growing up, for the most part, i really liked school and didn’t mind getting up in the morning to attend it. which is not to say that school really liked me, because i was actually...kind of a monster child in elementary school.
two of my siblings and i had the same fourth grade teacher and at the end of the year i asked her who her favorite was and she slow-blinked at me for a really, really long time before saying carefully, “well, you caused more havoc than both your brother and sister combined,” which i took to mean, “NOT YOU.”
anyway, for some reason i woke up one particular morning and just decided that i didn’t want to go. i don’t remember there being any particular reason for it, like a test or a pre-scheduled rumble in the schoolyard. i didn’t even bother coming up with an excuse, like being sick; i just straight up told my dad that i wasn’t going to go. my father, obviously, thought that was a stupid idea and kept insisting that i “had to go” because it “wasn’t optional” and “you’re eight, you don’t get to make these decisions.”
this logic did not sit well with me.
my sweet father, the Patron Saint of Leaving It To Beaver, tried first to explain calmly and reasonably that as a young woman in a global capitalist society the best thing i could do for myself was to invest in my education, and also my brain was too sharp to waste all its potential, and double also, i didn’t have a choice because school was mandatory. not just in our house but by united states law.
my dad is very I’m Not Mad I’m Just Disappointed Dad, and my mom is very Oh, No I Am Definitely Mad Mom and i fall somewhere around, “MY DISAPPOINTMENT ENRAGES ME AND NOW I’M CRYING.”
do you cry when you get mad, because i do, and then i get mad that i’m crying, which makes me cry harder, which makes me more mad, which--
“I’M NOT GETTING DRESSED, YOU CAN’T MAKE ME, I’LL RUN AWAY FIRST,” i shouted, very confidently for someone who had no savings, no life skills, and a very limited understanding of geography. i threatened to run away a lot in those days, and actually did one time, but almost immediately returned home to demand a sleeping bag, tent, and some petty cash for groceries.
what did they expect me to do, “fend” for “myself”??? survive on my own???
hand over a hundy, dad. i have a lavish nine-year-old lifestyle of juice boxes and american girl dolls to maintain.
it should be noted here that at eight-ish, i was in that period of every child’s life where they’ve had their first growth spurt, but only in like...some parts of their body. growth does not happen uniformly, which is why some kids have weird torsos and others can scrape the ground with their knuckles when they walk. pretty much every child in a third-grade classroom looks a little like the product of an affair their mom had with jack skellington.
i was in my prime Heir to Halloween Town years, with freakishly long limbs but not great fine motor control, which meant i knew i had elbows but i couldn’t quite get a hang of where they would be at any given moment. my legs grew so fast that my knees are, to this day, what a real live medical professional once described as, “janky.” i ran into a lot of door frames.
okay. i still run into a lot of door frames. depth perception is not my strong suit. how about you let me live, Todd the Data Scientist?
in hindsight, you can’t really blame me for not wanting to go through the farce of disguising my badly proportioned pipe cleaner skeleton in order to learn simple division or counting without using your fingers or whatever kids learn in third-grade math.
“I’D RATHER DIE THAN GET DRESSED FOR SCHOOL!!!!”
haha remember when we were kids and we didn’t really know what death was and we weren’t constantly saying things like, “YOLO,” and “screw it, death comes for everybody,” in order to disguise our paralyzing terror of the reality that you and everyone you know is going to inevitably succumb to death’s cold embrace?
SO TAKE THAT VACATION, NANCY!!!
“neat,” said my father, cutting his losses on both the Logic and Reason fronts, “you don’t have to get dressed.” and with that, he scooped me up over his shoulder, nightgown and all, and began carrying me out of the room.
but ol’ Molly Long Arms wasn’t down for the count just yet. i shot my grubby grabbers out like a cowboy cracking a bullwhip and grabbed ahold of the nearest thing i could, which happened to be my closet door. now, the thing about this door is that it was one of those bi-fold shutter doors that open and close on a track, like indoor window shutters.
remember that weird moment in the late 1990s/early 2000s when all interior home decor was designed to look like the outside of a nantucket beach house?
my father kept walking toward the hallway, and i held onto slats on the door with the strength of a wet napkin but the grim determination of a spartan at the the battle of thermopylae.
“THIS!!!!! IS!!!!! SUBURBAN MASSACHUSETTS!!!!!!!!!”
it’s weird how the moment before Something Terrible happens time kind of stops. i know that sounds really dramatic for someone telling a story about a time they yelled at their dad and had weird arms, but it does. in the ten seconds before something terrible happens to you, it’s like everything slows way down and your brain has exactly enough time to go, “oh, no. ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh no,” but not enough to make any course adjustments whatsoever. it’s just the universe’s little way of saying, hey, you’re about to get slapped right across the face by my whimsy, just giving you a heads up.
“okay,” your brain says, “but what if, instead, we ..... DIDN’T ..... do that?”
“oh, no, sorry, did you think this was up for debate? haha, that’s my bad. it’s for sure gonna happen. i’m just letting you know so that, later, you can relive these events in your mind over and over and over and wonder if you could have avoided them.”
“neat. thanks, universe.”
in my head, the universe looks exactly like hades from disney’s hercules. if you were wondering.
anyway, for those ten seconds we were evenly matched, my father and i. i wasn’t letting go of that door and he wasn’t putting me down. my people are a stubborn people. none of us want to be the first to give. my great-great-grandfather on my dad’s side joined the canadian air force, despite not being canadian, because the u.s. hadn’t entered the war yet and he was determined to prove to someone at work that the germans were the bad guys in world war i. that’s right, we’re so stubborn we’ll go to literal war to prove a point.
so what gave was the door.
with a cracking sound that can’t have been as loud as it seemed, the folds ripped off the track. my father, suddenly sans-resistance, stumbled forward, dragging the door behind us. i was too shocked to let go, so our momentum was only stopped when the door got wedged against the wall. the jerk back to a full stop was enough to jolt me into letting go of the door, which clattered to the ground.
my dad put me down.
we stared at the door together. i don’t think either one of us was processing fully what had just happened. this fight had just escalated like, four thousand percent more than either one of us had anticipated. it was like we asked someone to break a tie in an argument we were having and that friend, A Door, responded by launching itself off a roof.
too extreme, door!!!!!! wayyyyyy too extreme!! dial it back, like, 99%!!
i want your opinion with the same gentility that you’d handle glassware in your mom’s kitchen while she’s asleep in the room next door.
“well,” said my dad.
“well,” said i.
look, nobody wants to talk about how we got to this terrible place from the less terrible place we were at ten seconds ago. that’s a horrible conversation, always. if people were meant to handle their problems immediately and responsibly, evolution shouldn’t have given us the power of suppressing emotions.
“i’m just gonna ... change into school clothes,” i said. “meet you at the car in ten minutes?”
“yep,” said my dad.
and we never talked about it again.