Part Two (did you miss Part One – Start here!)
Sometimes my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Clayton, spanked kids. She used a wooden sorority paddle. Mrs. Clayton spanked Jennifer LaChance a bunch of times. Jennifer always laughed. It made Mrs. Clayton angrier. And it made me cringe. I worried about Jennifer. But, braided through my concern was admiration. Because Jennifer never worried about anything.
My Mom had a similar paddle. It hung from a leather string in the pantry, above the garbage bin. Mom used it on me when things were really serious.
Mrs. Clayton spanked me for telling the truth. It was a shock. My face burned as hot as my rear-end. I did not laugh. I didn’t cry, either.
Earlier that day, after recess, too many boys crowded the restroom. With every stall and urinal occupied, I waited by the sinks. The boy’s restroom was not a safe place. The word fag could erupt at any moment. On this day, Steve Bonsall climbed over a stall and, jumping to the floor, his sneakers squealed. Soon boys were scuffing the floor. Who can be the loudest? That led burping and farting, loud laughing, shoving and door-slamming. I could not compete, but worse, eye contact could communicate to the boys that they disgusted me. I made myself invisible.
Randy Ball said. “Hey, I bet Adam can’t even make his sneakers squeak!” All eyes turned to me. A urinal became available. I rushed to it.
I was still unzipping when Mr. Lutz’s booming voice silenced the room. He could give us all detentions. Call our parents. What made us think this was appropriate behavior—and after the late bell? He made the boys line up against the wall, those of us finishing fell in at the end. Then we were marched into Mrs. Clayton’s classroom.
Mr. Lutz declared us and our wrong-doing to the class.
Mrs. Clayton folded her arms. She said, “If you are honest and confess and understand what you did wrong I will allow you to sit and this can be over.”
Each boy confessed to yelling, climbing, pushing, shoving, cursing, on and on. When it was my turn, I said I had been standing by the sinks waiting for a urinal.
Mr. Lutz folded his arms.
Mrs. Clayton scowled.
None of the boy’s came to my rescue.
I was so confused that the next few minutes are missing from my memory. I do remember, once my spanking was over and I looked out across the class, Barbara was the only one looking at me. Her eyes were hard and she was smiling.
I was the only student paddled for the restroom misbehavior.
When I got home, I told Mom. I didn’t mean to get anyone in trouble. I wasn’t even looking for sympathy. I told her from the growing tumor of rage in my stomach. I was reacting to something that felt wrong.
“She spanked you? With a wooden paddle?”
As I nodded, the tears finally flowed.
Mom’s eyes turned steely. She stood, collected her purse and said, “Get in the car.”
I felt a chill flow down my body. I had said something wrong. What had said? Was Mom mad at me now?
My mind was spinning. I was afraid to speak. I followed her to the car, feeling dizzy. I clicked the seatbelt into the clip and then said with a cracking voice, “Where are we going?”
What was about to happen? Did Mom not believe me either? What if other kids saw me? With my Mom?
Our sky-blue VW Bug had a handle above the glovebox. I was too small to reach it, but when Mom drove angry, I wrapped my fingers around the underside of seat. The tires screeched. The seatbelt dug into my neck.
Once, when I was four years old, I peeled off the registration stickers from the inside of the windshield. Mom was livid. She told me what I had done was illegal, and that we could get pulled over by the cops. I was terrified, ashamed. I imagined myself in jail. Mom drove angry that day and a cop pulled up behind us.
My life was over. The time it took for Mom to pull off the road and for the cop to approach the window was the longest moment of my life.
“You’re missing your registration stickers, there, ma’m.”
“Yes,” she said.
My palms sweaty wet, my heart pounding, I stared at police officer.
He did not look at me; he looked down my mother’s blouse the whole time.
Turns out there had been a rash of thieves stealing the stickers. Mom thanked him. He left, and Mom burst out laughing.
I burst out crying.
“Am I going to jail?”
Mom laughed harder, wiped her eyes.
“No,” she said. “He was too distracted by my boobs.”
Relief crept up my body. She had saved me.
On the day of the spanking, Mom drove angry. She wove lane-to-lane, passing illegally on the right. She screeched into the parking lot. She slammed her door and waited for me to meet her at the back of the car. Her face was stony. Her hand, outstretched to me, felt like humiliation. I was limp, cold, weak. She dragged me into the building and straight to the principal’s office.
