Essay / Gillian English / October 2016

Tied to a Pole

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Art by Eva Olsson

Louisiana heat beat down on us as we struggled to get free. The jump rope dug into our flesh, making escape virtually impossible. Our pleas for help rang out in vain—everyone else had queued up and gone inside, leaving us to wither away into oblivion.

Eight years later, my school principal tried to erase the event. “That didn’t happen. That sort of thing doesn’t happen here,” he said to my friend after 8th grade graduation. My friend’s speech had been about that day in first grade when we’d been tied to a pole.

We’d been playing with some of the older kids, one was a girl with really long hair. She’d invented a game where we were tethered to the tetherball pole and we had to escape. If we couldn’t, she said she’d untie us. But eventually, recess ended, and that girl with the long hair went back inside to her classroom, leaving me and my friend bound to the pole.

We’d shouted for help as we watched our friends file inside the building, but everyone was so loud our wails were drowned out. It seemed like we were left behind for eons. We thought we’d be tied there until our flesh rotted and we were eaten by crows. Then we’d just be skeletons, hanging by the pole near the soccer field. They’d tell stories about us.

In reality, we were probably just outside for a matter of seconds before our teacher Mrs. Davidson came rushing out to untie us.

Looking back, I probably deserved it. The lasting trauma I received was most definitely karma. Because the reality is that I was a little shit in first grade.

Earlier that year, we were supposed to have a quiet work day, which meant we weren’t supposed to say anything. A huge request to ask of a bunch of six-year-olds. That day in class, some girl had brownies or Rice Krispie treats or something and I got up to ask her if I could have one—the illegal move of a blatant classroom insurrectionist.

When it was time for recess Mrs. Davidson began reading out the names on her list. I leaned back in my seat, sure that I’d be lining up to go outside within moments. I wasn’t worried. But then, a dreaded combination of syllables rang out through the classroom. I sat up straighter, dumbfounded. I’d been betrayed by the Rice Krisipie—ratted out for talking in class thanks to the siren’s song of a marshmallow brick.

I had to stay inside and miss recess to Write the Rules™.

Writing the Rules™ meant that you had to get one of the pink laminated sheets that said all of the classroom rules on them, find the one that you had broken, and write it neatly about 3-5 times. That part was easy. The hard part was that your parents had to sign it and you had to bring it back the next day. If you had to Write the Rules™, it meant that you’d been very disrespectful and would probably be drawn and quartered when you got home.

They have since abolished this cruel and unusual practice at my elementary school.

But I’d never written them before and I was too terrified of my mother’s wrath to comprehend any sort of rational thought, so I did what any terrified six-or-seven year old would do—ran to the bathroom and locked the door. These were single-person bathrooms.  Mrs. Davidson did not have the key.

I guess she figured I’d come out in a few minutes or something, but my resolve was strong. It was a battle of the wills and I was stubborn enough to stick it out. I stayed in there for at least two hours, ear pressed to the door so I could still listen to read-aloud and hear what my classmates were saying about me. If any of them had to use the restroom, they had to use the restroom in the class next door. Because I refused to come out, sixty grader schoolers had to share one bathroom.

I had no compassion for them. It was a one-person protest and I intended to stay there for as long as it took to not have to Write the Rules™.

But eventually, the school day ended and Mrs. Davidson came to the door.

“If you don’t come out, I’m going to call the principal to come open the door,” Mrs. Davidson said.

And even at age six-or-seven, I knew better than to fuck with that. So I came out. And I had to write the rules twice instead of once and probably got in way more trouble than I would have in the first place.

It wasn’t long before I got in trouble again. Mrs. Davidson decreed I’d have to Write the Rules™ again. But this time, Mrs. Davidson ran to the bathroom and used her body as a shield against the door. Like I was going to be stupid enough to do that again.

I made a beeline toward the supply closet instead.

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