I have always been a fairly serious student, in part because A’s are like crack to me and also because if I didn’t get them, I was grounded. I also fancy myself as a creative type person (ask anyone I went to college with how much I bragged about my Creative Writing degree. It’s a wonder I had any friends, and a miracle I found employment upon graduation), so when school projects came along that allowed me to exercise my creativity on my quest for the perfect grade, I threw myself wholeheartedly into developing a presentation that would knock the socks off my teachers and the rest of my generally unimpressed classmates and catapult my GPA that much closer to perfection. I was really fun at parties.
In eighth grade, we were given an assignment by both our History and English classes in which we had to choose a historical figure, research their lives within their relative historical context, write a poem about them and present this to the class. Wanting to choose someone whose life I thought would make riveting presentation material, I chose King George III. I hit the library (because that’s what you did at the time), scouring through encyclopedias and textbooks for interesting information and making ten cent photocopies of relevant details to compile into a poem that would make Shakespeare shit his pants with jealousy. As a side note, this presentation coincided with my poetic awakening, in which I began to imagine myself as a truly gifted poet who wrote transcendent and incisive verses on such hard-hitting topics as the items in my room and the cute boys at school, to whom I, of course, never spoke. A backdrop to this: I was a short, scrawny thirteen year-old who had the same Supercuts hairdo as my sisters and who was painfully shy after having moved to a new school the year before, excelling socially at detailed discussions about the Harry Potter universe and standing awkwardly behind a group of people and hoping they would talk to me. I’ve since come out of my shell quite a bit, and now it’s sometimes hard to get me to shut up. I’m not sure which is better.
When presentation time came along, I had a little something special in my back pocket. Several of my classmates were dressing as their historical figures to amplify the dramatic effect of their presentations, but my costume… well let’s just say it was next level. I discussed the fact that I would need some assistance with my teacher before class, which was the last class of the day, and during passing period, I got into costume. Class was a little uncomfortable, but I was amped because this presentation was really going to be amazing. Finally, five minutes before the final bell, my name was called. Excited, I rushed to the front of the class. This is it, I thought. Your big moment. I looked around the room in anticipation. Because, to fully convey the severity of King George’s descent into madness, I had fashioned a straight jacket out of one of my dad’s old dress shirts. My arms were tied securely behind my back, so I couldn’t actually hold my notecards, which were laid out on the table in front of me. There was a murmur of laughter across the classroom. I blushed a little, but began my poem. And it was… beautiful. There were facts, there were jokes, there were painfully predictable rhyme schemes. I finished, and my classmates were changed. I was sure of it. But then the bell rang. And I was still in my straight jacket. And I was on the first bus out. And that’s when I started to panic. I ran over to my teacher. “Mr. S, I need help getting out of my straight jacket.” He tried to help me, but he had tied it so tight that I was just… stuck. “I can’t get it,” he said. “And I’m on bus detail. I have to run. I’m so sorry. Go to the office?”
What the heck do I do now?! I thought, terror-stricken. (I didn’t swear at the time.) I can’t get on the bus like this. I’ll be laughed at for the rest of my life. Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?
I ran to the bathroom, tears in my eyes. I hid in a stall until the bathroom cleared out, and then snuck James Bond-style to the office. “I need help,” I said, holding back tears. The secretary did her best not to laugh and said she’d call my mom. She tried to untie me, but the ropes my dad had used to create the straight jacket just wouldn’t unstick, and they had nothing to cut them with because my dad sells packaging products for a living and these were some seriously heavy-duty ropes. “Your mom will be here shortly,” she said. “You can wait in the cafeteria.” Well, this is just flipping great, I thought. I shuffled into the cafeteria to wait, head hanging in shame. Fortunately, the majority of the students were gone at this point, so there was just the occasional confused teacher wandering by wondering why the sad-looking eighth-grader in the janky straight jacket was kicking her backpack across the cafeteria. I started feeling really claustrophobic and tried to wiggle my way out of the straight jacket, and then felt extreme remorse for poking fun at mental illness and vowed to be a more compassionate human being from there on out. Maybe that was my penance. Maybe that was punishment for my callousness. Maybe I wasn’t as nice as I thought I was. And then it hit me. Is this was it feels like to be locked up? I’ll never break another rule again! I was totally going to watch that R-Rated movie at Amanda’s this weekend even though Mom said I couldn’t, but we can just watch Mulan instead. She’s my best friend, she’ll understand. I’ll even tell Dad about the time I stole a dollar from his wallet. I mean, he just leaves it in the drawer, it’s basically asking to be… no, Katie, this is exactly the kind of thing that got you here in the first place, oh god, why did I ever think this was a good idea?! Why didn’t I think this through? Why did I do this to myself? What is wrong with me??? (I had a lot of time to think while imprisoned in the straight jacket, so it was natural that it turned to self-loathing.)
Eventually my mom showed up, straight from work, and after some effort, freed me, and a word was never spoken of this again. If I remember correctly, she bought me ice cream on the way home. I can tell you one thing, though. I lightened up quite a bit about grades after that.