Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sixth Grade Assassin

Three days into sixth grade, my three friends and I had already decided that we didn't like Miss Flemke. I think her voice was a big reason. When she addressed the class at large, she sounded pleasant enough. But, when she focused on transgressions by we boys, her voice seemed to take on a quality reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Although adolescence was still but a rumble on the railroad tracks, we all agreed that our teacher had one bitchin' body. We liked Miss Flemke's body. We just didn’t like Miss Flemke.

Miss Flemke once asked me to stay after school to talk. She felt that Alan, Doug, and Tim, the guys I hung out with, weren’t a good influence on me. “You should be better about handing in your homework. Those three never hand in homework. They’ll all probably be high school dropouts. Is that what you see in your future?”

I had to agree that she had a point. My three buddies didn’t seem destined for material success. But they were entertaining, and they were cool. I wanted to be cool too.

Miss Flemke seemed visibly disappointed when I kept hanging out with Alan, Doug, and Tim. Soon, when one of us got on her bad side, we all fell on her bad side. She started keeping us after school, with some regularity. My mom called to find out why I was kept late so often, and Miss Flemke told her, in unflinching detail.

Miss Flemke’s standing, in my eyes, deteriorated all the more.

Once, Alan, Doug, Tim and I spent an entire week staying after school. It really irritated us that Miss Flemke wasn’t even hanging around to release us. Instead, the male teacher in the next classroom, who appeared to be quite sweet on our dear teacher, would open the door, sneer at us, and bark, “YOU MAY GO HOME NOW.”

On the fourth day of our week of captivity, the janitor came in while we sat there biding time. When he left, I hatched a plan. “Hey guys, let’s give Flemke a good scare.” “How?” asked Alan.

Our classroom had a sort of stand-alone walk-in closet in the middle-back of the room. It had a roof over it, and a door that was usually locked, at least when we four reprobates were serving our time.

“I’ll put a chair on the top of the closet, with the backrest handing over the top of the door," I continued. "If she doesn’t see it, it’ll make lots of noise when it hits the floor.” “What if it hits her?” asked Doug. “Even better,” answered Alan. We all laughed. We were not be trifled with. We were some baaaaaddd dudes.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. An image of the chair falling from the top of the closet and onto our teacher’s head kept running through my mind. I told myself I was being silly, that even as short as Miss Flemke was, she’d surely see the chair. Hey, it was just a joke.

“That chair could break her neck,” said a small, scared inner voice.

Usually, when insomnia would strike, I’d turn on the bedside lamp and read. Instead, I got up and sat in the living room, trying to keep the image of a hospitalized Miss Flemke out of my head. I jumped a foot out of the chair when my mom said, “Honey, what’s the matter?” from behind me. “Nothing, Mom. Can’t sleep.” “Well, don’t stay up too late,” said Mom as she walked to the kitchen to get a glass of water. When she walked back through, she stopped at my chair. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

And yes, I did want to tell her. I wanted to tell her about that chair, hanging over the doorway of the closet. I wanted to plead with her to drive me to the school, so I might leave a warning note for Miss Flemke.

I said nothing.

The next morning, it took great effort to avoid betraying a sense of relief when I saw our teacher, alive, apparently well, and walking about without a neck brace. Alan, Doug, and Tim looked relieved, too. Still, Miss Flemke acted reserved through the day, and seemed to avoid looking at us. Then, at the end of the day came the announcement we expected. “Alan, Tim, Doug, and Hal, stay here after the class is dismissed.”

We knew that it wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to determine that one of us had put that chair on the closet, but we had sworn a solemn oath to each other that none of us would turn rat. Then, all three male teachers in our school walked through the door, looking very serious, and very angry.


I looked at our teacher. She was weeping. Then she left the classroom.

“She’s supposed to be mad,” I thought. Yes, mad was what we were looking for. Not . . . wounded. Not scared.

For the next two weeks, the male teachers tried to get us to spill who’d actually lifted the chair onto the closet. I expected them to zero in on me, since I was the tallest in the class, but instead, they seemed to focus on Alan. Alan had spent time in juvenile hall for shoplifting, and had been the only kid in our school to get caught smoking on the grounds. He was, understandably, the prime suspect. I felt both relieved and guilty that Alan had become the most likely suspect, while Alan seemed to revel in the attention.

One day, after several days of after-school interrogation, we walked to the corner together before heading our separate ways. Our ordeal was getting really tiresome. “Look guys, this has gone on long enough,” I blurted, not really knowing where the words were coming from. “I’ll tell them I did it, and get this over with.” “Hell no,” answered Alan. “We’ve stuck it out this far; f**k giving up now!” Tim and Doug agreed. I felt proud of my friends for sticking by me, and relieved. But, I felt all the more disappointed in myself, because I’d let a chance to make things right slip through my fingers.

