“How could you say that, Luis!?” she yelled angrily down at me with a stern look that wrinkled the worry and shock onto her face. Up until that moment, I had always made my third-grade teacher very proud. (Or was she my fourth-grade teacher?) Gold stars. High grades. First to complete assignments. But not today.
Every so often, I would notice that one or two students would get into trouble. Their crime? They talked back, didn’t complete assignments, or wouldn’t answer her questions at all. Their punishment? No recess.
While the rest of us would sneak our tacos to the monkey bars, played “it” or “tag” with the boys, or hopscotch –yes, hopscotch!–with the girls, there were those one or two punished students inside the classroom serving out their sentence for misbehaving in the classroom.
I was intrigued. What did they do in the classroom for those 30 or so minutes while we ran up and down the sandy yard like angry, high-pitched monkeys?
So, one day–not a specific day, just a regular, ol’ run-of-the-molino day, maybe a Tuesday or Wednesday–I misbehaved. Yes; I, Luis Garcia, Jr., at the tender age of 8 (or 9) chose to not follow the rules. I don’t quite remember what I did exactly, but I must have talked back or said, “No!” to something she requested. Whatever it was, my teacher did not like it.
“Just for that,” she continued, “you will NOT go to recess today, young man!” My classmates fell silent.
During recess, I was alone in the classroom. My punishment? I cleared the blackboard using the eraser then with a moist towel. I adjusted some of the books on the shelf. And I’m sure there were more tasks. I did not like it at all; it was not for me. I’d rather be outside laughing and playing during recess. But my intrigue, my curiosity was met. This misbehavin’ life was not for me. I’d learned a valuable lesson.
When my classmates trickled back into their seats, my teacher followed after them. As everyone was getting ready for class to start, I decided to inform my teacher of the valuable lesson I’d just learned. “Thank you for punishing me, Miss.” And I was going to continue with an eloquent comment about how dull it was to be punished and that I shall never misbehave again– But she wouldn’t hear of it.
And here we are.
“How could you say that, Luis?” she asked again louder.
“I– uh– I…,” I muttered.
“You should never be proud of misbehaving,” she ordered. “Now sit back down and let’s get started with the lesson.”
But I had already learned a lesson. I walked back to my desk utterly confused. Didn’t she realize that this event was enlightening for me. Didn’t she see that her punishment worked on me? Who would want to misbehave if he had to stay indoors while his friends played outside?
Her disappointed glare and that poison-tipped voice jabbed at my nerves like a hundred mosquito bites under the hot vengeful sun.
There are moments in life I recall as shameful that upon further inspection and deeper meditation, are not so shameful after all. I espouse having no regrets, but every so often a random, obscure, insignificant morsel of a memory creeps into my head that elicits a reaction of remorse and regret. I physically react with remorse and regret: I stammer to myself, my fist slams on the steering wheel, and I let out a weary “Aaaagh!”
This is one of those moments. I was driving home, thinking about the chaos in Egypt, about the historic cold temperatures in San Antonio, and out of nowhere this morsel of a memory brings back a flash of other thoughts and emotions… and shame.
I park in my driveway, turn off the engine, sit back, and listen to the trees sighing along with me and the wind.
I have no regrets. There is truth in failure. And I was in third grade when I taught myself that lesson. (Or was it fourth grade?)
Image source: altered from the archives of http://playtimes.wordpress.com/