I wake up from a horrible dream in which I’m eight again, it’s a Monday morning, a school day, and I’m dreading bumping into the school bully – or Mr Thomas, as he likes to be called.
As I come downstairs for breakfast, Ziggy, our dog, passes me on the landing. ‘I’ve eaten your homework,’ he says, ‘and no one is going to believe you. No one.’
Suddenly, I’m in my classroom and Mr Thomas is bearing down on me. I’m trying to explain my situation to him.
‘And how do you know your dog ate it?’ he snarls.
‘Because he … told … me?’ I whimper, knowing that Ziggy has totally out-manoeuvred me.
I look up at Mr Thomas, then down at my feet. One of my shoes is missing.
* * * * * * * *
And this pretty much sums up the trauma that my school days have left me with.
To be fair, it wasn’t so much a school that I was forced to attend, as a slightly sadistic day centre. If you liked rugby or cricket, Mr Thomas liked you. If, like me, you were interested in neither, and were just biding your time until you would discover skiing, in your mid-teens, then he really didn’t. Mr Thomas wasn’t a large man, but I was eight, and when you’re eight, most men are large-ish.
I didn’t really learn very much at junior school, other than how to keep out of trouble. Sometimes, I even managed this. It was the school psychopath, Jason, who taught me Biology. He was in the year above me and was made to sit next to me by Mr Thomas, as punishment for Jason’s intimidation of other children in the playground, though I’m still not sure whether the punishment was aimed at Jason or me.
What I was convinced about, however, was that it wasn’t completely fair to punish Jason like this. He was the kind of kid who could intimidate you just by existing. In retrospect, I don’t think Jason had any choice in the matter, mostly because of the way his words and his face worked out of synch with each other. He could be offering to share his sweets with you, but his face would look at you in the way a sinister stranger might stare you out while threatening to kill your entire family.
One morning, Jason trapped me in a corner of the classroom in order to instruct me on how babies were made. He even drew me pictures to illustrate his points.
‘Um … ok,’ I said, feeling slightly freaked out. I didn’t believe him, mostly due to my own scepticism over whether my parents would ever involve themselves in such things. To be honest, I was still grappling with the existence of Santa at the time. ‘First thing’s first,’ I thought.
This kid, who took it upon himself to suddenly be my best friend, followed me around for weeks, which resulted in my real friends being too scared to hang out with me at all. He’d sometimes impress me with his brilliance, and sometimes surprise me with how dumb he could be, like when he asked me whether I thought all Australians were marsupial. Some days, you could feel the IQ of the entire room shooting up merely because he’d been granted permission to go to the toilet. I instinctively knew that he would one day grow up to be the sort of person who would give out unsolicited advice while playing a fruit machine.
Sometimes, Jason would come out with the most random things, often at the most random times. He once turned and whispered to me, as he was being manhandled out of the classroom by the Headteacher for filling the classroom door locks with purple play dough, ‘You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.’ He winked at me as he said this, as though he was passing on a special secret to me. I still wonder whether this was an insanely brilliant piece of cryptic philosophical metaphor that even my middle-aged self continues to have difficulty unravelling or whether he was, in fact, merely insane.
* * * * * * * *
A few days ago. I discovered a friend request from Jason on my social media page.
‘This is what has probably prompted my schooldays dreams,’ I say to Nat.
‘It could be worse,’ she says, ‘it could have been a friend request from Mr Thomas.’
I feel my left eye twitch slightly as she says this.
‘So, what was Jason like?’ she asks.
‘He had a habit of walking into things – shops mostly. He was a prolific shoplifter.’
‘Ok,’ says Nat. ‘Maybe that’s why you haven’t heard from him in a while. I’m not sure they allow social media in prisons.’
‘Fair point,’ I say to myself, as I move to decline his invitation, block his profile, and, just for a moment, consider officially changing my name.
* * * * * * * *
As I reflect on my dream of last night, I think to myself that perhaps he really was just a guy with an overly inquisitive mind, a total lack of self-awareness, and an inability to empathise … but these are still not acceptable credentials for a school teacher.
* * * * * * * *
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