It all started one afternoon as I was walking home from school. There was a path through a little section of forest that separated my neighborhood from the elementary school. My friend "Cindy" and I were walking together, and a boy ("Rick") from school was walking some distance behind us. We were ten, and boys and girls tend to abhor one another at that age, and we were no different. This boy was teasing us, or bothering us, or maybe just existing in close proximity to us, so my friend and I decided we should throw a rock at him.
What a logical course of action, right? We concealed ourselves behind one of the trees on the forest path and when Rick walked by us, all unsuspecting, my friend stepped out and threw a rock at him. Not a big rock, mind you. It was just a piece of rock that had come loose from the rough asphalt paving of the forest path. I didn't even throw mine. I guess at the last minute I realized how stupid our little plan was, or maybe I was just chicken.
But Cindy threw her rock, and it hit Rick, and he took off running not toward home, but back toward the school, crying. So where at one point I may have only been in trouble with his mom, I was now potentially in trouble with the school. All of a sudden, it didn't seem to matter that I hadn't actually thrown a rock, or that internally, I had realized it was a bad idea at the last minute, or that the rock hadn't hurt Rick that much, or that up until that point I had never behaved in such a way. I was going to be in trouble.
Sure enough, I soon received a phone call at home from the principal. She made sure to take the time to scold me over the phone for what I had done, and then told me to come in to her office the next morning, presumably so she could scold me again. My mom wasn't home at the time, but somehow she found out about the incident. I don't know; I probably told her myself. I was generally an upstanding 10-year-old like that, except when I was party to throwing rocks at boys.
As I remember it, my parents were not overly concerned about what had happened. I commend them to this day for their totally appropriate response. They were the only ones who didn't freak out and yell at me, as it turned out.
Because when I went into the principal's office the next morning - paged in over the classroom intercom, of course - the principal absolutely tore into me. She yelled at me for being there while the rock was thrown, and then she yelled at me for not bringing my parents in with me to this meeting. I hadn't even known I was supposed to. I was not familiar with proper principal's office protocol. Heck, the only other time I'd been in there was when I was student of the month or whatever and got a pass to have hot chocolate in the front office. As I sat there in the principal's office, she made me feel like - she made me believe - I had been plotting to throw rocks at boys for a long time and she'd finally caught me doing it and was happy to count it as evidence of my general hooligan tendencies.
When I got back to my classroom - and it is possible my sad, overwhelmed, chastened, embarrassed tears had not even dried on my poor little face yet - my teacher stepped out into the hall with me. And proceeded to yell at me some more. I cried some more.
It was all very terrible. And what makes me angry about this whole incident to this day is that I hardly defended myself. I just sat there and cried and let the people in charge of me believe what they had heard. Of course I was technically in the wrong, but I ache for my ten-year-old self when I think of how squashed and mistreated I felt by those educators who were supposed to be watching out for my well-being. I was a good kid, and I happened to be a minor party in a minor instance of misbehavior. But they made me feel it, deeply.
I consider this one of my life's great injustices. I also consider it one of my most profound teaching moments. I can honestly say that since that time, I have done my best to stick up for myself at all times, consciously remembering how I felt all those years ago. It's as if my sense of self-preservation was hammered to bits in the principal's office and in the hall outside my classroom, but once I put the pieces back together, I was indestructible.
So indestructible, in fact, that I can almost be glad I was there that day, thinking about throwing a rock at a boy but ultimately deciding not to, and then paying the consequences anyway. Almost.