Tag Archives: The Red Dress Club

Why It is Important to Know Your Family Tree

When I answered our rotary phone, the voice on the other end of the line was unfamiliar. I didn’t want to tell him I was alone in the house.

But this guy was persistent. He peppered me with questions about my parents’ whereabouts, when I expected them back.

“Wait, who are you again?”

“I’m your cousin Joe.”

Yeah right, buddy.

My Mom was an only child. My Dad’s brother never married. I don’t have any cousins.

But Mom did. I quickly checked my mental list of Gram’s siblings and their children. And came up empty. Nope, no idea who this guy on the phone was. All I knew is he was creeping me out.

I can’t remember if I bothered to apologize first or if I just hung up. But I definitely hung up on “cousin” Joe. Then I checked the locks on all the doors and huddled up in a corner of the couch looking around in paranoia waiting for my parents to get home. At which time I told them the story about how a strange guy claiming to be cousin Joe called.

My Mom didn’t miss a beat, “Yeah, Joe…did he say why he was calling?”

Oh crap.

My grandfather died before I was born. I wasn’t very familiar with that side of Mom’s family. But there was most certainly a cousin Joe.

So Mom had to call her cousin Joe to explain that her daughter was a moron. She made me get on the phone to apologize. I muttered an apology, but Joe took care of most of the talking. He looked forward to meeting me…at his father’s funeral.

Shit, shit, shit.

He mentioned a spanking might be in order for hanging up on him. I would find out soon enough he was only kidding, but not knowing Joe at all (obviously), I worried about the possibility anyway. At best, I knew I would be teased mercilessly. I would be introduced to each and every long-lost family member as the girl who hung up on Joe. As I wrote in my diary, “UGH!!!!!!!!!!”

As if this funeral would not be special enough, my Dad was nowhere to be found that morning. As much as we wished he had just skipped town, we all knew that wasn’t likely. We sat on the couch all dressed up and ready to go and worried he would make us late. Until he finally used his one phone call to let us know he was indisposed. “Say hi to Mom, from JAIL.”

We went to the funeral without Dad. Cousin Joe did not spank me. He did tell the story of my hanging up on him to anyone who would listen. I did shrink in horror, which of course triggered the obligatory game of “let’s tease the shy preteen girl for being shy” that well-meaning but overbearing family members inexplicably like to play.

But the day wasn’t about me and soon the teasing was over. Now I mostly remember this day as a glorious break from Dad. “Minus one,” Mom, my brother, and I felt a little lighter. We might have looked just a bit too happy to be at a funeral.

This post is in response to this week’s memoir prompt at the Red Dress Club.

Take us back to an embarrassing moment in your life.

Did someone embarrass you, your parents perhaps? Or did you bring it upon yourself?

Are you still embarrassed or can you laugh at it now?

She Was The One

The Saturday morning beach traffic they’d so carefully avoided by driving down on Friday trapped Emily as she drove back from the grocery store. She had promised the kids frozen waffles  but then forgot them at the store. Going back for the waffles took considerably longer than she wanted it to, but she sighed and tried to stay in vacation mode.

The beach house was still quiet when she got back. If the kids wanted to sleep in, she wasn’t going to stop them. It would give her a chance to be alone with Todd.

But she couldn’t find him anywhere inside. Emily walked out to the patio overlooking the beach and saw Todd sitting on top of the picnic table. He sat with his elbows resting on his knees and his face in his hands just watching the ocean. Her mood lifted at the sight of him. The swish of the waves coming in masked the noise of her return and unnoticed, she felt compelled to watch him.

Emily’s eyes followed Todd’s gaze as he watched a woman running on the beach. She smiled and rolled her eyes. It wasn’t unusual for Todd’s head to get turned by a beautiful woman.  Emily wasn’t the jealous type. Todd had opportunities to be with other women, they’d even had a brief period while dating when their relationship was open. But he chose her.

Still, after fifteen years of marriage and two children, Emily kept a mental list of desired self improvements. Maybe someday she’d even have time to work on some of them. The kids kept Emily plenty busy. While Emily was fulfilled by caring for the family they’d created, she understood why Todd might sometimes enjoy a little eye candy. Emily was “Mom” now. Hell, most of the time Todd referred to her as “Mom” too.

