The building appeared to touch the sky as I climbed the ancient steps. The doors swung open and the familiar scent of polished banisters and disinfectant rushed to meet me. The halls echoed as my heels hit the linoleum. I imagined the green lockers that lined the long hall as solemn soldiers standing at attention––I blinked as I imagined one winking at me. I wished that I were back in Disney Land again.
My sixth grade teacher stood at the door with his muscular arms folded. A whistle hung from his neck. His chiseled jaw chomped gum while his sharp eyes sized up each kid that walked by. I tugged at my dress, smoothing the wrinkles. My appearance had changed over the summer. Mom said that I’d “blossomed” whatever that meant. I wilted away from my teacher, smiling shyly. It was going to be a long year.
I hurried past Mr. Kloke, to a desk towards the back of the classroom. The lid lifted easily while I placed my school supplies inside. As it closed, I looked around with a sigh of relief. Earlier I’d prayed that the biggest snob in school, wouldn’t be in my class this year. She delighted in making me miserable every day of fifth grade. I closed my eyes tight to pray a silent prayer, to be sure God remembered. As they opened I nearly fainted, Elizabeth, “the snob” was standing there with her hands on her hips.
“There you are Valerie. This is going to be another great year isn’t it?” She spun, flaying her hair across my desk as she sat down.
Not again. Like a caged rat I looked for an escape, but all the desks were taken. I looked Heavenward and brushed a curl away from my face.
Where are you when I need you? God have you ever been twelve years old?
A sigh escaped my lips as the bell called the class to attention. We stood next to our desks for the Pledge. During the moment of silence I hoped I wouldn’t be asked to volunteer for anything the first day of school.
Mr. Kloke stood in front of the class. “I’m not your normal run-of-the-mill sit on your butt kind of teacher. I run a tight classroom.” He paced back and forth. “I’m a mountain climber and if any of you boys get squirrelly with me––you’ve met your match. I have someone I want you to meet.” He bent to rummage through his desk. A twelve-inch paddle was in his hand. “This is The Counselor. You break the class rules and you’ll get counseled thoroughly.”
I was terrified. The class was silent.
He asked for a volunteer to take attendance.
Mr. Kloke told the class about himself and what he’d done over the summer. He asked for volunteers to tell what they did.
Several kids leapt at the chance. The shy kids waited. I wondered who would be next. Soon realization dawned that he would randomly choose a student if they didn’t step up––I raised a tentative hand.
“Yes? Please come up to the front of the class.”
Sweat formed on my upper lip. The blush of my face would soon match my hair color to perfection. I counted cracked linoleum squares as I walked to the front of the class. My voice squeaked as I said softly, “My name is Valerie Hess.”
“She’s a mess!” Elizabeth blurted. Her ‘friends’ giggled.
Kloke glared at the kids. “Please continue, Valerie.”
“I went to a funeral this summer.” A gasp escaped from most of the students’.
I rubbed at a spot on the floor with the tip of my shoe. “My great-grandma passed away this summer. Her hair was just like mine.” I twirled a lock with one finger, wiping a tear with another. “She used to tell me how special I was and that Jesus loved me. The funeral was in California. On the way home we did some fun things ‘to chase away the blues’ my daddy said. So we stopped at the ocean to find seashells. We also went to a really fun place called Disney Land.” A murmur of awe came from the class. I raised my eyes wiping the perspiration from my lip.
Mr. Kloke then asked. “What was your favorite part, Valerie?” He whipped a Mickey Mouse hat from his desk and plopped it on his head with a silly grin.
Maybe sixth grade wouldn’t be that bad after all…
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