous said...

so poignant! i remember some cruel things i did as a child--children can be little shits! anyway, so enjoying all your stories! i LOVED the groundhog cake by the way--very alienesque but no doubt scrumptious! oh, its kami again