She was about to make her presence known to Todd, when she noticed him sit up as the runner on the beach got closer. Emily studied her and couldn’t see anything particularly striking about her, nothing that would grab Todd’s attention. She wasn’t in any physical distress. In fact, Emily thought, they looked sort of similar. They had the same hair color, some of the same features. The runner was obviously more fit, maybe a touch younger. She just looked fresher somehow. Emily doubted this woman’s significant other called her “Mom.” The thought made Emily’s hand involuntarily try to smooth the flyaway hair she forgot to comb before shopping.

Emily’s next breath caught in her throat when she heard Todd call out,


The sound of Todd’s voice startled both Emily and she who might be Kelly.

It took Kelly, for certainly this was Kelly, a second to register Todd before the slightest smile of recognition passed across her face and she said, “Jesus Christ, you scared the shit out of me.”

“No, it’s Todd,” he said in his signature smart ass way, which would have made Emily laugh, but simply made Kelly tease, “I know who you are, dumbass.”

The bantering continued and Emily really wanted to hear what they were saying. She strained to hear them, but nothing could drown out the thought overwhelming her.

That’s her. She was the one.


Red Writing Hood is a writing meme from the Red Dress Club. This week’s writing prompt was: “The most frequent advice I come across for amateur writers is, “Write what you know.” “What you know” doesn’t necessarily always mean “your comfort zone.” For this week, take what you know out of your comfort zone. Try a new genre, a new time period, a geography you’ve only dreamed of, fantasy or historical instead of contemporary fiction, try the male POV if you usually write women. Or vice versa. Switch it up. See where it takes you.” Word count limit= 600.

This post is a work of fiction and it was the most difficult post I’ve written to this point. I’m always so impressed at TDRC writers’ fiction posts, but I have steadfastly avoided fiction and clung to memoir. So when I saw this week’s prompt to do something different, I took it as a personal challenge. Out of my comfort zone, indeed!

Constructive criticism is welcome, but I implore you to break it to me gently as I am a delicate flower and fiction virgin.

Way Past My Bedtime

I have written about my sleep issues before, but I haven’t fully explained I have always been a night owl.

This has never been a convenient trait, and it drove my parents crazy. They would put me to bed and we all knew this was a silly game we were playing, that I was not going to sleep.

Whatever I did, I couldn’t make much noise and I couldn’t use much light or they would notice and yell at me to go to sleep. I would usually read with a flashlight or strain to see the words by the light from the hallway. When I heard my parents coming upstairs for bed after local news and Carson’s monologue, I’d quickly close the book and pretend to be asleep.

Then at 12:30am, I would quietly switch on my tiny 5 inch black and white TV and tune in Late Night with David Letterman. All I had to eliminate the sound was a cheap plastic earphone, yes, earphone in the singular. As often as I could get away with, I would huddle up in my bed and watch Letterman, which I could only hear through one ear, and try to stifle my laughter. I was nine. I was so sleep deprived at school, it’s a miracle I passed fourth grade. Luckily for my academic career, we got a VCR when I was in fifth grade.

I loved Dave’s quirky and irreverent sense of humor. He did silly things. He made fun of his employers mercilessly. He didn’t pander to his famous guests. He would often run a joke into the ground, yet somehow it would continue to be funny in spite of, or perhaps because of, the repetition.

When I started high school, I guessed my homeroom teacher was a Letterman fan before we ever talked about it. The first day, he had us go around the room and introduce ourselves and say something we enjoyed doing. I can’t remember what I said, but so many of the other girls said they liked to ski it started to become almost creepy. He started joking about this and would not let it go. At one point, he broke in and called out for a show of hands: “OK, who skies?” Some of the others groaned, but I just laughed. He was funny, like Dave.

I still have some of my favorite episodes of Late Night on tape in my basement. There was the crazy suit series, like when Dave dressed up in a suit of magnets and attached himself to a giant (GE!) refrigerator, the episode where Dave got Sonny and Cher to sing “I Got You Babe,” and my personal favorite segment ever, when Dave tried to take a fruit basket to General Electric as a gesture of goodwill after they bought NBC and basically got told to talk to the hand.

