From The Miami News-Record, Sunday, August 10, 2014
In 1983 I was in fourth grade, smack in the middle of my awkward stage. I had a Little Orphan Annie perm (not as cute on me), was chunky, and none of my shirts ever fit quite right. I quickly learned to deal with awkwardness by using humor – I loved to make people laugh. I still do.
For PE we would trek to the old gym (that still smells like wet wood and pre-pubescent angst) to play kickball, dodgeball, jumprope, or tag. On really good days we got to play with the scooters. On really bad days we had to climb the rope. On this particular day, Kristy Fink was sitting on the bleachers alone. She looked glum. I decided to cheer her up. I trotted toward her and when I got close, lowered my backside to the bleachers and slid, my intention being to slide into her and make her laugh. Instead of making her laugh, though, I instead felt this intense pain in the back of my leg, just under my ….cheek. I immediately jumped up, holding my bum, jumping around and screaming, “I have a splinter in my leg!” I think people thought I was again using humor, what with all my dancing and butt-holding, but I was seriously hurting. Coach Phillips looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Bass, calm down. Splinters aren’t that bad.” I assured him it was indeed bad. Not knowing what else to do, he instructed “Fink” to escort me to the office.
At the office, Mrs. Gatewood, the secretary, had me lower my britches and show her the splinter in question. My escort, Kristy, was very dark-skinned and upon seeing the splinter, blanched as white as the white girl showing her bum in the school office. Mrs. Gatewood gasped. The “splinter” was as big around as a toothpick and twice as long. It had gone in right under the skin and was sticking out about a half inch. It. Was. Horrible.
Because my mom cleaned houses during the day and cell phones hadn’t been invented, I was stuck in the office until she got home. Because the wooden skewer lodged in me was perilously close to my bum, there was no way I could sit. All they knew to do was put me face down on the faux leather sofa right in front of the principal’s desk with my pants around my ankles, my lower half draped in the principal’s jacket. Why no one thought to remove my pants from my ankles I’ll never know. That day I heard several teacher/principal conversations, listened to a kid get reprimanded for shooting spit balls, and was witness to a kid getting swats. That poor kid was mortified I was in there watching him get busted; I was equally mortified that I was there with my pants around my ankles.
Finally Mom got home and came to get me. Because my pants were still at my ankles, I couldn’t walk (again, not sure why they weren’t just removed), so the principal carried me to the car -- which wouldn’t have been so bad if third graders hadn’t been coming in from PE at the precise moment we entered the lobby. There I was, dangling from the principal’s neck, pants-less, draped in a Wyandotte Bears jacket, crying from embarrassment while all the kids were whispering, “Oh my gosh, what’s wrong with her?”, “Is she dead?”, “She’s not dead! She’s crying!”, “Why is she crying?”, “What happened to her??” It. Was. Horrible.
The doctor had to cut my skin and create an “exit” for the spear embedded in my leg. If he had pulled it by the piece sticking out, there was a chance it would splinter back and create a big ol’ mess right there on my backside. But by day’s end I had a new stuffed dog, a bottle of pink bubblegum antibiotics, and a bandage on my backside. Oh, and an intense fear of wooden bleachers.