The image that I recall is a line of little kids bawling and clutching their moms who were bawling and clutching their kids. After the painful mother-child separations, Miss Hickey, the kindergarten teacher, took guardianship of us. Being taught by Miss Hickey was a rite of passage that every kid in my neighborhood had to experience. An elderly and tyrannical spinster schoolteacher, she wore winged black-rimmed glasses and combed her short black-dyed hair straight back. As if to remind others or herself that she commanded the respect that comes with age, she left a single-inch column of her hair its natural gray-ash color; it ran from the top of her forehead and tapered to the back of her neck.
“Okay,” Miss Hickey began, as everyone sat cross-legged on the warm tile floor and faced her, seated on a wooden chair, “let’s get to know each other. We’ll start with me; I am Miss Hickey, your teacher, and for the time we spend together, I am your mother, your father, and your God. That’s all you need to know about me. Now let’s get to know you. Young lady with the pretty blue and white dress, please stand up and tell us your name.”
The girl sitting next to me rose to her feet and rocked from one black and white saddle shoe and white anklet sock to the other. Her ruffled dress fluffed out and over my head like an umbrella.
“My name is Susanne,”
“Susanne! What a pretty name!” Miss Hickey exclaimed, “And we will remember Susanne for her long beautiful blonde hair! And how about you, boy?”
I peered from under Susanne’s dress.
“Yes, you!” she said like a drill sergeant. “Stand up and tell us your name!”
I stood up. My nervousness took a different form from Susanne’s. My body stood like a soldier at attention. I spoke as if I were in boot camp. “My name is Louis, ma’am!”
“Louis! Well, we’ll remember Louis from those thick yellow-rimmed glasses that he’s wearing!”
Everyone broke into laughter.
Time may have distorted the events of that day, but, that shocking embarrassing moment scorched my memory forever. It was something like “that feeling” when Mr. Charleston looked at me before he died… but a little different, too. I didn’t feel vulnerable like when I faced death; I felt aggressive. I didn’t know what to do…so I laughed with them and sat down
A new feeling evolved called self-consciousness. Louis evolved—a “pudgie” little boy with curly brown hair; he wore thick glasses to correct what the doctor called “lazy eye,” which meant that the left eye crossed inward and made him look like a freak without his glasses I hated school, I hated Miss Hickey and I hated myself.
This humiliated and hostile little man vowed revenge on Miss Hickey as he secretly rubbed a booger into Susanne’s pretty blue and white dress.