Friday, June 15, 2007

The Importance of Pleather

When I was in second grade, I had my favorite teacher ever; Mrs. Walsh. She was the coolest. We got to do craft projects to keep track of our math progress which was way better than just doing math. She brought her guitar in all the time and taught us songs about being able to spell hippopotamus.

Even I knew I was a problem kid but I felt like she didn’t hold it against me. She protected me when I told her the other kids bullied me. She taught me how to rub my temples when I got a headache. Plus she was a secular teacher in a Catholic school so I felt a sense of refugee kinship with her.

That year I was madly in love with a tall, blond kid named Mike Green. I don’t think I ever spoke two words to him but for whatever reason I was convinced he was the cat’s pajamas. I wouldn’t tell anyone though. I saw how girls that confessed their crushes got teased. Nope, this was one secret I’d take to the grave.

One day I was following Mike home from school at a safe distance so he wouldn’t try to talk to me or anything. I was close enough, however, to notice a familiar briefcase sticking out of his backpack. It was the pleather snap-top case my dad had gotten as swag at some work convention or other and had given me. It was the late seventies and pleather was a must-have. Naturally I prized it above all my school supplies but, being six, didn’t have much use for a briefcase. I’d stashed it with my other stuff in the coat closet where it lived for several months while I tried to figure out what to do with it. Now, it seemed Mike had answered that for me.

I was stricken. Sure I wasn’t using it, but it was mine, dammit. I couldn’t tell Mike that though. What if there was a chance he liked me and if I asked for the briefcase back he stopped liking me? This was more than I could risk. So I followed helplessly watching my prized but unused case stride away at the next crosswalk.

The next day I did what I did whenever I had an unmanageable crisis. I told Mrs. Walsh. Surely, she would fix this for me. She’d tell Mike that he’d taken something that didn’t belong to him and make him give it back. She would restore justice and unwittingly protect my secret crush. What a gal. I had bravely endured math hour and story time, breathlessly waiting all day to talk to her. Now I sat at her desk unloading my heart. She listened and then sighed.

“Well, Heidi, you just have to ask him for it back.”

My world ground to a halt. What? I think I sputtered in protest because she went on then about how I had to learn to stand up for myself and she couldn’t always fight my battles for me and so on. Of course she was right but that is not what I learned that day. I learned that people you love and trust to protect and help you will let you down. When push comes to shove you’ll be left standing alone.

I dragged my feet slowly home that afternoon. Bewildered and hurt by this turn of events. I couldn’t believe Mrs. Walsh didn’t understand that the depth of my feelings for Mike dictated that I never speak to him directly. How did Mrs. Walsh not know how desperately I needed her intervention this time? Why was today Teach Heidi a Lesson day? I resolved to let go of any hope of getting the briefcase back and I resolved to never fully trust a grown-up again.

I had Mrs. Walsh again in fourth grade. We were still close but I’d changed. I’d become a little less Sandy and a little more Rizzo. Without the smoking and the teen pregnancy of course. I was only eight by then for chrissake. I like to think our relationship was one of cordial professional respect that year. I regularly got sent to the principal’s office for questioning Dogma in religion class and Mrs. Walsh didn’t bring her guitar or sing silly hippo songs anymore. We’d both grown. I never spoke to Mike Green or saw my briefcase again. I also never left a prized possession where just anyone could get to it. Even if it was just pleather.

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Blogger Sarah said...

Stacy Deflippo took my Hello Kitty sewing kit that my Japanese grandma gave me. When the teacher asked if she took it, she showed the case with a handwritten piece of paper taped to it that said, "STACY." The teacher decided it was hers since it had her name on it. Obviously, I never got over the injustice of that. I feel your pain for the loss of the pleather and the trust of the teacher.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Heidi said...

If I ever see Stacy Deflippo I will punch her right in the mouth. Isn't it amazing how much those young injustices sting? And how differently we'd handle them now?

3:30 PM  
Blogger tomawesome said...

we still run into situations that we're not quite sure how to handle though, right? how would your life had changed if you had taken the chance and talked w/him? we'll never know. hey I wanna hear about a chance you took that worked.
(BTW, I would have been too afraid to even talk to the teacher)

11:43 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

Good question, Tom. I probably (hopefully) would have realized he was only human and not worth my crush. As for the chances that worked, I think everything else that I do have in my life is an example of that but I'll ponder an appropriate post to share...

7:00 AM  

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