I rushed through the door with tears in my eyes. It was a small lab where Mom had landed a job making the finishing adjustments to dental pieces, dentures and bridges and such. It was the middle of the day and my abrupt arrival surprised my mother as she turned toward me with a wide-eyed expression, “What’s wrong, why are you not in school?”
I had sprinted the four blocks from school to Mom’s work, imagining that the authorities would of course be on my heels. Tears streamed down my face as I tried to catch my breath and offer an explanation. Through a dramatic display of pain and indignation, I managed to spew a weak, “Miss Boyce.”
Mom took a moment and stared me down as if the two words held some deep meaning that was beyond my understanding. Her eyes narrowed as she got up from her desk and moved toward me. I had seen this look before; it was typically reserved for when we knew we had it coming. I stepped backwards in fear that I was in trouble for leaving school and I thought Mom was about to grab me. “What did she do?” Mom icily cooed.
Miss Boyce was my ancient fourth grade teacher. It was years before “Ms” ever became an option, not that she would have opted for such modern nonsense anyway. She was white haired, matronly and probably in her seventies. She wore neat home made dresses with darts and pleats in all the right places for her full figure, dated cat-eyed frames and was fond of stuffing a Kleenex in the band of her wristwatch for quick retrieval. She had a habit of walking up and down the aisles with a ruler in hand, hitting the desks of those who dared to look bored or act rambunctiously. Her ruler landed upon my desk regularly. In days past her ruler had landed on fingers instead of the wooden desktops, but those days were slowly coming to a close as forms of corporal punishment were becoming more and more unpopular.
“She put me in the closet,” I cried, “for a really long time.” I gathered my breath and tried to calm the tightening of my throat as the tears welled up, “I was really scared.”
These were the days when if a student got in trouble in the classroom there was no question as to who was at fault. My transgressions during the school day were mostly kept under wraps for fear that I would get in trouble at home as well. To bring such issues forth posed the possibility that my unsightly behavior might bring forth a shit storm at home so in essence I was taking a gamble to even bring it up. My offense seemed to me to be a misdemeanor, not deserving of such harsh punishment, so I decided I was willing to take the chance of narcing on Miss Boyce.
As expected, and true to the times, my mother asked, “What did you do, Kelli?”
I explained that I was guilty of my common offense of talking. I had a bad habit. I talked a lot in class and often got in trouble for said offense. Miss Boyce had sent a number of notes home, for which I had suffered the consequences. I knew it was an issue, something for which I would one day perhaps seek professional help, but I just couldn’t stop myself. I found Miss Boyce boring, not a worthy excuse I knew, but I egotistically thought I had more interesting things to share. It’s true, Miss Boyce had given me ample warnings that day, it must have been the fourth time she had asked me to stop talking yet I continued to ignore her warnings. She had had it with me.
The ruler fell upon my desk hard, transferring the energy like the sound of a shotgun. I described how Miss Boyce grabbed me by the scruff of my shirt and forcibly lifted me from my desk. Who knew this old lady had it in her? I swear my feet left the ground as she directed me toward the closet in the classroom, but suspect it is just a past memory from a comic I must have seen. In one seamless motion, the closet door swung open, I flew inside and the door slammed shut and locked. I couldn’t believe it and it certainly accomplished her purpose, as I was speechless.
I recounted how the silence was short lived and I began yelling and demanding my release. Miss Boyce informed me that I would remain in the closet until I exhibited an extended period of silence. My pleading and pounding on the closet door did no good as she was determined to break me and teach me the importance of respect. My surprise soon gave into anger and my anger eventually gave into fear. I am certain my claustrophobia that kept me from getting an MRI once when I injured my shoulder can be traced to this moment. I pounded and cried and cried and pounded. I lay on the floor and kicked the door with both feet. Tears flowed and I was once again sitting in the darkened space as I described the scene to my mother.
I continued narrating the events. I described how it must have taken over 30 minutes until my pleading gave way to sobs and I eventually lay on the floor of the closet crying soft tears of fear and anger. Another adult needing to break my spirit to promote their own agenda. After wallowing in her victory for about 10 more minutes, Miss Boyce finally opened the closet door. “You can come out now,” she said in her clipped school marm fashion, “I hope you’ve learned your lesson.”
My lesson? What had I learned in short-lived confinement? What were these life lessons that I was sure to take away? It solidified my understanding of the power structure, that adults are in control. It also reinforced my belief that some adults are not worthy of the power that they are afforded and it is best to steer clear of such people. And lastly, although my power could be taken by might, such events do not teach compliance but rather fuel an anger to survive.
My mother’s eyes burned with intensity as she stormed out the door of her workplace and whispered, “Come with me.”
With quiet intent we walked the four blocks side by side back to the school from which I had escaped earlier in the day. Mom grabbed my hand as we walked into the principal’s office. It was clear from the look in her eye that he would have to take the meeting and we were quickly ushered into his office. Mom sat at the front of her chair across from the principal as she recounted the story of me being locked in the closet. Mom was furious. I had never seen her talk to another adult with such intensity and confidence. Although I had felt wronged by Miss Boyce, I was surprised at the vehemence of my mother’s reaction. “Miss Boyce has been pulling this type of crap for too long,” Mom yelled as she stood and pointed her finger toward the principal. “She pulled the same stunt on me when I was in fourth grade, and you better make her stop or I’ll have your job” she ended, with her hand slamming on his desk.