I realized early on that I had a propensity to see the best in things, even if it was the furthest thing from the truth. It was shocking to feel the jolt of reality around me when it collided abruptly with my vision of how things were perceived to be in my little world. I came by part of this quite naturally. My mother was like that and in some ways, so was my father, but he was more of a realist in other ways. My mother would say of his often sunny disposition “You wear rose colored glasses, Scott and you think that everything’s always gonna be alright…well maybe it’s not!” Later in life, dad told me his response to her was that in reality it was she who wore rose colored glasses and when life did not match the view she had, she’d crawl into a bottle and become despondent. He felt that he knew how difficult life truly was and that he was decidedly happy in spite of it. I’m not sure which is true. Perhaps being part of this family meant that we all actually shared both an optimism that life would yield good results and a realization that sometimes shit comes down so hard you feel like wearing a hat.
As a child, I was a Polyanna and had an unrealistically optimistic outlook on life. I was sunny, happy, and full of joyful songs and dance. I remember always trying to get a laugh out of people, joking at inappropriate moments, playing and goofing around, and trying to make friends feel good about themselves. But, I was also ill prepared when people were unkind, mean, or when the tables were turned and I was abused by someone who I felt was my friend.
One time, my 3rd grade ogre teacher left the room during a test. Three or four students began openly cheating on the quiz, sharing answers boldly and quickly by talking out loud. I was enraged! How could the teacher leave the room and thus invite this kind of dishonesty? She returned a few minutes later, but I was still shocked at how these kids got away with cheating.
Later after class, I approached her and whispered to her that several of the children had cheated on the test and I reported which ones had done it. She smiled at me, squinting her eyes. In a baby-talk voice she asked, “Oh, are you a little tattletale? Hmm? Well, you know what happens to tattletales, don’t you? Go sit down.” I was shaking. Was I really in trouble for telling about the cheating kids in the class? After all, it was Ms Dalton’s fault for leaving the class unattended, right? What did she expect them to do? And what did she expect me to do, just sit there and let them get away with it?
When class resumed that morning, she announced, “Class, we have a tattletale in our midst. You know what happens to tattletales, don’t you?” Everyone responded in unison, “Yes, Ms. Dalton.” “Debbie, come up here.” I skulked to the front of the room, flushed and wide-eyed. She pulled out a long, peach colored piece of furry felt shaped like a tale. She forcefully grabbed me by the pant waist and took a safety pin and fastened the long tail onto the back of my Catholic School green stripped uniform pants. “Now, Debbie has to wear this tail all day so that the whole school can see what a tattletale she is. And, she has to stand on the wall during recess so everyone can see her.” Really? I was mortified.
There was a cinder block, grey concrete half-wall which overlooked the playground. It was the retaining wall for the sloping grassy area which led from the lunchroom and covered breezeway which connected the buildings. The classic punishment for those who acted out or got in trouble for things was to have to stand in one place on the wall while the rest of the school played on the swings, monkey bars, and basketball courts during recess. It was a strange, public display resembling the lining up of criminals in a row before execution by hanging. Though it seemed to be a K-12 appropriate punishment, I do not recall seeing many of the other teachers using it much. But, Ms. Dalton was fond of it and I spent more than just that day standing on the wall.
I remember we had some kind of an assembly that day. One of the older kids saw my tail and knowing Ms. Dalton to be abusive like that, offered her coat to me to wear all day. It was long and would almost cover the furry tail. I made it through the assembly without anyone really noticing my tail. Next, the recess on the wall. As I was heading out to spend the hour on the wall wearing my friend’s coat, Ms. Dalton grabbed me by the neck and yelled at me to remove the coat before I went outside. Damn! I was going to have to bear the embarrassment of having the tail fly freely in the wind while I stood ashamed on the wall.
But, I was a real ham and in order to thwart my shame and pretend like my skin was as thick as the tail I wore, I proudly stood tall and let the tail swing from side to side. I took off my green sweater, buttoned the top button on it, flipped my head upside down, and put the sweater over my head and flipped it back over like it was a head of Rastafarian dreadlocks. I swung it to and fro, brushing it off my shoulders while I did a dead-on impersonation of Cher singing “I Got You Babe! I Got You Babe” complete with over affected vibrato. Other kids on the wall were amused, but stood quietly in fear of getting in trouble. I thought to myself, “I’ll show Ms. Dalton I’m not ashamed of anything. She can’t touch me or hurt me at all!”
At the end of the day, I was relieved to have her remove the tail from my pants. She turned me around and said, “Now, Debbie, since you wore a coat and tried to cover up your punishment for being a tattletale, and you acted up on the wall and did not stand still and quiet, tomorrow you’ll have to stand on the wall again.” “But, but, but….it’s my birthday tomorrow! My mom is coming to have lunch with me! You can’t make me stand on the wall on my birthday!” I cried. But she did not care.
My mother did come to school the next day at lunchtime and we sat in the lunchroom together way longer than we should have, as all the kids had gone outside to play. I cried at the injustice of Ms. Dalton’s sentence for me, and my mother held me in her arms to console me. Finally, Ms. Dalton looked into the lunchroom from outside and said, “You’re late, Debbie. It’s time for you to get outside on the wall!” She closed the door before my mother could protest. I was surprised my mom did not make a scene, after all, she was famous for making scenes.
Making me stand on the wall on my birthday was my teacher’s ultimate punishment and it showed a willful sadistic flair that made my parents so angry that they began looking for a new school for me and Mary which we transferred to only a week or two later. I dared not tell anyone at school as I feared Ms. Dalton’s wrath once she found out. But, I told one, close friend on my last day there. I swore Laura to secrecy. During reading circle that day, Ms. Dalton repeatedly skipped me for reading out loud and I was shocked and dismayed to learn that my close friend was not so close after all and had indeed betrayed my trust by telling Ms. Dalton I was leaving. I felt so abused. I just could not understand deception, betrayal, and crime and punishment. My rose colored glasses became cloudier that year.