by Tricia Sutton
DIDASKALEINOPHOBIA (fear of school)
Due to Daddy taking the car to work on our first day of school, and due to Mama's callous disregard for our fragile self-confidence, it was by our Granny Goose potato chip truck in which we'd be transported. The four of us kids developed a sudden case of amaxophobia. Mama threatened to cure our fear-of-riding-in-a-car/Goose by making us run behind it. We chose to ride.
"Only parents should be allowed to spank their children," Mama ranted as she drove us to our first day of humiliation. We hadn't even stepped one foot inside a California school yet, and she was already predicting our punishments and already offended by them. "Oh, no they won't; they won't get away with it."
We cruised the parking lot of Russ's middle school where I discovered we Okies had been running ten years behind in fashion. I also discovered that if I moved to the back of the truck, I didn't have to see the Goose gawkers.
"I can't go," my sister Beth gasped.
"Why not?" asked Mama.
"Look at me! Look at them!"
I scrambled to the front. Beth nodded in the direction of girls wearing bright, bold geometric-print mod-fashions, big hair, and giant hoop earrings. Beth wore a green plaid A-line skirt, white puffy-sleeved blouse, knee socks, and penny loafers.
"Ain't your school anyway," Mama huffed. "That's what teenagers wear, not fifth graders."
Beth appeared oblivious to the bellbottoms gang running alongside Granny Goose, all clamoring for a bag of chips. A hair pick jabbed in one of the afros, like a pitchfork in a haystack, bounced out of a runner's hair, and I heard the crunch under the Goose's tires. The runners stopped pursuit. I stuck my head out the window and looked back to see the chip beggars in a circle around the dead comb.
We then came upon a group of hippies looking hungrier than our last encounter with Motown but with considerably less energy. From their sedentary perch on the grass, they sprawled in peasant blouses, fringed vests, patched jeans, and leather sandals. With half-lidded eyes, they watched us with approval, some flashing us the peace sign.
Mama thoughtfully parked behind the cafeteria next to a Little Debbie truck. A delivery man unloaded crates of packaged pastries onto his dolly, eyeing the Goose in catty envy, or maybe preparing to defend Little Debbie's honor should a goose attack.
Russ assured Beth that even dorks could find friends, however badly dressed. Beth stared him up and down, hand over her mouth to suppress her faked dramatic laugh. "Do you see any other Buddy Holly look-alikes around here?"
"Do you see any other Jackie Kennedys around here?" he retorted.
"You're both ugly," said my other brother Eddie.
"No, you are," Beth snapped.
"You staying here?" Mama asked.
I decided to leave Eddie and Beth to their debate and accompany Mama and Russ to the office. Bad idea. In hindsight, I was better off where I was, inside the Goose.
Mama and company charged through the corridors, past the office, and to the door that said Principal. She stormed in without knocking and began her barrage of orders to the first man she saw—a perplexed looking, bow-tied individual.
“Nobody spanks my son. He acts up, call me, but you don't got permission to spank. Clear?”
The noticeably frightened man stepped back, cleared his throat, and said it was.
And for a brief moment, I saw us through his eyes.
A cigarette dangled from Mama's pink painted lips. Its smoke formed grey halos that hovered above the red rows of curlers on her head appearing as if the fog rolled right in with the devil. The curlers pulled the skin at her temples, accentuating her already large eyes to bulging proportions. Russ's getup in high water nerd pants and tortoise shell glasses—which sat crooked on his face—clashed with his arms-crossed-spank-me-if-you-dare stance. Then me in my hand-sewn, droopy granny dress, short, crooked bangs, and pigtails braided so tight and stiff they stuck out almost straight, like wings. We three looked like a cover for Mad Magazine.
The jury is still out as to whether the principal looked ready to laugh or cry. After a few tense moments of awkward silence he asked, "You excited about your first day of school, young man?"
Russ's ice blue eyes gazed hard from behind his glasses as if the possibility that school could be fun insulted him. "No, I ain't … 'excited'."
The principal ran his fingers through his slick hair, adjusted his tie, and said, "Okay." He backed up until he was behind the safety of his desk, picked up the phone and said hello—even though it never rang.
After the Russ hand off, the Goose lurched to a brake-shrilling stop in front of the elementary school without the benefit of subtle delivery-area disguise. In fact, she parked in the Vice-Principal's parking spot.
We marched in and out of the office of another bewildered, bow-tied victim of Mama's No Spanking Rule, and, for safe measure, Mama reiterated the rule to each of our teachers. On the way to mine, I suffered a nervous breakdown.
Mama bent down and I noticed one of her curlers dangling. “What’s the matter, Patty?”
“I’m gettin' spanked.”
“No, y'ain't. Nothin's ever happened to Beth, Russ, or even Eddie." (She lied about Eddie.)
Inside my kindergarten classroom, she lost steam. Two curlers dangled: the one off her temple caused her eye to relax whereas the other side remained taut, cat-like. Her speech lacked its original drama and with a monotone voice she said, “Put 'er up front 'cause she can’t hear and no spankin'!”
She added to the rule! What's she mean I can’t hear? Can too. Just did, didn’t I?
An impairment—involving both hearing and cluelessness—that, for years, I suspected going to school triggered, or triggered by fear, or just fear of school.
Tricia Sutton is a hearing-impaired writer, spouse, and mother living in California. She is currently working on a novel titled Hiding in the Spotlight from which this story was plucked. Other excerpts were published or forthcomi ng in The Rambler, Halfway Down the Stairs, Hazard Cat, Turtle Quarterly, The Short Humor Site, and a few other e-zines around the web. She lives in California with her husband and two kids and some cats. She welcomes visitors to her writing blog at http://dfmil09.wordpress.com
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