Mrs. Waltz wore sensible clothes and sensible shoes. She always had on a light-colored blouse with a conservative print, usually with a bow collar. Her skirts were mid-calf length in a muted tan or forest green. She wore nude nylons down to her practical, sturdy-heeled shoes, probably Clarks or some other brand that centered itself on practicality. Her hair was always tightly curled, suggesting that she slept in small curlers and a hair net. She likely had a diligent evening routine that involved setting her hair just so.
Mrs. Waltz’ personality was stern, but fair. She gave equal treatment to all of us in our second grade class. I didn’t get into any more trouble than any of the other kids.
There was one instance, though, where I found myself needing to go to the bathroom several times throughout the day. It was unusual, as I don’t remember ever having to go to the bathroom as frequently as I did that day. As an eight-year-old child, I was especially self-conscious about my personal business. I had to raise my hand, wait to be called upon and then ask Mrs. Waltz for a bathroom hall pass every single time.
After the third or fourth trip to the girls’ room, Mrs. Waltz asked me in front of the whole class why on earth I needed to go to the bathroom so often. But that was Mrs. Waltz. She was used to a certain bathroom cadence from the children in her classroom. When the pattern broke, she was going to notice. She was simply being sensible.
A friend and I were sitting at the front of the school bus. We were right behind the first row, where two parent chaperones sat. Our first grade class was getting ready for a field trip. We were all in high spirits, chattering away, laughing and giggling at each other’s little kid jokes.
One of the chaperones, Mrs. K – the mother of my first elementary school crush – stood at the front of the bus, looking back at all of us, doing a head count. She then attempted to shush us in order to give us instructions for what to do when we arrived at our destination. Her attempts went unnoticed.
After a minute or two, her head turned towards me and my giggling counterpart. Her eyes were as dark as coal, focused only on me. Her lips were a thin, tight line. I held her gaze for a good few seconds. She was clearly unhappy…but with me? Just me? Out of all the happy, shouting kids, all of whom were ignoring her attempts to quiet us down, why did she single me out with her cold glare?
We were in the second grade, lining up at our classroom door to make the trek through our narrow halls, single file, to gym class. Somewhere in line, Gregory – the kid whose head was shaped like the Panic Pete stress toy – tossed out some snide comments about girls. Another classmate, Christopher, overheard the comments and responded with, “I think boys and girls can do everything equally.”
I remember smiling at this kid who I didn’t know very well. He was one of the nicer kids in class. All of a sudden, I had a newfound respect for him, because I began writing a story in my head about how Christopher was the kind of kid who would stand up for what was right. It must have been a very short story because I don’t recall any other memories of him after that day.
In the third grade, there was a period of time where I helped out in the copy room. I ran basic copy jobs and refilled paper when necessary. My third grade self took great pride in my work. I loved the smell of freshly printed paper. I also found great satisfaction in bringing a gigantic machine roaring to life by pushing just a few buttons.
I remember teachers giving me praise for my work, on two separate occasions. A teacher would come to the secretary’s office and describe a copy job to be done. I responded by refilling the paper tray and pushing the requisite buttons. Each time, with the kind of enthusiasm teachers reserved for little kids, I was given a compliment.
“How efficient!” they exclaimed in a syrupy tone.
When I recall this memory now, I wonder why the details are so clear in my mind. Perhaps there was an inflection in the teachers’ voices that struck me as odd. Or maybe it’s my secret calling to duplicate grayscale images in a suburban Chicago elementary school.
When I was in the fourth grade, my nose started bleeding and I had to go to the nurse’s office. It was wintertime in Chicago. The air was dry and I was prone to the occasional nose bleed.
In the nurse’s office, I was soaking up tissues upon tissues with bright, red blood. I was mildly alarmed, but I liked our nurse enough and was comforted by her presence. Her name was Paula. Her dry humor made me laugh. She was also the mother of the class clown.
We tried all the medical and personal home remedies Paula could think of: a small wad of tissue under my upper lip, an ice pack on the nape of my neck…even laying me on my back, which caused me to swallow more blood than I ever cared for. Eventually, we sat me back up with yet another fresh wad of tissue pressed against my gushing nose.
After almost an hour of sitting in her office, Paula held up a soda* can and, in her thick Chicago accent, said, “Look. The most you’re gonna bleed is about as much as this soda can.” Her reassurance was a bit alarming, but in a way, put me at ease. At least then I knew the bleeding was going to stop at some point, just not until I bled enough to fill a 12 ounce soda can. There was an end in sight. Knowing it helped me feel a little bit better.
My nose finally let up a half an hour later. Paula sat with me through it all.
*Note: I went back and forth on “pop” versus “soda”. I grew up in Chicago saying “pop” but since I’ve lived in different areas and have had the argument too many times to count, I decided to use the term I currently adopt in my everyday speech: soda.