By Tommy Spencer
So this is how it all ends. Here I sit, ten years old, clutching my backpack, sitting within the low branches of a lone pine tree, holding back the inevitable tears, watching the tall, bald authority figure forge his way in my direction. The day wasn’t supposed to go this way. It was supposed to be filled with fun, laughter and all other sorts of jubilation. It was going to be a crowning moment for me as a leader. Sure I knew there would be trouble in the end. I would account for my misbehavior, but it would be worth it. I was justified in my actions, surely that would temper any future punishment. Instead, here I sit with possibly two minutes left of freedom trying with all my might to keep it together.
It all started the morning prior. I was in sixth grade with Mrs. Walanowski, the meanest teacher in all the land, or so I’ve heard. Now it is springtime, I don’t recall exactly what month. We, as a class, have learned most of Mrs. Walanowski’s tendencies and know what to do to stay out of trouble. It doesn’t always work, but so far I have avoided the worst of it. If only Jay could learn to keep his mouth shut, but that’s a story for another time. As a class we are gelling just fine, the majority of us have been together for at least the past three years. Sure there are a few cliques, but really only one outsider. On this day we were all quite excited. We were going to have a substitute for the whole week. Oh the fun we would have! Monday morning slapped us into a cruel reality as our new substitute presented herself. It was possible that Mrs. Walanowski was not, in fact, the meanest teacher in all the land.
Now all the horrible things she did to us that first day seem quite trivial at my grown age so I am not choosing to re-tell that part of the tale, but suffice it to say, that at that point in my life, there was not even a little bit of me that had any intention of seeing her the next day. This is how my first remember-able foray into leadership began. On the walk home from school, with my classmates that didn’t have detention, we complained and gestured and swore with all the vocabulary we knew to that point. That’s when it happened. Normally quiet, shy Tommy verbalized his feelings. I said, “I am skipping school tomorrow, there is no way I am going to spend a full week with that crazy lady.” It caught on like wildfire, everyone was agreeing with me. We were all going to skip. This was really going to happen. I admit I can be quite stubborn at times, but this was way outside the realm of my usually subdued boldness. I was never the careless type, had never skipped class before and was overall a well behaved young man. So as any overall well behaved and well schooled young man would do, I initiated the planning. We would all meet at the red berried green hedge near Amy’s house, just like every other day. When her mom left for work, we would cut through her yard into the woods near the end of the cul-de-sac. In the woods we would be out of view of any concerned adults wondering why this group wasn’t in school and we would be generally free to do whatever we wanted. That’s where my group planning ended. We all went our separate ways.
That night I was excited and scared. What was I about to do? I can’t skip school, but there is no way I am going to school. Maybe I should fake being sick. It had never worked before, my mom always sent me anyway, but that way I wouldn’t have to get in trouble and I still got out of class. No, that wouldn’t work. I have all of my friends with me. How much trouble could we ALL get in? They have got to see the error in their ways and reevaluate their choice in substitute if the majority of the class doesn’t show up. Ok, I’m doing it. I guess I don’t have to do any homework tonight!
With all the fear and anticipation, I barely slept that night. I woke up early, made my lunch, made and packed a few extra sandwiches and Juicy Juice boxes for the hot lunch kids and packed a deck of cards, UNO and my yo-yo in my backpack. At the appropriate time I left on my walk to school. Random intervals had me catching up with kids from my class. This is where it all goes down hill. First off, my buddy Keith bailed. He said his mom would know and he couldn’t do it. Then Sean backed out! Tina wasn’t at her house when we walked by, but I knew I could count on Josh and Jay. They were by far the most vocal yesterday. They walked a different way and would no doubt meet me at Amy’s. So I made the choice to taunt my friends for the remainder of our walk. I was hoping to re-ignite the defiance and bravado from the previous day. I had almost gotten Sean to come around by the time we got to Amy’s. Josh, Jay and Tina were there. No Amy. Josh and Jay were complaining about the substitute and reciting practiced quotes that they were going to say if called upon today.
If called upon today? What do you mean if called upon today? Weren’t these guys skipping with me? Where was Amy? I can’t go to school! Am I doing this alone? I didn’t do my homework! I am not prepared! What kind of people are these so called friends of mine? I can’t back out! I won’t back out!
“I’m still skipping!” I proclaimed. Just like that! I felt empowered but teetering. I was going to prove that when I say I am going to do something, I am going to do it! Not that that seemed to matter, but it mattered to me. The next few minutes were a blur of taunting and planning. I was going to skip and I was going to be alone. The ten minute bell rang and the group headed towards the school. Alone I stood. “Enjoy the sub!” I called after them, trying to make myself feel better.
I followed the plan to the letter. It was a good plan after all. I walked to our “hideout” in the woods and found a nice spot to settle in for a day of fun, laughter and jubilation. An hour or so later, my butt was wet from the dew on the ground, Solitaire had lost all appeal and I had already eaten my lunch and two Juicy Juice boxes. I was lonely, bored and scared. I wondered what was going on in school. I wondered if anyone had told on me. I wondered what time it was. I wondered if I could get closer to the school without being found, just to see what was going on.
Wondering got the best of me, so I packed up my cards and set out stealthily to get closer. This actually was fun, skirting from tree to tree trying to stay hidden. I was close enough to the neighborhood now to see houses and cars, which meant they were close enough to see me. Then the fun stopped! I saw it, my mom’s old white Buick with the puke colored roof, scouring the neighborhood.
Why didn’t I think of that? Of course they would call her at home! I was going to be in so much trouble! She was going to be very disappointed! Maybe she won’t tell my dad! Oh no!
I had stopped within the low branches of a lone pine tree. I could see my mom. I could see the school. I could not see a way out of this mess I had gotten myself into. So I sat. I sat and I planned. I tried to come up with anything that would alleviate all of the mistakes I had made today. Nothing came, just this crushing feeling taking over my chest. Minutes, maybe hours, passed and the door to the school opened. Mr. Belegaron, the bald principal, came out and I knew he knew. Now I know who the principal is, but my brother knows him quite well and the stories aren’t good. So here I am sitting, awaiting this giant, bald man with what looks like anger boiling out of him.
What am I going to do? I am caught! No I’m not, I can still run! Where? You have to go home sometime! Why did I do this? The other kids aren’t in this much trouble! They can probably see him coming after me! Now I am going to be the laughing stock! How did he know where I was? Maybe my stealth skills aren’t that good. He’s getting closer! Don’t cry! He is almost here! Don’t cry!
I cried a lot. I was a blithering idiot. Mr. Belegaron was not as evil as he seemed though. He simply and calmly asked me why? Why did I miss school? Why was I hiding in the woods? Why was I crying? I just cried! He walked me to his office to let me calm down. I heard him talk to my mom on the secretary’s line.
“Mrs. Spencer…no, he is safe…Yes…He is a bit shaken up, but he will be ok...I don’t know but Tina said it had something to do with the substitute…I will…Sure..Talk to you in a bit.”
He came back in the room! My crying had slowed mostly due to the interest in his conversation, but apparently I had also formulated a plan of sorts. He asked me again, “Why did you skip school?” This time I answered, “I forgot to do my homework and the substitute is mean.” The water works turned on again and this supposed mean Mr. Belagaron turned to consoling me and attempting to wash away my fears. Eventually when things calmed down, he walked me to class where two things happened. Tina mouthed the words “I’m sorry” and the substitute grimaced!