Mr. Grumpy and Mr. Tickle

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Remembering childhood trauma.

Submitted: June 23, 2017

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Submitted: June 23, 2017

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Mr. Grumpy and Mr. Tickle

 

I used to be really into Mr. Men books, like really into them. I was a five-year-old girl at the time, so I was allowed to be obsessive. I only got worse as I got older. The new obsessions I have as an adult are even more unreasonable than those I had when I was a kid – young me would have gasped in horror at the amount I consume cigarettes. Sometimes I blame my dependency on cigarettes on my childhood trauma. I swapped the Mr. Men obsession for nicotine to cope ten years after being haunted by the memory. Sounds a little bit too much like an excuse when I write it out, and I’m not entirely convinced by the argument, but I choose to maintain some sort of belief in the idea.

I read all the Mr. Men books. I was charmed more by the drawings than the stories, and of course, it was inevitable that I would start casting people around me as the most appropriate Mr. Men characters in the roster. Being a five year old, my allocations were shallow and inconsistent. Mr. Men characters are one-dimensional, so I would reduce my friends and relatives to their most prominent attributes. Dad was Mr. Silly, mum was Little Miss Chatterbox, my sister was Little Miss Bossy. I was Little Miss Trouble, according to my mum. She often voiced the wish that I could change my name to Little Miss Tidy; I thought of myself more as Little Miss Sparkle.

However, this is the story of Mr. Grumpy and Mr. Tickle.

This takes place at school. My teachers, inevitably, had Mr. Men aliases, and they were well-named. Everyone at school hated Mr. Grumpy, and everyone at school loved Mr. Tickle.

Mr. Johnson was the spitting image of Mr. Grumpy, even if you took away the ‘grumpy’ part. He had a square face, a big frown like that of a sagging toad, and even held his arms behind his back like the character. He taught maths, and he disapproved of children. Children were to be seen, not heard; should call him ‘sir’; should be quiet; punctual; attentive; hard-working; obedient, etc. He made more than a few kids cry during his classes, and there was never any remorse or pity in his eyes. He was a cold, stern man and even the attentive, smart students couldn’t live up to his expectations; his classes were silent and dull. We watched him teach maths equations and did as he commanded. Nobody enjoyed maths in that school.

Mr. Wren was named after Mr. Tickle. He looked like the character in that he always had that hyper, gleeful expression. He loved tickling kids as both reward and punishment, and kids were always giggling and guffawing in his classroom. It was funny to watch, too. Mr. Tickle was my favourite character from the books, and Mr. Wren was my favourite teacher. Another excellent parallel declared my five-year-old mind. Mr. Wren was our English teacher, and we always had great fun in his lessons. We would read cool stories and practice our letters and act out scenes from the books, everyone was always super invested in his classes, unlike Mr. Johnson’s. Mr. Johnson never tickled anyone, he was too serious for that.

Mr. Wren, however, loved tickling children - especially the girls. Apparently, they gave ‘the funniest reactions.’

Mr. Johnson disapproved of the tickling. He told us it wasn’t an effective or relevant learning method. He told us in his classes to grass up Mr. Wren if we believed he was tickling us too much. All of our class members thought that was a very silly request. We always wanted to be tickled, and to tickle Mr. Wren back. How could there be too much of a good thing? We were loyal to Mr. Wren, anyway, not boring, stinky old Mr. Grumpy. I remember thinking that Mr. Wren and Mr. Johnson didn’t like each other very much. Mr. Johnson was always going to Mr. Wren’s office and bullying him – I saw it several times, and so did my classmates. He was always giving him a hard time. Our support for Mr. Wren grew, and our support for Mr. Johnson shriveled.

Soon, Mr. Wren found out how much I loved Mr. Men books after bringing a couple to class to pad out the bookshelf. He noticed me reading them and asked me how many I had read. I told him I had read all of them. He was amazed and proud that I was so into reading, and he encouraged my obsession, that it should be nurtured and loved to the fullest. Hearing that made me beam. After class finished, I told him how I had named everyone in class after Mr. Men characters. He loved hearing why each child was called which character, and when he found out he himself was Mr. Tickle, he tickled me. He said it was to truly live up to his name. I told him how Mr. Johnson was Mr. Grumpy, and he howled with laughter and nodded his head. When I got up to leave, he told me what a sweet, cute girl I was, and pecked me on the lips. I blushed and skipped out the room.