This very blog owes its title to David Letterman. Dave would try to start new catch phrases (“I can’t stand the itching, but I don’t mind the swelling.”), and he introduced me to the word logy.  Logy refers to feeling sluggish and Dave would often say he felt a little logy. Perhaps because watching his show made me so sleep deprived, the concept of logyness resonated with me. It became one of my signature words.


This post is in response to a prompt from The Red Dress Club. This week, the prompt was “to think about a TV show from your past. What feelings does the show evoke? What memories does it trigger?”

French In Action

Ah, the sounds of France. The sea crashing onto the beaches at Normandy mixed with the respectful hushed voices at the World War II cemetery, the rapid fire native French speakers I strained to understand, the clank of the manual metal elevator doors in the charming small hotels, and the beat of the techno music at the discotheque our teacher allowed us to go to one evening.

However, of all the sounds I heard during my junior year trip to France, none is more vivid in my memory than slurping. The good old-fashioned slurping of an American girl reunited with chocolate after a long Lenten promise. At first, I was charmed. After 40-odd days without chocolate, and the last few with the added bonus of jet lag, my friend was getting pretty fucking grumpy. So at the strike of midnight on Easter Sunday, I was happy for her as she pulled out her stash of Cadbury Creme Eggs and prepared to shut the door right on Lent’s ass.

I believe this was the same evening I’d called my Mom collect to check in. When the French operator asked for my name, I cringed as I said “Tracy,” since I knew he was going to have trouble with my super American name. But to my surprise, he excitedly said “like Tracy Shapman?” (French-ifying the hard “Ch” sound of the semi-popular singer of the time’s last name). I toyed with the idea of breaking out into “Fast Car,” but just said “Yes, like Tracy Shapman,” and that seemed to satisfy him.

Do you know how long it takes to finish a Cadbury Creme Egg if consumed by sucking out all the fondant through a tiny hole in the tip? A long time. The sound attacked a nerve in my brain. Oh my God, the slurping. She was like a crazed junkie getting a fix. But because we were celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ the next morning (at Notre Dame, no less!), I decided to let my friend live.

Good thing too, otherwise I would have been in a French jail instead of at the discotheque in my super hot periwinkle skort outfit with mock turtleneck and white tights. Amazingly, a French guy asked me to dance that night in spite of my outfit. For some reason, I’m more popular in France. I believe I’m three for three on dance requests at French discos/dances. Let’s just say the figure here in the U.S. is…lower. My friend titled this photo “Tracy at the piano bar.” It looks like I’m ready to begin my lounge singing career. Thank you!

My friend and I went back to France two years later, accompanying our high school French teacher and his students on their next trip. Being graduates, but not yet 21, the trip was a weird mix of independence and stifling. On that trip, we hung out with the chaperones just as much as with the students. We sang while walking back to our hotel in Nimes late one evening and I did Paul’s harmony on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and felt free (mostly of this). On this trip, it was hard to maintain the respectful silence required at the World War II memorial because my friend and I spied the ridiculous sign below. How the French expect school groups (and ahem, mature college students) to avoid giggling over wild boar warnings is beyond me. Especially when my friend posed on all fours and acted like a wild boar (the photographic evidence of which I’m kindly not publishing here).

This is in response to this week’s memoir prompt at the Red Dress Club. The prompt was to write about a memorable school trip. Word limit is 600.


“Hankie, keys. Comb, wallet-ey…”

God, seriously?

“Dad, I’m going to be late for school.”

But my complaint doesn’t have the desired effect of stopping my Dad. He is compelled to start his ritual over again. Depending on how late we were and whether my brother was around to join in with me in interrupting him and making fun, I’d either be slightly amused by this compulsion or slightly annoyed. But I was always resigned, because Dad would not leave the house without doing the whole thing no matter how many interruptions he faced.

“Hankie, keys. Comb, wallet-ey,” starting over, he checks two of his pockets.

“Ring, watch,” while he checks to make sure his wedding band is where it always is, on his left ring finger, and watch, well I never know why he says this, since he doesn’t wear one.