I was relieved to see the school was quiet and empty.
“We need to see Dr. Hemingway immediately.” Mom made herself tall and stood over the secretary. The secretary buzzed Dr. Hemingway’s intercom. We went right in.
“I need you to listen to this.” Mom said even before we were seated at the principal’s desk. She turned to me.
I stared at her.
I didn’t know how to do it. In fact, my mind was blank. After I tried a few stumbling words and phrases, Mom told him.
“She hit him with a wooden paddle.”
“Perhaps he had been misbehaving.” Dr. Hemingway said.
“Doesn’t matter if he was!” Mom said. “We signed the waiver!”
Spanking was just starting to sunset at our school in 1982. My elementary allowed opting-out. Parents had to sign a waiver to indicate that school officials could not spank their children.
I forgot about the waiver.
I felt the tilt of the earth shift on its axis in that moment. Justice. Was ours.
Dr. Hemingway’s face flushed. He called Mrs. Clayton. When Mrs. Clayton opened his office door and came in, I vibrated with exhilaration and terror. I struggled to breathe. Mrs. Clayton sat down, putting me between herself and my mother.
“Did you spank this boy?”
“No. Of course not. His parents signed the waiver.” Mrs. Clayton was calm and clear-eyed. She held Dr. Hemingway with her stare.
I could not believe it. The shock of hearing her lie: maybe she forgot? She wouldn’t lie. She’s an adult! My brain snapped, crackled and popped. As if outside of my own body, I heard my voice saying: “The whole class watched you.”
Mrs. Clayton’s head turned toward me, like an owl, and looked down at me in the chair beside her. I felt a choking sensation. I coughed.
“The whole class saw you, Lucille.” I noted my mother’s use of Mrs. Clayton’s first name.
After a stare down, the silence as thick as the wooden paddle itself, Mrs. Clayton broke.
“I spanked him.” Mrs. Clayton declared staring hard out of the window over Dr. Hemingway’s shoulder. I felt a little glow inside.
“Go wait in the hall, Adam.” Mom said. “Lucille and Dr. Hemingway and I have things to discuss.”
On the drive home, Mom gave me a blow-by-blow rundown of the catfight that happened in the office after I left. To be honest, justice was a fleeting triumph. Mrs. Clayton was icy toward me for the rest of the year. And, a few months later, when one of my roller rink friends was sent away for having drugs she stole from her dad, my parents decided to pull me out of the public school system.
Not long after the decision, Tina Fuller and I were hiding at church waiting to go home.
“Oh yeah, well I stretch the phone cord into the bathroom so no one can hear me.” I said in a hoity-toity voice.
“Oh yeah, well I have a phone in my room!” Tina said.
It was a game. We had been going back and forth, trying to top each other’s revelations. We were playing. Mom walked in just as I said, “Oh yeah, well I’m going to a private school next year!”
As my words echoed into the room, a claw gripped my shoulder and spun me around. The other hand came at me, and Mom slapped my face.
“Don’t you EVER let me hear you bragging like that again!”
I burned with shock and shame.
Mom twisted my arm as she dragged me out of church and to the car where Dad and my siblings were waiting. She threw me into the backseat.
Mom lectured the whole way home. Raging. Seething.
“Do you think Tina’s parents could afford private school? Do you?”
I didn’t know. And it didn’t matter.
“When I was little we had nothing. NOTHING!” Sometimes, when Mom started down this path, it felt as if she wasn’t talking to us. “I used an OUTHOUSE when every other kid had a bathroom INSIDE!”
Dad drove in silence. He watched the road.
Mom switched to the voice of a mocking kid, “Yeah, your dad is CRAZY! They would call him CRAZY and I was so ashamed. My mom worked TWELVE HOUR SHIFTS!”
It could go on and on. But it always came back to me.
“And YOU! You have no idea what you have.” Here she turned in her front seat and glared back at me. “You. Have no idea.” The last part was almost a whisper. “But you can brag. Brag to a poor girl who has NOTHING!”
I was convinced. I am terrible person.
I don’t remember if Mom spanked me that time. If she did, it was the last time. By then I knew the risk of speaking around my Mom. I had learned it was safer to be invisible, even at home.