Cryin' is for Losers
Mrs. Brown, my third-grade teacher, stood in front of the classroom waiting for us to number our papers for the weekly math multiplication quiz. As she began the drill, I just couldn’t think fast enough and most of my paper filled up with x’s.
“Pass your papers down,” commanded Mrs. Brown, collecting them. I sat in the middle, and it was easy for me to see the other papers decorated with ’x’s like mine. I felt a little better. Maybe, I wasn’t the only one that was dumb!
As she glanced at the paper, Mrs. Brown clicked her tongue. “It’s obvious some students aren’t studying at home. If you don’t pass mathematics, you won’t get promoted to the fourth grade.”
I did try to study at home, but it was so hard. Last night, supper had been mustard greens and fat back. I HATE MUSTARD GREENS! Eating that stuff made me want to gag! Momma knew this and she would tell me, “Pretend you’re eating something you like. Then it won’t taste so bad.”
‘Yeah, right Momma!’
After a math lesson division, everyone couldn’t wait for lunch, except me. My crumpled paper bag was between my desk and Tony’s. Tony looked away when I reached for it. It had been two weeks since we’d last spoke to each other.
Tony, short for Antonio, came from Cuba. He spoke good English, probably better than I, since I rarely opened my mouth. He was mad at me. It started with my desk. One day we were talking about my desk and how the seat would pull up. When Tony said it reminded him of a toilet bowl, I let loose.
Mrs. Brown always kept a firm rule about students keeping their mouths shut and their ears open, especially when she was upfront teaching. Now, here we were laughing like a pair of hyenas. Mrs. Brown called both of us to the front of the room. She asked if I had to use the restroom. I replied, “Yes, ma’am.”
I was so nervous, I almost wet myself before making it to the toilet, just in time. After I took care of my business, I thought about stuffing my underwear with a thick padding of toilet paper. Then I thought, maybe Mrs. Brown might not spank me, since this was my first offense. But I knew before entering the classroom, because I felt that electric shock shooting up my spine.
Not one sound could be heard as I walked in. In fact, if someone had dropped a pin on the floor, everyone would have heard it. I glanced over at Tony. He had his head down and his arms were covering his face. Well, I may as well get ready, as I stood in front of the class.
“Touch your knees,” Mrs. Brown barked.
WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!
I felt my face turning red and when I stared down at the floor, that’s when I felt the Beast coming. IT wanted to snatch the paddle from Mrs. Brown’s hand and shove it down her throat.
Now, I couldn’t let that happen! So, I dug my nails deep into the palm of my hand and the pain is what kept the Beast at bay. I didn’t feel the paddle as I was struck several times, and that was a good thing, because I didn’t shed one tear. After all, crying is for losers!
Oh, how, I missed Tony! He couldn’t handle the teasing. Well, it was hard on me, too! Didn’t he realize I got a spanking, just like he did? Tony acted as if it was all my fault. Well, he was just going to have to get over it! If he wasn’t going to talk to me, I may as well try to find another friend.
One day I was standing behind Henry, the nose-picker, and Tony was behind me. I gave Tony one last chance to talk. When I turned around to say something to him, he turned his head away. That’s it! I told myself!
Now, Henry made me sick when I saw him picking his nose and eating the boogers. Kids would tease him about it. No one wanted to be around him! I didn’t see any problem striking up a conversation with him, as long as I didn’t have to hold his hand.
Henry wanted a friend so badly and he was so happy when I spoke to him. From that moment on, he and I were like peas in a pod. We started walking home together. Whenever we found a cluster of flowers, Henry helped me pick them, so I could give them to Momma. If Henry found a penny or a nickel on the road, he gave it to me.
So, as we entered the cafeteria, I had no choice but to hold that disgusting paper bag. As usual, Henry was standing in front of me. He turned and stared at me. I guess he could tell by the look on my face, how much I hated being there. “Here,” he said, opening his hand to reveal a quarter. “I’m not hungry.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m not taking your lunch money.”
I despised having to stand in line and watch everyone in class get a tray full of food, except me. I wanted to leave the line and sit at my assigned seat, which was at the end of the table. But, no! I had to stand here, walk up to the cashier and tell her I didn’t have any money. She asked if I wanted a carton of milk. ‘Look, lady,’ I wanted to bark, ‘you ask me this every day. You should know the answer?’ I watched the food being served and then I was allowed to go to my seat.