“Nuttin’, nuttin’,” as he clarifies that his two always-empty pockets are indeed empty. I always wondered what would happen if he found something in one of his “nuttin’, nuttin'” pockets.

“Barn door’s locked,” as he makes sure his fly isn’t open.

And finally, “O-F-F, O-F-F, O-F-F, O-F-F, O-F-F,” as he individually checks each knob on the stove. I learn never to interrupt him this late in the ritual, because he would still have to start over and then you essentially have to wait for him to go through it twice.

Even though I don’t remember any instance of Dad uncovering something forgotten through this routine (maybe the occasional unzipped fly?), he had to do it anyway. Dad drove me to school every morning for years. I estimate I heard this at least a thousand times.

I haven’t heard Dad say this in almost 24 years, but I can still hear it. And picture myself, school-uniformed, arms crossed, tapping my foot by the back door in the kitchen waiting for the last “O-F-F.”


This week’s writing prompt was: “We want to know what, from your childhood, do you still know by heart?”

People Watching

Sinking down into the comfortable reclining chair, I slide my feet into warm, bubbling water. Knowing the aesthetician and I will fall into silence after a couple of awkward questions and answers, I brought various forms of entertainment with me.

The busy salon door keeps opening, bringing more customers. They all arrive in pairs or groups. Finally, a lone woman enters. The receptionist motions for her to take a seat for her service. But she replies, “I’m meeting a friend, I’ll wait.” Huh, her too.

Filling the seats around me, these women chat about wedding plans, their children, vacations. Their conversations flow easily and pull my attention away from the magazine I’m halfheartedly flipping through and the Facebook statuses I’m absentmindedly checking.

The Facebook statuses! Facebook documents parties, potlucks, hometown reunions at holidays. Picture after picture shows smiling faces, arms comfortably draped around shoulders and waists.

At home, a recent warm day allows me to sit on the front porch. My next door neighbors walk past. We exchange smiles, waves, hellos. Some of our other neighbors run into them, each holding one of their new puppies. They laugh with the realization they independently decided to visit each other. As they walk past again, we exchange smiles, waves, and inquiries about our dogs. I sort through my mail, hearing their giggles and cooing over the puppies playing in the yard next door.

While responding to email at work, the voice of my newest coworker drifts down the hallway. She and another coworker are finalizing weekend plans. Other coworkers are calling in a lunch order, which reminds me it’s time to eat. On my way to the microwave, my coworkers and I exchange smiles and hellos.

At my previous job, I get an office mate after a year. Each time one of her visitors knocks, it takes me by surprise. I look up and exchange smiles and hellos. Within a few weeks of sharing an office, I catch up on a year’s worth of office gossip.

My graduate school has an office space just for students in my small program. When someone walks in, people smile and call out greetings. We help each other finalize homework between classes at the large wooden table in the common area. We snack on candy bars and complain about the volume of work and the early morning classes. My fellow students plan evening study sessions, dinners, and Melrose Place-watching parties.

During grade school, predicting when girls who had previously talked to me would decide to exclude me again is impossible, better to watch and wait for an affirmative sign before assuming anything.

Shortly after my fourth birthday, my mother takes me to preschool. We have driven by the building many times and I’m obsessed with the indoor slide I can see through a front window. My first day, I’m taken to a large room in the back of the building. The back door to the room leads to an outdoor playground. Sunbeams enter through the partially open door and the sounds of other children playing outside pour into the room. My teacher greets me and suggests I go play, waving her arm away from her desk. I look around carefully and it is not clear where to turn or what to do. All of the other children appear to be engrossed in activities already. The loud noises of their talking and laughter assault my ears.

Squinting to hold back tears, I wonder how everyone else knows each other already.


This post is in response to this week’s Red Writing Hood prompt at the Red Dress Club. The prompt: “We’d like you to write about what your character wants most.”

Lode Runner

Late at night, I would sit next to my older brother and watch him play Lode Runner on our Apple IIe. The room was dark except for the bluish glow cast by the monitor. The room was quiet except for the sharp, but hollow-sounding game noises and our whispering about strategy and barely stifled laughter as we kidded each other. We didn’t want to wake our parents.

