In first grade a classmate and I were kept or allowed to stay a little longer in one of the upstairs rooms, which usually housed the older students. It was a thrill to be there, but it didn’t take long for the thrill to dissipate and turn to entitlement. I’ve always been bad about that transition. It’s fast and disgustingly furious and frequently my downfall.
When we were told we could return to the first grade room downstairs we grew wide-eyed at an even more enticing prospect: we would get to make the long trek…alone. Of course, it wasn’t really that far.
On a recent trip back to the Midwest I had a chance to walk through my old school, which was remodeled in my third grade year—and was amazed to see how small it was. Miniature, actually: my adult foot (which has been adult-sized since second grade) didn’t fit the width of a single step.
But, as a first grader, my foot was perfectly stair-sized and before the teacher had even closed the classroom door on her two six-year old travelers, we had already decided to “take the long way,” back. This constituted doing a giant loop of the entire building, going downstairs, back upstairs, and then down again.
We were half way around when we ran face to face into the teacher who had sent us on our way twenty minutes before. I remember quickly trying to explain, to help her understand it had been a special occasion, a leisurely walk to celebrate being able to make the journey alone…but it was all lost on her.
Instead she was furious and I felt terrible for disappointing her. I didn’t feel badly about what I’d done, mind you. It still felt that, if I was given permission to walk alone, I ought to be able to choose any route I wished. But I do hate to have people upset with me.
It occurred to me, walking quickly around the block on my lunch break, knowing people expected me back in fifteen minutes; I have never changed. To borrow from Modest Mouse: “I’m the same as I was when I was six years old.” I rarely feel I’ve done, or am doing, anything wrong. I feel as though, as a reasonable person, if it occurs to me to do something, I ought to be entitled to it. But I wear a meek little mask of fear, only because I so hate to disappoint others. It doesn’t seem like the disappointment should exist, if the fear is never really there to begin with.