Beginning in June
Beginning in June I would count the days until we had to go back to school. Even before the dull heat of a Connecticut summer had really hit our shores, I was thinking about math class. I was remembering with great clarity the stiff formality of Mr. Palmer with his heavy black glasses, pot belly, pants that were too short and too tight, and his darting eyes that seemed to reach into the conscience of every eighth grader at the Greenwich Country Day School. I hated math and always had since seventh grade and the advent of algebra. It seemed completely illogical to me we had to master equations which used letters instead of numbers. I could have cared less if A +B =C squared or not. I could do arithmetic in the blink of an eye as I had my trusty cash register bank to compare notes with. Mr. Palmer taught me how to really feel ashamed and it was my own entire fault.
That last week of school we had a pop quiz in class. Frankly it didn’t matter to me if the quiz was “pop” or not as I was bound to fail it. As soon as Mr. Palmer went up to the board and picked up a piece of chalk, a dull roar began in my mind and any chance of paying attention went out the window. Those early moments of explanation of a new concept were the most crucial as we all know and if you weren’t there with the teacher you never learned the problem. Consequently, I never learned the problems.
Mr. Palmer loved pop quizzes and had them all the time. This one had 8 problems and I knew the answer to four of them leaving me with a 50% score. I needed to find at least one more correct answer. I scratched and scratched at my sheet of paper, writing down possible ways to find an answer to no avail. Without consciously thinking about it I glanced over at Keith Funston’s paper and saw in his very clear and precise letters the answers to all the problems. Not being a greedy girl, I copied only one on to my sheet at the bottom of my chicken scratches.
Why did I do this, you might wonder? Summer was coming, I was failing math, if I failed math I would have to go to summer school and be even more miserable than I already was. I was desperate enough to try anything, even cheating.
The following day, back in math class, Mr. Palmer wished us all a happy summer and let us out early. After announcing this wonderful thing, he asked that “Cindy Watson” come up to his desk. I watched as my fellow students left the room staring at me surreptitiously under their eyelids and slowly walked up to Mr. Palmer’s desk. He looked up at me and said,” There is one answer on your test that is correct but your work does not show how you got there. Could you show me how you did it?”
I looked down at my Bass Weejuns and began to cry. “No, “I said, “I really can’t. I copied Keith’s paper because I was so afraid of failing again.”
To Mr. Palmer’s credit, he didn’t yell, threaten or frighten me in any way. In his soft yet stern voice he told me I would have to go to summer school for two weeks in order to pass the course and move on to 9th grade. All I could think of was who he was going to tell about my sin. Would there be a call to my parents? A scarlet “C” to be worn all the rest of the day? A visit to Mr. Webster’s office, the evil headmaster? I felt as if I was on my way to the Penitentiary never to see the light of day again.
Mr. Palmer asked me if I would ever do this again. I looked him right in the eye and told him no. I think he believed me because there was no call to anyone, not even my parents. I kept waiting for the call and am still waiting. I still feel the fear and shame of having to admit I had copied the answer. I know a lot of kids do this and don’t get off so easily but at the time I was terrified.
Summer came and went. Summer school passed with apparent ease. My mother and father continued to be lost in their separate world of fifties parenting which meant no parenting. My sister Olive and I played our usual summer game of “see who has left for the summer so we can swim in their pool”. Our town emptied of its inhabitants slowly as the round old station wagons headed north in a caravan of wasps looking forward to a new hive for a few months. Children sat in sticky seats in back and tormented their siblings and played games like “count the purple cars” or six cars from now will have your future husband in it.”
I watched the face of my father as he came home from work each day waiting for my punishment. Summer grew deeper and hotter and our mother took us to the beach almost daily always “forgetting” lunch so we could eat greasy burgers at the concession stand and blow the papers off our straws into each other’s faces.
Mr. Palmer never told anyone and this is my way of saying “thanks”. Maybe he knew I would torment myself enough without adding to the burden. Eventually I passed ninth grade, went away to school and graduate school and never copied another answer again.