Take the second grade when I was kept in during recess and grilled incessantly about stealing a piece of chocolate candy off the teacher’s desk.
My theft went like this: I took the little single piece of candy which was wrapped and placed in a jar on teacher’s desk. I was used to this as Mama’s friend Jane always kept candy in a jar for anyone to take. What did I know?
Then she discovered it was missing and that’s when it hit the fan. She made every second grader take out a little piece of paper and write either yes or no depending on your guilt. I wrote yes. And she slowly walked up and down each aisle of the class picking up each piece of paper and reading each one. When she got to mine, you would have thought she had discovered Little Black Sambo in her bedroom. She immediately called “recess” and everyone went outside except the guilty party, me.
She walked around the classroom and kept saying to me, “ I need to hear the words.” I had no damn idea what she was talking about! But she insisted I knew what to say. Don’t forget that at this point I am in the second grade and therefore, age 7. And she is carrying on like Mao-Tse-Tung trying to get a nuclear secret out of a worker in a rice patty.
I didn’t know what she wanted me to say! So I started talking, desperately hoping to hit on the right thing. This was a technique I would learn to perfect and use to my advantage in later years. First I said, “I’m sorry.” And she said, “No.” I went through the entire litany of every apology I could think of. I even said, “I apologize” and that didn’t do any good either. This whole terrorist tactic went on for what seemed like hours but was probably only twenty minutes. I kept ringing my hands because I was in misery because I had figured out that the teacher didn’t like me. This is an idea I carry with me to this very day. If someone is mad at me I think they hate my guts and when they finish raking me over the coals I will never see them again. Of course that isn’t true. Most people don’t carry grudges; notice I said “most people”.
But at that moment during recess I had figured that out. Probably took me forty years to digest that. Still I kept up saying things to the teacher, anything to get through with this terrorist ordeal.
I was in tears and probably had also messed in my pants when I finally hit upon “Please forgive me”. “That’s it”, she said, “that’s what I wanted to hear”. I expected the lights to change, the flag to unfurl up in the front of the classroom and the “Hallelujah Chorus” to come up out of the floor with the heavenly choir. I had already been to a few movies. None of that happened of course.
But I had paid the price. I was shamed into submission to her Christian DogmaTHON, a word I just made up. I was further terrified that she was going to tell Mama, but she never did.
Who ever heard of a second grader in 1950 saying “forgive me”?
It’s funny how those bitches up there on that long hall changed in the way they treated me in later years. When they realized I had some talent and brains, that I could bring pleasure with my music, they all wanted to be aligned in my cheering section. Talk about confusing, I didn’t know what the hell was going on when they later said, “You were the most talented and the best student my classroom. I knew you would be a success.”
Shit, why couldn’t they have given a kid a little encouragement when he needed it? That probably would have cost too much, huh? Never mind what being under their thumbs for all those years cost me.
Forgive? Yeah, mostly. Forget? Never.