Ninth grade was the worst year I ever had in school. The first two years at West Geauga Junior High School had been OK. I had played sports. Got decent grades. Had some fun. But for some reason things went badly in ninth grade.
It started with Jodi, an angel who had made an amazing transformation over the summer. I fell for her hard, but she was dating another guy. I got cut from the basketball team. I wasn’t invited to Jean’s party, the one all the cool people were going to. And my family was being uprooted, moving to Chicago.
Maybe I should have foreseen all this considering what happened on the second day of school in my science class.
I don’t remember what kind of science it was. But I do remember my introduction to the embarrassment tactics of the teacher, Mr. Smith (name changed to protect the guilty).
On that second day of class, he asked us for our homework. I hadn’t done it. As the other kids turned their work in, Mr. Smith noticed I hadn’t. He said, “Do you have your homework?”
“No,” I said. “I left it at home.”
So, Mr. Smith pulls a little notepad and pen out of his shirt pocket.
“Why don’t you give me your home phone number and I’ll give your mother a call,” he continued. “I’ll have her read it for me.”
At that time I was wishing my mom had been one of those liberated women who could have provided me an excuse by being at work. But she was a stay-at-home mom, so I had to figure out another lie.
“I don’t think she’ll be able to find it. My desk is pretty messy.” I was shoveling it pretty heavy by now.
“Oh, I’m sure she’ll be able to find it. So, what’s the number?” His pen was poised over the notepad.
I don’t remember what happened next. I think I started getting teary-eyed in embarrassment. I didn’t actually cry, but I could have if it wouldn’t have meant having to immediately drop out of school.
Mr. Smith relented in his attack. He finally said, “You didn’t do your homework, did you?”
I think I croaked out a “Yes.” The immediate incident was over but not the embarrassment. I was taunted mercilessly by a couple of bullies who were on the football team with me. But I finally redeemed the situation 15 years later.
Some friends and I went to a improv comedy club in Denver. The emcee asked for a situation that you wished could be redeemed. I volunteered my sad story with Mr. Smith and my science class.
So the improv players performed a very funny skit with my story as fodder for laughs. In some sort of mystical miracle, the Mr. Smith character got on the phone to my mother’s character and said, “Hello, Phyllis, Dave’s mom?” (which was really my mom’s name).
Anyway, the story was resolved by my mom faxing my homework to Mr. Smith and all the kids dancing mockingly around Mr. Smith.
If only that were true. We can’t change the past. We can’t change the things we’ve done and the things that have been done to us. But we can change what we do in the present and the future, as well as grow in our perspective on the things that have happened in the past. Mr. Smith, wherever you are, I’m almost over the pain—almost.