Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Second Grade Secret

I had a crush on my second grade teacher.

Miss Contagogo was young and slender with dark hair and eyes. I wanted her to like me in return.

I was a daydreamer in school. I still am. My teachers were constantly reminding me to pay attention and stop looking out the window.

One day, Miss Contagogo caught me looking out the window.

“Pay attention, Karl. You’re acting like a first-grader. If you don’t stop looking out the window, I’ll send you back to first grade,” she scolded.

I don’t remember what attracted my attention out the window a few minutes later; but when I turned to look, she caught me again.

“That’s it, Karl. I’m sending you to first grade so you can learn to pay attention.”

I was devastated. The love of my life humiliated me in front of the whole class. Worse still, she was sending me to the first grade. My cheeks burned. I fought to hold back the tears.

Miss Contagogo wrote a note and handed it to me.

“You walk down to the Town Hall and give this to the first grade teacher,” she directed in a stern voice. I walked out of the room, my head bowed in shame.

Photo by Lynne Monroe

The Town of Hollis was growing in 1950, and the old school building would no longer accommodate all twelve grades. So the first-grade class was moved to the lower floor of the town hall, which sat several hundred yards away on the town common.

Outside the school, I burst into tears. I descended the concrete steps and went down the long front walk, convinced my classmates were watching me and laughing. I crossed the street and walked down the hill past the ball field, library and church, clutching the terrible note.

I was still sobbing as I approached the town hall. I didn’t want to face the first grade teacher or her students. They would know I was kicked out of class. They would all see I had been crying.

Photo by Howard Bigelow

I stopped in front of the heavy wooden doors. I couldn’t go through with it.

I turned and ran behind the Town Hall and hid beneath the wooden fire escape. I sat in the cool shade and cried myself to sleep, only to be awakened by the chiming of the tower clock striking the hour.

I spent the next few hours hiding from imaginary foes, stacking a pile of discarded bricks into a wall around my hiding place and drawing pictures with a stick in an area of the dirt that I smoothed out with one of the bricks.

The only person I saw was a woman driving out the road from the house behind the Town Hall. I ducked down as she drove by, so she wouldn’t see me.

I was hungry and scared, but I devised a plan.

I knew school ended at two o’clock. I’d wait until the clock struck two and then walk back to school. The rest of the class would be gone by then, so I wouldn’t have to face them.

I buried the note in the dirt beneath the wooden stairs. If Miss Contagogo asked, I’d tell her everything went fine.

The hours dragged by. I remember counting twelve rings, then one and finally two.

I brushed off my clothes and left my hiding place. As I walked back up to the school, I tried to remember things we did the previous year in case Miss Contagogo asked. I was terrified she would find out.

I saw the school buses coming down the driveway as I walked up the hill toward the Red & White store. I was too ashamed to look up as my bus passed by.

I crossed the street and walked up the long front walk. A group of high school girls sitting on the lawn giggled as I passed by. I was sure they were laughing at me.

When I walked into the classroom, Miss Contagogo was sitting at her desk working. She looked up.

“I hope you learned your lesson,” she said sternly. “You go to your seat. I’ll call your mother to pick you up.”

I sat down at my desk. I had never heard the school so quiet.

Miss Contagogo walked out of the room. I listened to her footsteps as she climbed the wooden front stairs and walked back to the office on the second floor. A few minutes later, I heard her coming back down.

“Your mother will be here soon,” she told me.

I reached into my desk and took out my favorite coloring book and crayons. I began coloring a picture of a cowboy sitting on his horse and waving to the engineer of an old-fashioned train.

Miss Contagogo finished her work and left. When my mother arrived, I didn’t tell her what happened.

For the rest of the year, I waited for my secret to be exposed; but it never was.

Miss Contagogo got married a few weeks later. I remember her writing her new name on the chalkboard for us. She didn’t return the next fall.

I told my mother my secret not long before she died. She never knew.

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