Realization of a Kindergartener

[Author’s note—This is the first memoir I wrote in college (warts and all), for Professor Francine Jewett in an Advanced Composition course. It’s based on a real incident where a male teacher, Mr. Dixon, bullied me violently at Katz Corner kindergarten school just outside of Sauk Village, Illinois, in 1979. He about yanked my arm out of the socket when he picked me up off the ground, and I still clearly remember the traumatic incident. I was reminded of it again when I recently saw this video of a kindergarten teacher violently lifting up and shaking a six-year-old. Let me be as clear and succinct as I possibly can…I am addressing adult teachers who have students who are children…ahem…KEEP YOUR STINKING HANDS OFF THE KIDS!!…use your words…goddammit.—SG)

Three hawks circle above the tree line off in the distance. It’s still pretty early in the morning. I’m not really sure if I’m imagining them or not. I’ve never seen a real hawk, except on a TV screen. The three creatures have each chosen an individual path to circle around. Sometimes, one bird will pass another one and it looks like their massive wings touch as they do. It’s like they’re tracing a giant Mobius loop across the sky.

“Hey, Mom.” I suddenly perk up as I gaze out the car window. “Look out there,” I say.

Mom takes her eyes off the country road for a moment to look where I’m pointing. “Look where?” she asks.

“Out there. See those birds flying out there?”

She furrows her brow and shades her eyes from the sun for a moment, then returns to the task of driving. “Yeah, OK. I see them,” she says.

“Those are hawks, right?” I know the answer, but I ask anyway.

“Think so.”

“They’re so cool. Can we catch one before we get to school?”

“Sure, dear.” She smiles to let me know that she’s not serious.

I gaze longingly at the ballet the hawks dance through the morning sky. They can go wherever they want to go, and for some strange reason, they chose this backwater Chicago suburb as their stage. Onward they fly though, oblivious to the increasingly nervous five-year-old who witnesses their performance through the window of his mother’s Nissan minivan.

“Mom, do you think I can just go with you to that orchard this morning instead of going to school?” I ask. I never take my eyes off of my defiantly free birds.

“Honey, you asked me that earlier. Do you think I’m just going to let you play hooky whenever you want to?”

I don’t respond. I know I can’t change her mind, but I’m always willing to give a good effort.

“You used to like to go to school. What happened?” she asks.

I turn and watch out the back window and see the hawks disappear over the tree line, free to roam where they wish. I continue to look out the back a little longer because I know that the Katz Corner Kindergarten building has come into view and I don’t feel ready to acknowledge its existence. I’m going to be early because my Mom decided to drop me off instead of letting me ride on the bus. Her little field trip takes her right by the school. And she’s all about quality time, even if it is just for a half hour car ride.

I feel the minivan coast into the parking lot. I grab my backpack from the seat and strap it on. The school is still there. It didn’t go up in flames like it did in the fantasy I concocted the night before in bed.

“I’ll have some of those Granny Smith apples you like when you get home later. OK, kid?” my Mom says. She smiles genuinely at me as I disguise my contempt. I give her the obligatory peck on the cheek and exit the vehicle. I stand on the front steps of the school and watch the minivan abandon me to my fate. I have no reason to be mad at her, but it’s hard not to be. I figure I’ll probably forgive her the moment I sink my teeth into one of those shiny green apples.

The heavy door shoves me into the hallway as it closes, as if to remind me that I’m supposed to be here. It slams shut like the doors of a prison cell. My classroom resides at the other end of the long hallway. I begin to shuffle along in that direction, toward Mr. Dixon’s class.

I pass by Mrs. Special’s class. I walk by the dark classroom and venture a look inside. All along the wall are the wonderful toys that her kids get to play with. Sometimes, I’m fortunate enough to pass by her class during school hours. What wonderful toys. The great big blocks they use to create giant walls just to knock over. The large fire trucks big enough to hold two kids at a time. Or, best of all, the giant punching balloons I had always seen the kids pummeling away on. I always wanted to try one of them because I’d seen them on the Romper Room show I liked to watch.

Quickly, I shed my backpack and make a beeline for one of the balloons. I grab the rubber band attached to the end and give it a few quick punches. The dull thuds it emits echo through the abandoned classroom. I feel a rush of guilt wash over me, and I promptly replace the pilfered toy. My cheeks flush with blood as I retrieve my backpack and continue down the corridor.

It doesn’t seem fair to me that Mr. Dixon’s class should be so sterile. It’s all business when it comes to being a kid there. It’s not that I don’t enjoy all of the exercises where we write our names on that pulpy paper with the light blue lines through it or counting the beach balls in our workbooks. I like to do that stuff, and I’m actually quite good at it. It just seems like they’re having so much more fun in the other classes. The most fun we had in our class was when Mr. Dixon brought in a computer. We each took turns hitting a couple of keys in response to this simplistic math program he concocted.

The water fountain is coming up quickly. It stands there like some silly monument to my naivety. I’ve been thinking about yesterday’s incident since it happened. I had gone to the bathroom during recess and there were two kids flooding the urinal. It was one of those urinals that extend all the way down into the floor. These two thugs were continually flushing it. The water at the bottom would drain slower than the water being introduced would accumulate. Presto! Flooded toilet.