Mike was nine years older than me and after he got his driver’s license, he went out every chance he got. With college classes, work and his social life, he was hardly ever home.

I missed him.

In the summer, when Mom wasn’t strict about my bedtime, I would stay up late into the night watching MTV and waiting up for Mike, hoping that he might feel like hanging out awhile when he got home. The hanging out often revolved around Lode Runner.

Lode Runner had 150 levels and started out easy, which was good since it took awhile to get used to the two-handed keyboard skills needed to play without a joystick. It took six different keys to control the white stick figure in his quest to gather all of the gold nuggets while avoiding the orange and white stick figures who guarded the gold. The stick figure could run, climb up and down ladders, go hand over hand across suspended bars, and dig holes in the two-dimensional blue brick to temporarily trap the guards and also to make them give up the gold they sometimes carried.

The levels got progressively more difficult and started to require more strategy. Luckily, we earned an additional man for each level we completed, so when we were stumped we could experiment with our backlog of men. In a time when computers couldn’t multitask, Lode Runner monopolized our computer for weeks. We’d leave the game on in between sessions, the white stick figure constantly blinking his readiness for one of us to press a button to start the next level.

Eventually we hit a level with gold that appeared impossible to retrieve. None of the tricks we’d learned in previous levels worked. Mike was obstinate and blew through a lot of men trying the same ideas over and over again without success. We were both getting frustrated. We were worried that we would lose all our men and have to start over.

Finally I had a new idea and though Mike thought it was crazy, he tried it. His timing was off and he ran the white stick figure right into a guard. He was pissed and muttered something colorful. But I convinced him to try again. I don’t remember how many attempts it took, but I remember how amazed and excited he was when it finally worked. My idea had finally solved the level we’d been stuck on for days.

I often came up with the creative solution necessary to complete a level and Mike was better at executing the plan, with the extra years of arcade practice under his belt. We were a team.

It was just a game, and a pretty simple one, but I finally felt like something more than a pesky baby sister. I would play Lode Runner by myself after these times with my brother, but it was never as much fun without him.


This week’s RemembeRED prompt:
“We want you to recall the games you played when you were young…Write a piece that explores one of your memories.”

The videos I found on You Tube make me sick with longing to play this damn game again.

Rock The Vote

“My family and I saw your Dad with his campaign signs the other day,” one of my friends from school said to me one day.

And what a sight he must have been, I thought.

Embarrassment quickly flushed my face with a ruddy warmth.

“Oh my God,” I muttered. What else could I say?


My Dad spiraled down into a deep depression during his long unemployment. I remembered a time when I rushed to him when he got home from work asking him if he’d brought me anything. I loved office supplies and he would usually come through with some sort of fabulous-to-me gift, like a 4-color Bic pen or a regift of something one of his clients had given him.

I can understand better now the despair he must have felt to go from being the bread-winner and delighting his daughter with office trinkets every day to being unemployed. But Dad had let himself go, literally and figuratively, and at the time I only cared how it felt to me. Humiliating.

The unemployment rate was high, the job search was not fruitful. His resentment burned to a fiery anger. He started passing his time trying to cause trouble for those who had fired him, but that did not work out well.

Eventually he replaced these activities, as well as looking for work, with complaining about not having work and making our lives miserable. And the drinking, there was always the drinking.


Inexplicably, he became hopeful that life would improve…if only the incumbent were defeated in the upcoming election. He had bountiful free time to campaign. That poor, poor challenger…

Luckily, Dad’s favorite outfit matched his candidate’s campaign signs. This outfit also matched the color of my hot, flushed cheeks when my friend said she’d seen him.

You could not miss him.

He spent his days driving around the city with an enormous campaign sign mounted to the roof of our car. His campaign uniform was no different from the outfit he’d been wearing every day for God knows how long. He wore sweatpants, Converse sneakers, and a tee shirt that accentuated his beer belly so well that he probably looked like a tomato to my friend and her family.

Dad even created a campaign song for his candidate, which made me regret watching so much MTV in front of him. He changed the lyrics to the Cars “You Might Think,” which was a huge hit at the time.

You might think I’m loony, but all I want is (insert candidate’s name here).

