The hum of the of the avocado IBM Selectric typewriter and the whir of its patented spinning metal typeball filled the paneled office. I had never been here before, I was a stranger in a strange land. I was nine, and the school system was about to exact its first, terrible vengeance on me.
My name had barely been audible through the intercom speaker. The request had to be repeated twice before the teacher understood, and once more to make sure they were asking for the right student. When the click sounded to end the transmission, a prolonged silence had gripped the classroom. They all wanted to know what I had done. I had felt the weight of their curiosity on my shoulders as I stood from my chair and left.
I had felt small. The hallway seemed longer, taller, wider. I felt the panic in my chest, the thump of my heart against my ribcage. Every step I had taken had increased my anxiety. The world had become vivid, every edge more defined and sharper. I remember passing the water fountain, where a younger student had soaked her shirt. I remember the annoyance on her face.
I remember passing the music room, and the jangle of tambourines ringing in unison. After an eternity, the door to the school office finally came into view, and I had barely contained my terror, barely managed to overcome my need to run. An electric thrill had run through my body as my fingers closed on the doorknob. My heart had stopped when I twisted it open.
The secretary directed me to an orange plastic chair with a smile full of fake sympathy. Her eyes betrayed her, said she’d seen them come, and seen them go and it made no difference to her. As I sat and waited, I strained to decipher the low murmurs from behind the closed door to the principal’s office over the click-click of fingernails on typewriter keys.
I nearly screamed when the ring of her telephone startled me. She spoke briefly, then hung up. “Mr. Ford will see you now,” she said without looking up. This was routine to her, as old and as much a part of her day as her out-of-date eye glasses. “Just go in, he’s expecting you.”
A sudden peace came over me as I opened the door. No matter what I had done, no matter what happened to me, I would be me. Nobody could ever take that away. My mother and father were in the office. After a brief moment of panic, I noticed they were both smiling. Mr. Ford was also smiling as he invited me to take a seat and began to explain why I was there.
After a grade three year of perfect attendance and perfect marks, a year of being sent to my sister’s grade seven classroom to read because the grade three books were too simple, I would proceed directly into grade five at the beginning of next school year.
I would be one of those rare children to never attend grade four.