Curious, I investigated this newfound phenomenon. “Wow, what are you doing?” I asked.

“What does it look like we’re doing?” one of the thugs retorted.

“Here, why don’t you try it?” the other asked, gesturing toward the inviting handle.

Dutifully, I plunged the handle down one more time. The puddle of water extended further across the bathroom floor. One of the fluorescent pink soap cakes floated lazily along toward the drain in the center of the room. The kids giggled menacingly at each other and quickly fled the bathroom. I went about my business.

The water fountain was where I saw him, coming down the hall like a freight train. I had my head tilted as I lapped up the warm, rusty-tasting water. I saw Mr. Dixon walking in my direction, clearly with a purpose. I wiped the excess water from the corners of my mouth and walked towards him with the clear intention of walking right by to our classroom. It wasn’t until the last conceivable moment that I realized he was walking towards me.

Mr. Dixon may not have been a big man by adult standards, but he was formidable enough by my standards. The man grabbed me by the arm and lifted me into the air without breaking his stride. He carried me to the bathroom door and popped it open with a bang.

I had never been grabbed and held so tightly by anyone, certainly not my parents. He continued to hold me off the ground just enough so that I could feel a certain elasticity present between my arm and my shoulder. He gestured toward the puddle, his eyes ready to pop out of their sockets and send his glasses flying across the room.

“Did you do this?” he ranted.

I wasn’t sure what exactly to say, so I said nothing. Hot tears flowed down my face.

“Did you do this?” he repeated, louder. I felt like our dog, being asked if he had left a mess on the rug. I just continued to cry.

“Get back to class,” he bellowed. Disgusted, he released me and I scurried back to the classroom. I hurried to my desk and quickly buried me head in my arms, trying to disguise my tears and the shame they caused. I could hear snickering from what surely were two highly entertained hoodlums. Mr. Dixon entered and continued class as if nothing happened.

I stand here now in the hallway examining that water fountain, as if it could explain to me what exactly had happened. My throat is dry, but I decide to pass on a drink. I walk to my classroom and try to steel myself for the inevitable.

Mr. Dixon is there, early as usual, but today he has company. She might be a fellow teacher, or one of the parents of his students, but I don’t get the impression that this is Mrs. Dixon. She’s very pretty. I notice Mr. Dixon smiling quite a bit, which is quite the rarity.

I think he’s taken a shine to her, a lot like I had taken to a cute blond girl who sometimes sits next to me on the bus. He’s stuttering out words and fidgeting in his shoes, just like I do. And then it hits me. He isn’t some all-knowing, all-powerful adult presence that I should get on my knees and beg for forgiveness. He’s just another person, just older. He made a mistake yesterday, accusing me of wrong-doing and using intimidation to do it. He’s just as much of a jerk as those two boys who coerced me into it. There is no reason to let this guy completely alter my good feelings about school. I’m going to have some fun turning the tables.

This woman’s presence gives me courage. I decide that I will not let yesterday’s debacle change my present course. It’s time for me to do the intimidating. I calmly walk up to where they stand conversing and look up at the giant couple.

“Hello,” I offer upward, giving my best toothy smile.

The pretty lady looks down at me and returns my smile. I turn toward Mr. Dixon, ready to let by-gones be by-gones, but he continues to speak to his current associate, never pausing or glancing my way.

I stare directly at his face and hold my ground. I wait for his acknowledgement, but he continues to speak to the woman. I decide that perhaps he did not hear me.

“Hello, Mr. Dixon,” I say when a pause in his speech occurs. I figure I had better address him directly, just to let him know I’m not angry about the previous day’s events. He continues to speak, not including me in this particular conversation. I look towards his companion. She definitely appears uneasy. She hastily looks down at me, as if to direct Mr. Dixon’s eyes away from her beautiful face and towards this eager child who simply wants an acknowledgement of his existence. But, still he persists in his stubbornness.

Being a kid, the etiquette of proper speaking escapes me, but I believe I am deserving of a simple “hello”. After not receiving one, I do what any kid my age would do. I repeat myself. Not once. Not twice. But, many times. I offer my greetings enough times to get this man’s cheeks to turn red. My smile widens with every “hello” I offer.

Good old Mr. Dixon never blinks.

After I have my fun, I casually walk to my seat. I look toward his lady friend. She is clearly unnerved by this kindergarten teacher’s lack of respect for one of his students. Her face has contorted nervously into a forced smile. She fidgets as if signaling the end of the conversation. And Mr. Dixon rambles on, fumbling for words that might impress. Coolly, I wink at her. I’m not sure if she saw it. I hope Mr. Dixon did.

Eventually the class begins to fill with more students, but I continue to examine the exchange I stumbled upon. The pretty woman manages to escape, and Mr. Dixon seats himself at his desk. He seems exhausted. Finally, he looks directly at me.

“Hello, Mr. Dixon,” I say.

I reach down and open my backpack. I pull out the workbook that we’re going to be using today. The smile I’d developed never leaves my face, even when I bite into that sour apple later that afternoon.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

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