From that moment on, he insisted that I call him Mr. Tickle, and Mr. Johnson Mr. Grumpy. I said I would. But I told him I never would in front of Mr. Johnson. He laughed and said that was fair enough.

Me and Mr. Wren became good friends. I would always hang out with him after class, and I developed a huge crush on him. All the other kids in the class would make fun of me for it, and I could never deny it because it was so obviously true. Mr. Wren would laugh it off and say that all the girls wanted him, and that made me a bit jealous. But Mr. Wren would tickle me more than all the other girls, so I knew that I was his favourite.

Mr. Grumpy didn’t like that.

He would often burst into the room when it was just me and Mr. Wren, and it ruined our alone time together. I used to get very angry at Mr. Grumpy for that. Me and Mr. Wren would be laughing and cuddling and Mr. Grumpy would charge into the room, snapping at me to get the hell out of here and turning on Mr. Wren. I would hear him shout inaudibly at him through the wall, and it would make me cry often. Why did he have to be so mean? All I could see him as now was Mr. Grumpy – he was a caricature of a human, not even my teacher anymore, but just an angry man who was out to ruin my life. He just didn’t like to see anyone else having fun. Everyone had to be bitter, just like him.

I asked Mr. Wren one day why Mr. Grumpy was always yelling at him. He told me to call him Liam. My heart fluttered in that moment – My English teacher had gone from Mr. Wren o Mr. Tickle to Liam – our bond was growing stronger every day. He told me that Mr. Grumpy was a hateful old man, looking for reasons to scorn and complain - it was in his very nature. And since Liam himself was such a fun-loving laid-back guy, the two were opposites and bound to clash. Mr. Grumpy, being grumpy, was, of course, the one to always start these altercations. This made perfect sense in my young mind, and it became obvious to me that Liam was the hero, and Mr. Grumpy was the villain – and I was the damsel in distress. I blushed at the idea of Liam standing up for me and saving me for Mr. Grumpy. Mr. Grumpy kept telling me to stay away from Mr. Wren, that he was a bad man. How absurd, I thought – Liam’s the obvious good guy. Then I remembered that bad guys often think they’re right and that they’re the good guys, and it was incredible to me that Mr. Grumpy didn’t see himself as the obvious villain – he was the one always screaming and shouting and being hated on. Some people are truly ridiculous, I thought.

Mr. Grumpy would say strange, nonsensical things to me, such as, ‘I can’t accuse him, I have no evidence. But I know it’s true. I know it. Don’t give him any opportunity. You understand? Don’t let him tickle you. It’s a form of plausible deniability.’

Mr. Grumpy was never very good at talking to kids.

‘Do you understand?’ he yelled. ‘Don’t go near him!’

Me and Mr. Grumpy would talk about Mr. Wren, but the conversations lead nowhere, were confusing, and he just reiterated over and over how he wasn’t able to accuse without evidence, and that he didn’t want me to become the evidence. None of it made sense, and I wished Liam would interrupt mine and Mr. Grumpy’s meetings the same way Mr. Grumpy would interrupt mine and Liam’s. But he never did.

Far from dissuading me from hanging out with Liam, Mr. Grump’s incessant badgering would push me further into the reaching, tickling cuddles of Liam. It was beginning to feel like me and Liam were Romeo and Juliet. But I knew Liam could never love me the same way I loved him. I thought I had fallen in love with my thirty-year-old English teacher, that we had a connection like no other. But it was like loving a monolith. He was an experienced, charismatic and handsome man, and I was just one of his drooling idiot students. I began to obsess over him. I would draw ridiculous pictures of me and him and write short, broken stories where me and him ran away together.

