Short Story Monday: The Trouble With Authority
Mrs. Prisk was a freak face. Literally. Her upper lip stretched out so far from her under lip that I felt an urge to tug on it. I never actually did. The Priz, a name a confidently called to her face, was my fourth grade teacher and because I was new to the school she had a big impression on my perception of the education system. Mrs. Prisk was new too. Even though she was old, she was new to 4th grade.
She didn’t like me from the start. I know this because I accidently knocked a box of loose leaf a shelf with my backpack and she didn’t say “Ohh, don’t worry! That’s ok!” She didn’t even try and help me pick it up. Instead she said “There are no backpacks in the classroom!” How was I supposed to know this, I was new? I’ll admit that I wasn’t thrilled about this new life change and even though I didn’t walk into the classroom with a chip on my shoulder, I still walked in not caring and not excited.
A lot of it had to do with the school itself. I thought it was ugly and cheap looking with plastic chairs for the desks and there were more than 12 kids in each classroom. The school I attended prior was safe and clean, and when I say “clean” I mean beautiful, old and clean. This new school seemed tattered and had a strange but generic odor.
First impressions are everything and The Priz did not put her best foot forward. There were three of us new kids in the class and one was a boy named Pa-Kwesi. His family was from Ghana where he was a Prince and as Pa-Kwesi, shyly stood to introduce himself to the class Mrs. Prisk interrupted “Speak up!”. Poor, guy. Even my naïve 10 year old self could see how embarrassed he was standing there, not knowing a soul, being heckled by his new teacher. Pa-Kwesi finished his spiel and I thought it was all over…until Mrs. Prisk opened her stretched-out-upper-lip-mouth and said “You know, ‘Pa-Kwesi’ just sounds really difficult to say. How do you feel about shortening it to…’K.C.?’” Without giving him time to answer her question, she wrote it on the chalk board for all of us to learn. I wanted to punch her and her over stretched upper lip in the face. It was right then and there that I decided to call her The Priz. Mrs. Prisk just seemed “too difficult” for me to say. Also, out of respect for my father’s teachings “Respect needs to be earned”, I consciously decided that I wasn’t ever going to do what she wanted me to do because I had zero respect for such an insulting and ignorant woman.
Unfortuntately, the administration didn’t have my back. And, instead of praising me for my deep characterization and understanding of social equality, they contacted my parents…often. My parents were on my side for a couple months but they learned I was refusing to do my homework and leading the class in mini-uprisings, they changed their tune.
Things were getting heated, to say the least. Daily, a constant power struggle existed between The Priz and I. Manipulating bathroom privalages, correcting her in class and refusing to answer questions were my power tools. However, even with everyone involved and for as angry as I seemed to make The Priz, she never actually sent me to the Principle’s office. I believe, it’s because ultimately, I was right.
Until one day.
My desk, was a disaster. The desk was metal and the flat part where you write was wood and opened to store things. Papers, books, supplies and god knows what else was schmooshed all up in there. It wasn’t a surprise that I had finally lost something. My SRA Reading folder, which held the contents of my previous in school assignments (the only kind I opted to do), was missing. I couldn’t continue on in my lessons or do anything else until I found this crucial piece of my academic life. All my fellow students were working quietly while my desk vented it’s physical frustration through squeaks and slams. “Shhhh” I wanted to yell at it. I didn’t want The Priz to be privy to what was happening. “Mz. Kanan.” She knew I hated being called that. “What seems to be the problem, now?”. “Ohh, nothing, just getting myself organized.” “Well, it’s not time to organize, it’s time to work.” “She lost her folder.” Crap. Harry Peterson sold me out. I gave him a dirty look while he smiled in my face. He was so lucky I had a crush on him or else I would’ve retaliated.
The Priz rolled her eyes and warned me that I better find it before class was over or else she would have to call my parents. Again. I told her that she should have some sort of designated space in her classroom, which was much larger than our desks, where we could keep them. “Excuse me, young lady?” “I’m just offering my advice for a fix in this system.” I said in the most polite voice I could muster. What happened next seemed to be magical. Her upper lip and bottom lip shrunk together in size and her face began to be milady tolerable to look at…except her scowl. Her eyes looked evil and I swear I thought I saw red in the pupils for a second. Without saying a word, she stomped over to my desk and lifted it up. I was impressed with her freakish strength so I just watched in awe while she turned the desk over and shook it, dumping all my contents onto the classroom carpet.
I was mad at first. I thought it was helpful. She stomped back to her desk and as I moved the top layer of the pile, I found it. “Found it!” I proudly said with a genuine grin on my face. The Priz wasn’t any happier, in fact, I couldn’t even see her lips she had scrunched them even tighter. “Now, clean up your mess!” She yelled. I didn’t want her to win. I knew it was wrong to say but, I hated that she thought she had power of me. So, without any hesitation, I stood up and used, again, my most polite voice and said “Well, I was always taught that whoever makes the mess is the one that must clean it up.”
“You cannot SPEAK to me like that! Go to the office.”
Believing I was fully in the right, I confidently walked down the tile stairs. I loved being in the hallway when everyone else was in class. It felt like some kind of out-of-body experience, being able to have a large perspective on life. “Look at everyone,” I thought. “Just sitting there, being mindlessly controlled to all behave one way, all do the same exact assignments, expected, by these adults, to receive the same grades.” It made me angry. Frustrated that no one saw what I saw. Then, within that same moment, I got sad. I wished I was normal. This hadn’t been the first time I had thought this. If I was normal, I probably wouldn’t care like this. I’d be able to smile at The Priz and refer to her by her name and maybe even…like her?
As I turned the knob into the office, the secretary sang my name. She loved me. “Is that Miss Amelia, I hear?” That was the principal…who I wasn’t afraid of but I didn’t despise.
“The Priz sent me here…”
“She hates me.”
“She doesn’t hate anyone.”
“No, she hates me and that’s ok, I’m not fond of her even in the least little bit.”
“That doesn’t make grammatical sense, dear.”
“I know and speaking of that, I wish I was receiving an education rather than having to constantly defend myself and my rights.”
“Amelia. Enough. This is not a war. We are here to teach you, help you grow and become the beautiful, bright and wonderful lady that you are.”
I didn’t tell her that was a bunch of bull, I just began to nod my head. I knew my voice meant nothing, I understood that I had no rights in this sort of system and as my principal kept yammering on and on about how “one day I would understand what all this is for”, I wanted to cry. So I did.
“Ohh, sweetheart. It’s ok. It’s hard being the new girl.”
I began to cry harder because she just didn’t get it and I was mad that she thought I was crying because I was “new”. I wanted her to know that I was crying because The Priz really didn’t like me and I was glad she didn’t because she was an awful human being and would die if she did like me because that would mean I was an awful human being. I wanted her to know that I was crying for feeling like a prisoner kept in a cell. I wanted to cry because I began to think that this is what the “real world”, that everyone talked about, was like. Where people who are idiots get to be in charge of you and how you can never say what you feel.
I hated this place.
I sniffled the last of my tears and told my principal I was fine.
“Just apologize to Mrs. Prisk, ok? Adults get their feelings hurt just like kids.”
I said okay and when I went back to my classroom I said it, in a somber, genuine sort of way but I didn’t mean it. I just didn’t care. And all she wants is an apology after all that? What a sad human being. I felt bad for her. She must be a weak soul, I thought. That’s when I flipped. I just got a little quieter, less defiant and even less bratty. It’s just not fair to prey on the weak…