That night, while in bed, I cried tears of shame. Still, I felt a renewed determination not to break. I wanted to keep the approval of my friends.

I don’t believe that Miss Flemke felt that Alan was the prime suspect. There was something about the way she’d look at me, a knowing look that seemed to say, “you’re not fooling me.” Yet, it wasn’t anger I saw in her eyes. It was more of a pained confusion, and sadness. It was much worse than anger.

The teachers gave up. We got one last stern talk--including how lucky we were that the police hadn't been involved--before the teachers gave up on sweating the truth out of us. In the aftermath, we became heroes among the badass loser clique at our school.

Alan, Doug, and Tim went to different high schools, so I didn’t see much of them after junior high. I never heard much about Doug, except that he’d dropped out of high school. Tim also dropped out, went into the Air Force, and was kicked out after a year.

Alan graduated from high school, but he was arrested for stealing a car the summer after graduation. He did jail time, and then was arrested for raping a young woman a few months after his release. The charges were dropped. He committed suicide at the age of twenty-one.

I'd like to tell you that, years later, I sought out Miss Flemke to confess my misdeed, and to offer a heart-felt apology. I did no such thing. Instead, I told myself that I’d just been a dumb kid, and the whole episode hadn’t been such a big deal.

I would believe myself, too, until I remembered that look in her eyes.


Redlefty said...

Even the best of us have had our dark times, to be sure.

Do you think your life would have turned out any differently if she had reacted with the expected anger?

jeanie said...

A lesson she was no doubt not intending to have to teach - but it sounds like you learned a lot from it, especially about who you were and who you wanted to be.

debby said...

Interesting question, Redlefty. I wonder.

I'm glad you turned from the dark side, Hal. May the force be with you.

Hal Johnson said...

I've often wondered myself. Was that event a major crossroad in my life? I think it was. It may not have given me a spot-on direction in life, but it showed me who I didn't want to be.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my! This is an interesting story! It obviously had quite an effect (affect? I get those two mixed up!) on you. I, too, am glad you turned from the "dark side"!

I think you should post this as a pearl on PS.


Keith said...

Facing up to the horrible things I did when I was younger did not change the sadness over the times I could have come clean with people I had hurt, with the things I "got away with". I looked at my fear as cowardice.

It is amazing how, then, we amend our behavior in the hopes of sculpting a virtuous life, grateful for the things that did not turn out worse than they did.

It is a true blessing that Miss Flemke was not hurt.

I am grateful I read this story.

Uncle E said...

Funny how these things stay with us, shape us, as the other commentors have stated.
We had a 4th grade teacher who had dandruff something awful, plus she was just...plain...mean.
Us reprebates all bought black binders so when we called her over we could make fun of the "snow falling".
We even went so far as to give her a bottle of Head and Shoulders shampoo for Christmas.
Terrible little cretins that we were. We did more stuff, and she eventually went on a leave of absence. Back then it was a badge of honor. Now it's a shameful, regrettable memory.

Mary Paddock said...

I don't know about you, but recalling the things I did when I was younger (and some of those memories still make me cringe), helps me to be a lot more patient with others (adults, teens, and kids).

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, I have goose bumps after reading this! Hal, I think we all have cringe-worthy memories from our youth. I'm sure I do.

I also look back and see why my parents disapproved of many of friend or boyfriend choices.

This was amazing, as are all your writings!


Bob Barbanes said...

Holy cow. I mean holy friggin' cow! What a story! And what a little shit you were! Ahh, the things that go into who we are, and that shape us into the adults we become.

The difference between you and me is that you admit them.

But who says kids don't have consciences? Glad to see you did/still do.

Hal Johnson said...

The country-rock group Ozark Mountain Daredevils put out a song with the refrain, "If you wanna get to heaven, you gotta raise a little hell."

How often I ponder the struggle most us face, that struggle between light and dark. Especially, it seems, in our formative years.

Truly evil people are rare, I've come to believe. Yep, evil people are out there. But, they're greatly outnumbered by simply bad people, those who took a dark fork in too many of life's crossroads.

Aw crap, I'm getting too heavy for myself.

Bob said...

Somebody tipped me off about this story, Hal, and it lived up to the hype. Great job! I am sure Miss Flemke is telling the story about the little hooligans to her grandchildren! And it was probably a blessing that you parted company with those guys.

Algernon said...

Great story!