It rippled through the class in the way that something shocking often does. There was a moment of pause, a suspended stillness before any of us could react. We were in second grade, a year that I can recall even clearer than some things that happened yesterday. When something surprising happens kids often take a while to register it. Like those seconds between the moment a kid takes a spill, and then decides, through pain or calculation, whether to start crying.
It happened to Sammy – the classmate I disliked the most. It wasn’t just me, before you go off on that well-tread track. Sammy was a bad kid: he misbehaved, he was mean and nasty, and, quite frankly and quite literally, he stunk. He was the bad seed of the second grade class, a jerk of a boy who should have worn a diaper. On the day in question, the teacher must have agreed with me, because Sammy did something that brought out the fury in her.
I can’t recall what it was that he did, but I distinctly remember her rushing towards him, not screaming his name, but muttering it viciously under her breath. She gave him a few quick whacks on the butt. Not incredibly hard, but violent enough. We watched but did nothing. I wasn’t shocked or startled. I had seen that sort of thing before. It was the aftermath that was disturbing.
As I said, he was a bad kid. Well, maybe not bad, but ill-behaved, sometimes cruel, and, looking back on it, must’ve come from a family who didn’t quite love him enough. A while later I saw her hug him. And apologize. And hold him on her lap like a baby. “You just make me so mad sometimes, Sammy,” she said, almost crying herself as she rocked him in her arms. He just laid there, kind of lifeless. That was the disturbing part.
Actually, it was the way I felt about it that bothered me more than anything. Part of me wanted to see Sammy punished. Part of me wanted him to pay for the abuse he inflicted on others, the nastiness of his behavior, the way the whole class suffered for what he did. I wanted to feel bad for him, and some small part of me did, but most of me cried victory for come-uppance, for getting what he deserved.
I’ve never quite forgiven myself for that.Back to Blog