I choked up when I told DD16 this story.
She came with me to the school, wanted to see where my education began. She helped me carry equipment and followed me as I recounted stories—the room where Monsieur Leflock taught me French: the vice-principal's office, where, for a time, he had set out a chair for me.
More on that, later.
We had ventured to the second floor, to find that the lights had been turned off. All of the classroom doors were closed and locked. Grades 4, 5, and 6 had been held up here. It's where I felt like one of the big kids, even though I was one of the smallest in all of my classes.
There were no light switches: at least, none that we could turn on. Each required a special key to activate them. The only light emanated from the far end of the corridor, where a set of doors took you to the stairwell that led out to the courtyard. It lit the two doors at the far end: one led into the library; the other, to the room where I had my grade 4 class.
I set the camera on my tripod facing down the darkened hallway. It wasn't a straight hall: it was staggered, with corners in which you could duck out of sight. I gave DD16 an external flash, turned it on, showed her the button that would activate it. I had her stand around a corner, out of sight from the lens. I took a second flash and hid around the nearest corner.
The camera was set for a 20-second exposure. In darkness, with my remote control, I activated the shutter. "Now," I told my daughter. For the 20 seconds, we both continuously fired the flashes, turning the darkness to light.
The photos captured, we continued toward the lighted end, hoping to find the library unlocked.
To the left of the library door, an alcove was lined with several hooks for hanging jackets. A bench, low to the ground, stretched below. This is where students for the classroom, beside the library, would store their outdoor belongings. I looked to the part of the bench, closest to the library door, and teared up.
"Oh my gosh," I said to DD16, my voice almost a whisper, "I just remembered something."
Our vice-principal, Mr. Gouge, was also my fourth-grade teacher. I received good grades, but I wasn't the best of students. I was a bit of a mouth, always quick with a smart-ass response. I was also the type of kid who would try anything, once, just to see what would happen.
I threw snowballs at buses and bus drivers.
I acted out quips from Get Smart.
I talked back to sarcastic teachers (or, teachers who I felt were being sarcastic).
One time, talking back to Mr. Gouge, he asked me, "How would you like a detention tonight?"
"I have no plans," I replied, "I'd love to keep you company."
"How would you like a week of detentions?"
"How about two?" came from my smart mouth.
"How about three?"
"Let's make it a month!"
I had a seat set out for me. Mr. Gouge would give me pages of exercises from the lessons of the day, to keep me occupied.
Our notebooks were supplied by the school, their off-white or yellow jackets had Carleton Board of Education blazoned upon the covers. I used to doodle on the covers, and one day, Mr. Gouge walked by my desk as I had squeezed the word IS between Carleton and Board, and had changed the spelling of the latter word to Bored.
Carleton is Bored of Education.
"Come with me," said Mr. Gouge, softly, picking up my notebook. To the class, he instructed, "Finish your assignment and I'll be back in a moment." He said that he would be back. He said nothing of me.
We headed out of the classroom, into the hall, and sat on the bench beside the library door. I sat in the spot where the bench ended, closest to the library. Mr. Gouge sat next to me, his knees coming up high, almost to his chest.
"Why do you hate me?" he asked.
"I don't hate you."
"But you challenge me at every turn. You talk back. You distract the other students." He held up my notebook. "You do this." He flipped through the inside pages, examining my work. "You're a bright kid. I want to like you but you make it very difficult. I get the feeling that you don't respect me. What have I done that makes you dislike me."
I started to cry. "But... I do like you. I just think that this is funny. I want to be funny. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings." I cried in earnest.
Mr. Gouge put a gentle hand on my head. "You can be funny, Ross. But when it's time to pay attention and be serious, I need you to be serious. Be funny when we're having a break. Can you do that for me?"
I nodded, sniffling and trying to compose myself. I could see in Mr. Gouge's eyes that he was holding back tears, too. We sat quietly for a few minutes. He looked at my modified book cover. A tiny smile told me that on some level, he thought my changes were clever.
"Are you ready to go back inside and focus on the lesson?"
For the rest of the class and for the rest of the school year, I made an effort to show that I could pay attention, that I could get my work done without distracting other kids, without interrupting or being a bad boy.
Except during the breaks. At those times, all bets were off.
I told DD16 this story, knowing that the exact conversation was a distant memory, but the tears from that day almost came back. I recounted the story as best as I could, my voice breaking at times.
We tried the classroom door, to see if we could look inside: it was locked.
We tried the door to the library, and it was unlocked. I picked up my camera gear and we headed in...