Momma did her best to find something for me to take to school. Sometimes, it was boiled eggs and a biscuit. Sometimes, it was cheese, instead of eggs. Today, I didn’t know what was inside that crumpled, old bag. But whatever was in there, I didn’t want anyone to see it!
I opened the paper bag and peered inside. Yuck! There were two pancakes smeared with peanut butter, wrapped in an old bread bag. Well, I had two choices. I could shove it down my throat before anyone saw it, or I could throw it back inside the bag. Well, I decided to eat it, because I was hungry!
After taking a bite, my tongue got stuck to the roof of my mouth, because of that peanut butter. I needed some water to swallow down this nasty stuff. I stood up hoping to see if Mrs. Brown sat at the teacher’s table and found out she wasn’t! DARN! Now, what?
It wouldn’t take long before my classmates were sitting at my table. Any second, someone would notice I had a pancake sandwich for lunch.
Now, here I was with my mouth shut trying desperately to swallow. Since I didn’t want to get caught holding this peanut butter, pancake sandwich, I shoved that sucker back inside the plastic, bread bag, and when Mrs. Brown finally did sit down, I raised my hand and pointed to the water fountain. Mrs. Brown nodded her head.
I took the plastic, bread bag with me, as I rushed over to the water fountain to take a sip. On the way there, I drop the bag into a large, gray trash can. Sitting next to the trash can was Ellen. She lived on the edge of Slab Town. She always brought a lunch from home, like I did. Except, hers was a real lunch!
I watched as she took out a bologna and cheese sandwich wrapped in wax paper, a banana, and two cookies wrapped in a smaller sheet of paper. Next to her food, was a thermos probably containing grape koolaid, since that was her favorite. I was shocked when I heard one of Ellen’s classmates say, “She always brings her lunch.”
“Yeah, that’s because her family lives almost in Slab Town, that makes them nothing more than white trash,” snickered another.
Ellen looked in my direction and smiled. The teasing didn’t seem to bother her. She pointed at the two cookies. “You want?” she mouthed.
“No, that’s okay, you eat them,” I mouthed back.
Ellen looked around before getting up. One was never allowed to leave the table without permission. But Ellen was a daredevil. She left the table. She ran over to me and placed both cookies in my hand. I whispered, “Thanks!”
Sitting back down, I began to nibble on one of the oatmeal cookies. A year ago, I ignored the taunts hurled at the poor kids from Slab Town and that’s because I didn’t feel I was one of them.
Momma always said we lived two blocks away from Slab Town, we didn’t live in that shabby neighborhood. In those days, I wore new clothes and bought my lunch.
In the blink of an eye, my life had changed. Daddy had a nervous breakdown caused by flashbacks of being an officer in World War II. But Daddy happened to be more than just an officer. He was a trained American spy. I don’t know if he killed anyone or not. Frankly, I didn’t want to know! So, I never asked.
It was Daddy screaming, late one night, that woke up something inside me. Momma tried to help him, but as soon as she touched him, he pushed her away, and that’s when the IT took over. The Beast had me place one hand on Daddy’s shoulder, and instantly, like magic, Daddy stopped screaming. He blinked several times, glanced down and me, and then like in a trance went back to bed.
Later, after the incident, Momma told my three brothers and myself, that Daddy had trouble falling asleep at night, because he had nightmares about when he was fighting in a war overseas. Daddy served as an Army Officer in World War II.
After eating those two cookies, I was still hungry. The rest of the school day was nothing but a blur. As I stepped on our back porch, I heard my stomach growling.
There was a time when Momma had made a plate for me. She called it an after-school snack. Usually, it was a glass of milk with a slice of bread with jam. Now, it was nothing more than a distant memory. Would it get worse? Each day was hard! My younger brother, Joey, was nibbling on a piece of white stuff. “M-m-m, it tastes like vanilla ice cream.” I snatched it from him. I bit into it. Blah! I spit it back out. It was soap!
“I fooled you,” he chuckled.
“You worm!” I screamed, kneeling down to tickle him on the stomach.