[wpaudio url=”/audio/december12/Rutkowski.mp3″ text=”listen to this story” dl=”0″]
At the end of a school day, I went to an empty classroom to talk to a teacher who’d summoned me. At first, her tone was light. “I want you to be honest,” she said. “I don’t want you to equivocate.
“I won’t prevaricate,” I said.
“I’m concerned about your sister,” she went on.
My sister, who was younger than I, was in a class with the same teacher.
“She seems precocious, but not about her studies.”
I didn’t reply.
“Most students her age think oral sex means kissing,” the teacher said, “but your sister knows more. Is something happening at home?”
“No,” I said, but I was prevaricating.
The teacher switched the subject. “Are you going to the Freshman Frolic?” she asked. She was referring to the annual dance for ninth-graders.
“I’m not,” I said.
“There’s a girl who wants to go with you.”
“I’m not going to change my mind,” I said.
“You never change your mind,” the teacher said.
I changed my mind. I asked the girl, and she said yes. But when I told my father about my plan, he didn’t seem to like my decision. He didn’t offer to give me and my date a ride to the dance. I had to arrange for other transportation.
On the big night, I rode with a classmate and his father. I was wearing a tan leisure suit and carrying a corsage. When I met my date, I noted her height. She was always tall, but on this occasion she was taller than ever. She was wearing a long gown that might have concealed elevating shoes. I gave her the flower bunch and she pinned it onto her chest.
I sat out most of the dances, but I went onto the floor for one. I put my arm around my partner’s waist and held her hand with my free hand. When I stepped forward and back, from side to side, she followed me. When I looked up, I was looking at her chin.
“I like don’t being tall,” she said.
“No problem,” I said. “I just need a stepladder.”
Later, she and I posed for a photograph. The idea was for me to stand behind her and put my arms around her waist. We turned sideways to face the camera.
When we arrived at her house after the dance, she said, “Good night.” She got out of the father’s car by herself and walked to her door. I didn’t accompany her.
I didn’t realize how rude I’d been until we dropped off my classmate’s date. The boy got out of the car and walked his date to her door. That, I saw, was the polite thing to do.
Later, my teacher came to our house. No one knew why she was there. When I came into the kitchen, I saw her sitting at the eating table. My mother, wearing an apron, was leaning against a counter. I looked into the sink—it held a freshly caught trout. I pointed to the fish, but the teacher didn’t respond.
“Are our children doing well in school?” my mother asked.
“They have some ability,” the teacher said. She was referring to me and my sister and brother.
“They have it easier than I did,” my mother said. “When Japan attacked China, I had to ride in the back of a truck to get to school.
Shortly, the teacher left.
My father came into the room. “I know why she was here,” he said. “She was spying on me!”
“She was just visiting,” my mother said.
“Visiting!” my father said. “She was gathering information for the authorities. We’re living in a police state. I’m going to that school, and I’m going there armed.”
“You’re making an earthly hell,” my mother said. “That’s what the Buddhists say. You have to rise to no-self.”
“I don’t need your Eastern advice,” my father said. “Sidhartha was a sissy.”
My father went on a rant. “I’m an artist,” he shouted. “That’s what I do. But I can’t do what I do because of you!”
While he yelled, my mother, my siblings and I remained silent. When he paused, my mother said, “He’s sick inside.”
“Are you listening to me?” he shouted.
“Sick inside,” my mother said to me and my siblings.
“I’m going to the bar,” my father said, “and I’m going to drink until my money is gone.”
I got my Freshman Frolic photo along with everyone else who’d attended the dance. The picture was an eight-by-ten glossy print. My date looked nice, draped in her gown. I was standing behind her, in a sort of piggy-back position.
A student asked me how I liked my photo. When I didn’t reply, the boy held a loose fist under my chin and said, “Speak into the microphone.”
I leaned toward the offered hand, then stopped when other students started to laugh.
Suddenly, I realized the fist wasn’t holding a microphone. It was holding an imaginary penis, and “speaking into the microphone” would be speaking into the penis, or worse than speaking. I didn’t want to get any closer to the fist.
I was assigned to give a speech for my health class. To complete the task, I found an entry in an encyclopedia volume at home and rewrote what I read. I made very few changes.
In school, I explained what I’d learned about human needs. “Beyond the physical things,” I said, “there has to be some stimulation.”
A student interrupted me. “What do you mean by stimulation?”
I started to mumble. “I don’t know,” I said.
“Can you speak up?” the teacher said. “What we need is a microphone. You need to speak into the microphone!”
My sister talked to me later. “That teacher came because I talked to people in the school office,” she said.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“I told them about our father.”
“What about him?”
“He was abusing me.”
“What did they say?”
“They thought I was lying, but they sent the teacher.”
At home, my father told me and siblings to stay in our rooms. “You know the saying ‘Children should be seen and not heard,’ ” he said. “Well, you should not be seen or heard.”
In my bedroom, I sat by myself. There was nothing for me to do. I had books, but I couldn’t focus on reading. All I could think about was not being able to leave my room.
I picked up a reel-to-reel tape recorder I’d received as a birthday present. I plugged in the microphone and held it in my fist. I brought my lips close to the pickup and started talking. “I’m speaking,” I said. “I’m saying something. Here’s what it is.”