To make this rhyme, Dad had to mispronounce the name. Dad sang this pretty much non-stop, whether out campaigning or at home. Even now, hearing this song makes me want to stab myself in the eardrums.

Annoying and embarrassing, but until my friend mentioned seeing Dad, I thought maybe I’d get through the election unscathed.

Fortunately, my friend wasn’t judging or teasing me. She thought my Dad was funny. All my friends did. When they came over, it was still early enough in the afternoon for the happy drunkenness, which they mistook (I hope) for simply happy.

There was never any doubt that the incumbent would crush Dad’s candidate, with or without Dad’s special brand of campaigning. At the time, I had trouble distinguishing whether these events were comedy or tragedy. Probably still a mixture of both, but at least I look back on it with laughter now.


This week’s RemembeRED prompt:

“Give me a memory of the color red. Do not write the word ‘red’ but use words that engender the color red when you hear them.”

I have never been a big fan of the color red, so I could only come up with two memories in which red played any significant role. Neither seemed worth writing about. But when I heard “You Might Think” Sunday night in the car for the first time in years, I took it as a sign.

Something In Our Minds Will Always Stay*

Sting sang to me through my headphones as my Mom drove our getaway car. The haunting sounds of the song “Fragile” perfectly matched the fresh wound of the argument replaying in my mind.

Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away, but something in our minds will always stay.”

I clutched my walkman and sunk into the seat, and tried to focus on Sting instead of my father’s rage, which still echoed, distorted and menacing.

On and on the rain will fall, like tears from a star…”

While Dad was not physically violent, the threat of violence always felt real. Anxiety weighed us down, more oppressive since my older brother left for school. Mom and I retreated each evening to her bedroom. Hiding there, we would eat takeout, watch TV, and pretend that the closed door protected us.

My prayers finally answered, Mom rented a house across town, closer to my school, further away from Dad. He wasn’t supposed to find out until the last possible second, but somehow he knew. He was blisteringly drunk, in a blind rage, and in possession of several serious weapons, but none of those things distinguished that night from many others. But now he was also armed with the news that we were planning to leave him.

How fragile we are…”

Mom said we needed to leave and hurried up the stairs to pack some things. I didn’t follow. Dad moved toward the staircase and I sat on the bottom step defiantly. I studied his face and worried we weren’t going anywhere. I blocked his path, partially to stall for time and partially because I believed I could calm him.

Perhaps this final act was meant, to clinch a lifetime’s argument…

Crying always made me feel weak, but my tears could quiet his rages. The tears dampened his fiery anger and he would slink off, still steaming about some perceived injustice, but knowing he’d gone too far. He’d made his baby girl cry. He was sorry, until next time.

So I looked up at him and managed to cry out “Why are you doing this?” before dissolving into tears. In response, he mocked me. It was chilling. I fled up the stairs and packed as much and as fast as I could. My head hurt and my heart ached while trying to decide what I could leave behind. I didn’t believe I would ever see anything I left behind again.

The drive to Gram’s house took less than five minutes, the soundtrack provided by “Fragile.” The song burned this night into my memory. Defeated, but safe for the moment, I sobbed as quietly as I could until I fell asleep in Mom’s childhood bed.

Mom insisted I go to school the next day even though the sight of my face in the mirror horrified me. The night of sobbing disfigured my eyelids and had nearly swollen them shut. I went to school but I wasn’t really there. My pulse quickened when I thought about what was supposed to happen at home, what might happen.

Indeed, my world transformed while I was at school. But the contrast between the past and walking into my new home after school was like stepping from black and white into the motion picture Oz in Technicolor. While I was away, my Mom made magic. She moved our lives to this new house. All of my things were safe, my room ready for me. My Mom was safe. Her friends were with her. Everyone was smiling. We felt lighter, we were free.

With this move, she rescued my soul and made all things possible.

This was 23 years ago and from the first day of our new life, the dark memories receded. But hearing “Fragile” still transports me to the night we had to flee my Dad. I feel the sting of my father’s mocking and the uncertainty about what the next day will bring.


*The title and italicized lines are from “Fragile” by Sting.

