It’s not that I’ve never had anything to hide, I just can’t handle hiding anything. I found this out in grade five.
I was part of an city-wide enrichment class. This may sound like a wonderful haven for intellectually curious kids, but it wasn’t. I loved books like fags supposedly loved Commies. I loved learning. I had red hair. I was Jewish. I was shy. I was competitive. I don’t know which of these differences got me pegged as Target Number One by Joanne, the future alpha queen bee of adolescence.
I was the kid to make fun of, and when I was tested and taken to the new school, I hoped it would make things different, since learning was going to be the point of the entire class. Unfortunately, Joanne came too, and recess just got worse.
I didn’t have any friends, and Joanne seemed determined to keep it that way. She had only two strengths that I didn’t have: social intelligence and breasts. She could get a group of girls to shun and mock whomever she pleased, and she could get the boys to go along too.
One day I couldn’t take my frustration anymore, and I took out a piece of paper in the school library and wrote “Joanne is a” and followed it with every bad word I’d ever heard. At the time that included shit, fuck, and stupid, which my cousins had convinced me was a terrible swear.
I felt bad about expressing such horrible things – after all, it was horrible things that made me feel like crap every day – that I wrote everything in code, corresponding each letter to a backwards alphabet.
Several days later, after music time which involved singing “Let’s Put the Rooster in the Stew,” Miss Ingold stood up to make an announcement. “Laura and Marianne have discovered something terrible written about someone in our class. If anyone knows who did this, please come forward.”
My stomach was in my knees. How did she know? Why did I do it? I felt like I just wasn’t allowed to be angry at other people like everyone else was. There was no escaping.
Recess made everything clear, as it always did. They’d cracked the code. I’d forgotten to separate it from the note itself.
Thrilled to have a mystery, Laura and Marianne marched around like excited little Nancy Drews. I saw them interviewing our classmates in the schoolyard, but they never came near me.
As the day wore on, my head felt heavier and heavier. The feeling of embarrassment grew inside me and turned my ears and neck bright red as I pretended to straighten books in our classroom at the end of the day. Once everyone had cleared out, I went up to Miss Ingold and told her through tears that I was the writer of the note.
The next day when Joanne was being sent to do an errand, I volunteered to go with her, and hurried down the hall to catch up.
“Joanne, you know that problem we have?” I was apologizing for her as much as for me.
“I’m sorry about the note. Friends?” I stuck my hand out.
We shook on it.
And that was it, for me at least: I’ve owned up to everything I’ve become aware of since then that needed owning up to. Even in public if necessary. I just can’t handle the feeling if I don’t.
But Joanne? The pact lasted a few weeks, and then she was back to her mean old ways. I’ve heard she’s a teacher now.