During my fourth-grade year, my buddy Rory and I became obsessed with constructing tiny villages out of twigs under schoolyard trees. One particular miniature hamlet garnered rave reviews from multiple girls (mission accomplished!). In fact, our little village, now populated with disoriented ants and roly-polies, was dubbed “Adoraville” by none other than Melinda Aardman, the world’s most beautiful nine-year-old.
Unfortunately, it also attracted a strange nemesis: the formerly benign Mrs. Gibbons. I’d been in her class the year before and been one of her favorites. What had changed? I’ll never know.
On a singularly warm day, Mrs. G. decided to punish her misbehaving third graders by making them stay inside and eat their lunches in torturous silence. Before long, outsiders began to giggle and whisper in ghostly voices through the cracked-open doorway. Mrs. Gibbons raced out the door, but the five delinquents ran in six different directions, and she missed them all. So she sturm-und-dranged her way into Principal Booker’s office, grabbed him by the lapels, and dragged him out onto the campus.
Here’s the mysterious part: She headed straight for the idyllic little village Rory and I had built, and stomped on it, instantly reducing it to an archeological site. Then she pointed at me and said, “He’s the ringleader!”
I don’t think Principal Booker believed her. But she was one of his teachers and he had to stand behind her (safer there). Even after several of the real perps came forward, confessing their crimes and swearing I hadn’t been one of them, Mrs. Gibbons stuck to her claim that I had, in fact, been the chief wise guy, the Don himself!
So I spent the next month in recess purgatory, sitting on the sidewalk, disallowed even the most basic freedoms that great Americans like Thomas Jefferson and Mahatma Gandhi fought and died for.
I sat there day after day, stewing in my righteousness, slowly evolving into Mitch the Martyr. And then I had an epiphany: I liked being a martyr! Kids walked by, nodding in
admiration, covertly raising their fists in solidarity. And best of all, whenever Melinda
Aardman passed (am I just imagining this?), her eyes moistened in adoring empathy!
But I didn’t just like being a martyr, I liked standing for something that mattered. Don’t get me wrong, I did plenty of dopey things as a kid, but one thing I’m proud of is that I stood up for what I believed in (sometimes). Seriously. I put myself in harm’s way more than once by placing myself between a bully and some poor cootie-bug-du-jour, shouting, “Leave him/her alone!” Surprisingly, I never got punched in the face. But even if I had it would have been worth it.
Especially if Melinda Aardman had been watching.