The cloakroom, with its green swinging door, evokes memories of your threats. Many a friend of mine was sent to its dark depths not to be seen again for the rest of the day. Your threatening yardsticks stood ready in every corner. On a massive wooden table at the back of the room, you arranged piles of pictures from magazines and greeting cards. When we finished what seemed to be never ending assignments, we could tiptoe to the table and choose a picture to draw. Drawing was one of my favorite things, so I worked diligently to earn the privilege.
I remember with agony one time in particular. I was working on a drawing, lost in the happiness of pastels and textured paper, when I suddenly felt a sharp stabbing pain in the back of my neck. You were standing behind me, and your long, shiny-red thumbnail was digging into my flesh. I sat motionless, not uttering a sound, as you whispered to me to do better. The stabbing continued as I tried desperately to improve my work. You finally left me. As you walked to the front of the room, tears filled my eyes. But I didn’t dare cry. When I got home, I told my mom. Soon after my dad came home, he got into the car to pay you a visit.
And what about the time June threw up all over her desk. I gagged and looked away. June was so sick, but you made her go find the janitor and bring back a bucket and rag. Then you stood with your hands on your hips as June struggled to clean up the mess.
I remember many things about that horrible year. During recess, you’d stand at the window and rap with disapproval every few minutes. There was the time you lied to me about that “candy’’ machine on the wall in the ladies’ bathroom. And I remember how you’d constantly pick on Jeffrey. If I had been him, I’d have stayed at home.
With all the bad times, I still can’t imagine why I helped you with that bird. It flew in the window that spring day, and we all sat quietly and watched as you ran from perch to perch with your trusty yardstick. You looked quite ridiculous as you hurried around the room chasing that bird. None of us moved or said a word. It perched on the map case at the front of the room. As you approached, the bird flew directly at me. I don’t know what made me do it, maybe pity for you, but I jumped out of my seat and grabbed the bird with both hands. I held on and sat down. You calmly walked over and instructed me to take it outside as if it were a regular assignment. I did, and when I returned, it was business as usual.
I am a teacher now; I teach 4th grade. The desks aren’t nailed down, and they aren’t in rows. Either the janitor or I clean up the accidents, and there is no dark cloakroom. I bite my fingernails, and the yardsticks are used only for measuring. I hope I am making some good memories for my students. --Karen Scipioni
A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1992 edition of Teacher as Bad Memory