Liam found these pictures and drawings one day. He invited me into his office during lunch time because he wanted to talk about them. He asked me if these drawings were drawn by me. I said yes. He asked me whether these stories were written by me. I said yes. He told me he thought it was very sweet, and asked me for a hug, and I immediately obliged. As expected, he began to tickle me. I was wearing a skirt, and he put his hands underneath and tickled my thighs. He had never tickled me there before, so I giggled even more than usual. I even tried pulling away because it felt so funny, but he held me back and carried on tickling. His fingers were like hummingbird wings as they scrabbled up and down my legs. This went on for some time until my giggles were cries of frustration. I couldn’t stop laughing and the tickle assault was unbearable. His fingers began moving less rapidly and instead started reaching and probing. They were ransacking and militant, and my giggles died off, to be reanimated into uncomfortable grunts and gasps. I didn’t know what to say or how to say anything, I was just trapped in his arms as he clutched and grabbed. He was grunting and gasping, too. We struggled against one another and the more I fought, the tighter he held on, like some cruel and restrictive set of knotted ropes. The more I moved and struggled, the more his hands and arms entwined around me. I tried calling out a few times, totally confused by the situation. He wasn’t attacking or hurting me, but his hands were so busy and electrifying that it was like having a bolt of lightning crawl and twist over me. I told him to stop but he shut me up by pressing a hand over my mouth. I bit him. I thought he might hurt me for that, but a small moan escaped his lips, and it didn’t sound at all like he was in pain – just the opposite, in fact. Then I felt his icky, slug-like tongue against my neck…

It was another ten minutes before Mr. Johnson saved me. By that time I was bleeding, crying, and tangled in my own clothes. When he entered, the two teachers stared at one another, me sat on Mr. Wren’s lap, everything intimate exposed and red. Silence watched us all.

‘I-I couldn’t stop myself!’ said Mr. Wren, and now he had tears in his eyes, too. ‘I couldn’t fight it.’

I can’t tell if what happened next lessened or worsened the trauma. Mr. Johnson, always shouting and screaming, didn’t utter a word. He charged at Mr. Wren like a harpoon. He picked me off his lap, dropped me on the floor, and beat the holy hell out of him. I can still remember that noise like a cracked whip as Mr. Johnson’s face met Mr. Wren’s cheek bone. More punches flurried out like a storm of beating wings, and Mr. Wren howled and gurgled. The punches were unending. There were so many and they all hit so hard that I threw up. For minutes there was only beating and crying. Then Mr. Wren lay crumpled up on the floor like a lumpy puddle. Outside, a gull squawked. Mr. Johnson got me dressed, picked me up and took me into the staffroom. There were no other teachers there, and he plopped me on the sofa. Then he picked up the phone.

I never saw either Mr. Tickle or Mr. Grumpy again. Not Wren, Johnson or me ever stepped foot inside the school again. It was, in fact, shut down later, and was headline news for a long time – it came to be known as a place that hired paedophilic and violent teachers. I was shielded from the controversy as much as possible, but I knew that what I had gone through had far-reaching effects beyond my own experience.

Those teachers ruined the Mr. Men series, that’s for sure. They had reversed the reason I loved them. Simple 2D cartoons now had sickening, sinister depths to them. Mr. Tickle had long, jittery arms to better coax and molest victims, and Mr. Grumpy, while not evil like Mr. Tickle, was brimming with repressed inclinations towards violence. What were the other characters hiding behind those blank, black eyes and seemingly innocent countenances?

Do I appreciate Mr. Grumpy for what he did for me? Yes. But over the years, I’ve come to reflect on the notion that perhaps Mr. Grumpy was not the secret hero most people thought he was. He saved me, but he could have done it before the attack. He knew what Mr. Tickle was up to, that’s for sure, but he never brought it up with anyone else. He wanted to make an enemy of Mr. Wren, and his warnings to me were never going to be helpful or make sense to a mind as young as mine. I sometimes wonder whether Mr. Grumpy wanted an excuse to beat Mr. Tickle up. I wish I could talk to Mr. Johnson, to find out what was going on in his mind, and to thank him. I want a more adult and nuanced point of view of the situation – and even though I don’t necessarily understand his intentions, without his patrolling paranoia, who knows how much further Mr. Tickle would have gone? Who knows whether this would have even been the one occasion? That, and he gave Mr. Tickle immediate penance for his crime.

I’ve tried to understand why I switch between calling these two people, who have real thoughts and feelings, different aliases. As an adult, I should finally start calling them by their real names, and I do try to, but I can’t get out of that child-like mindset when reflecting on the experience – it was a way of dealing with the memory. Remembering them as characters means I don’t have to think of them as real people – real people are reflections of reality, and they reflect the world’s nuanced evil. As Mr. Men characters, they are diluted, they can be brushed aside – thought of as simple heroes and simple villains – Mr. Tickle is the bad guy, Mr. Grumpy is the good guy. There’s even a moral to the story – don’t judge a book by its cover - something like that.

For Little Miss Sparkle, it’s kinder this way.


© Copyright 2017 Reagle. All rights reserved.

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