I have not watched the video going around of the Grandma who was bullied on the school bus. I’ve seen the links, I’ve heard people mention it in conversation, I just don’t have a desire to watch this incident on video. Whatever happened, I’m sure it’s terrible. Terrible. Terrible.
When people talk about it, the topic always goes toward the “When I was that age, we would have never...” angle. I absolutely agree. As a kid, I wouldn’t have DARED to ever speak to an adult that way.
Except for that one time.
I grew up in Maine. Mid coast Maine, to be more precise. A place where 20 towns funneled kids into one Jr. High and High School building. Where we rode for an hour on the bus through hills and cow fields and farms and woods just to get to school. Yes, horrible bullying happened ALL THE TIME on the bus. But that’s not what this story is about.
When I entered 8th Grade, I had the same classes as my friend, Jana. We went to the same elementary school. She had moved away and came back, and when we got to 8th Grade we somehow decided we were total best friends. We both had “J” names. We both were a bit more...ahem...mature than the average student. We were both kind of poor. We wore the same bra size. We were “Double J with the Double D’s.” We were big, tough bitches.
English class was the best part of our day.We had a sassy male teacher. Very tall, handsome, and very connected to the students. Mr. C. was the teacher who had us do “Free Writes” where we could write about ANYTHING WE WANTED every couple of days. We turned in our papers (yes, we wrote on notebook paper back in the day) and would get it back the next day with handwritten notes from Mr. C. all along the margins. If the writing was too personal, you simply folded it and stapled it closed. He promised not to read it, but you still received credit. He was that cool.
One day, Jana and I were sitting in class with Mr. C. The topic came up about his roommate, who worked with Jana’s mom at the local food Co-Op (read: hippy hangout). Along with being big, tough bitches, Jana and I were a bit sassy ourselves. We started giggling about SOMETHING, who knows what, and started to harass Mr. C.
“Hey, Mr. C...”
“We know about you.”
“What about me?”
“You know....” Snicker.
“No, I don’t know.”
“Well, we know. We know what you did.”
“And what exactly did I do?”
“You know...hee hee.”
Now at this point in the conversation, Jana and I are pulling a fast one on Mr. C. This was what we thought was a funny game, instigating others into the bitchy back-and-forth that is so common among friends. Not connecting it to Mr. C’s “roommate” or anything about his personal life. Just giggling and being bitches. That’s all.
“No, I don’t know.”
“Well, we know, and we’ve seen the pictures.”
Giggle. “Yeah, the pictures...of...of...your tattoo!” [Grasping for straws at this point].
“CLASS DISMISSED. Except for you two. Stay in your seats.”
The class got up and left, and Jana and exchanged eye rolls and giggles. Mr. C. walked the last student to the door and shut it firmly. He turned on his heel with a face of fury and put his hands on his hips, walking pointedly toward us as our eyes grew wider and wider.
“ALL RIGHT YOU LITTLE BITCHES FROM HELL, TELL ME WHAT IT IS YOU THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT ME.”
I’m sure we giggled nervously, as 8th Grade girls do. I’m sure we exclaimed something about not knowing anything about Mr. C. or anything about his life. We assured him we did not have pictures of anything, and, well, did he really have a tattoo?
He did. A teal-ish and orange tiger under his belly button. He reluctantly showed us and we gasped as students do when they learn personal things about their teacher.
After that day, nothing changed in English class. Well, one thing. When we wrote our weekly “Free Writes” Jana and I signed them with little hearts, saying, “From, the little bitch from Hell #1 (or #2)." We were still tough bitches, but we knew we probably shouldn’t play a bluffing game with teachers.
When I think back on this incident, I don’t categorize it in any way as being inappropriate. Our school was a different kind of environment. The kind of school where a kid could go hunting over the weekend and come to school with a gun on the rack of his truck on Monday morning. A place where you could sneak out back of the gym into the woods and smoke if you wanted. A place where you might catch teachers swearing under their breath if they stub their toe, or maybe, if you asked nicely, they would show you their kick-ass tiger tattoo.
Mr. C. was one of the most influential people in my young life. I couldn’t tell you what he did that was so amazing, or why I related to him, but I do know when he moved to Key West to become a realtor with his “roommate,” he was missed. So much so that when I visited Key West three years later, I randomly looked him up in the local phone book. He answered when I called and we arranged a lovely visit together. I don’t remember much about it, except for my aunt saying something about “they gays” on Duval Street, and he laughed and put his hand on her shoulder and said, “You mean like me?”
When Jana died unexpectedly in a car accident on the first day of our Senior year in high school, to say I was in shock would be an understatement. I had lost my better, tougher, bitchier half.
In the aftershock of those dark, terrible days, a van pulled into my driveway. A delivery person emerged with a giant bouquet of yellow roses. From Mr. C...all the way in Key West. How he knew or how he arranged to send me flowers, my 17 -year-old brain couldn’t fathom.
I sat down and cried on my front porch, holding those yellow roses. Once again the “little bitch from hell” called him out of the blue, and once again he answered.