I planned on taking a little break from RemembeRED writing prompts so I could catch up on my considerable backlog of other post ideas. But this prompt resonated with me too much to let it go.

This week’s prompt: “Have you ever heard a song and suddenly you were swept back to a time in your life you had pushed to the back of your memory?…This week, your memoir prompt assignment is to think of a sound or a smell the reminds you of something from your past and write a post about that memory. Don’t forget to incorporate the sound/smell of your choosing!”

I have been writing posts at least partially related to this prompt for several weeks. Earlier this year, I started an iPod shuffle challenge—listening to a complete shuffle of everything on my iPod without skipping any songs. Each week, I write about what I heard, including the random memories that certain songs evoke. The song “Fragile” came up in the shuffle several weeks ago and I wrote about both of the memories this song evokes for me here. This post expands on one of these memories.

Constructive criticism welcome, in particular I found it hard to show rather than tell. Perhaps because this is a critical piece of my life story, I am compelled to tell it.

The Bad Side

Imagine a classroom of first graders, a group of six-year-olds in their first formal school experience.

Now imagine the teacher openly labeling some of these children as “good” and the others as “bad.”

Sounds ridiculous, right?

My Mom did her best to prepare me for the start of first grade since past experience indicated I would need some encouragement, perhaps even a shove. Mom took me to the school for a visit before the first day. We got to see my classroom and meet my teacher, Miss Griswold. I was still very nervous, but I hoped it would be OK, just like Mom said.

Unfortunately, Miss Griswold had other plans.

One day, Miss Griswold announced she would rearrange the room. She wanted to split the class into the “good side” and the “bad side” of the room. I felt panicked. I didn’t yet know what it meant to be on the bad side, but it couldn’t be good. I didn’t think I was bad, but I couldn’t know for sure I was safe until she finished calling out the assignments. I held my breath. She assigned me to the bad side of the room. My heart sank. I felt very confused. What could I have done? I never got into any trouble.

She drew very clear distinctions between the good side and the bad side. She reorganized our desks and created a boundary between the desks on the good side of the room and the bad side.

When she crossed the boundary, she changed her tone of voice. She spoke in a cheerful sing-song while on the good side. She switched to a threatening tone whenever she moved over to the bad side. While the bad side of the room worked on extra math problems at our desks, the good side of the room moved to the back of the room to lounge on pillows and listen to extra stories.

I was painfully shy, but I had to know why she thought I was bad. I could not think of anything I had done. Asking her why she assigned me to the bad side of the room provoked enormous anxiety. But I could not think of anything else. I worked up my courage, walked over to her, got her attention, and managed to ask her why.

She said I forgot to hand in a permission slip for a field trip before she had to ask me for it. She actually said this in more condescending a manner than that, as if it should have been obvious. “Remember the other day, when you forgot to hand in the permission slip…” After I nodded, she said “Well, that’s why.”

If there was a way out of the bad side of the room, she didn’t offer any tips. I felt sick to my stomach. Going to school everyday made me miserable.

I have no idea how long this went on before my Mom’s complaints eventually put an end to it, but long enough for my panic and embarrassment to turn into dread. I stayed home “sick” a lot. I couldn’t even relax at home, because I worried about what would happen the next day if I couldn’t convince Mom to let me stay home again. Finally, Mom said if I missed one more day, they would hold me back. I stopped staying home.

Eventually Miss Griswold introduced a new system to reinforce good behavior, a token-earning system. The tokens were small chips, round and Crayola red. I don’t remember earning any. I absolutely did not want to call any attention to myself, good or bad. I didn’t need any tokens or prizes, I just needed to be safe.

While I don’t remember how long I sat on the bad side of the room, I do remember why, and I do remember coming to understand that no mistake would go unpunished.


This week’s RemembeRED prompt was to “mine your memories and write about the earliest grade you can recall.” I’m really hoping that someday one of these prompts will elicit an unambiguously happy memory because I swear I do have some!

For those of you who might wonder, Miss Griswold was my teacher’s real name. I suppose it’s possible that someone could identify her based on this post, and I have three things to say to that:  1.) Fuck her, 2.) She got married and changed her name, and 3.) Fuck her.