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November 21, 2007

In the beginning

           When I was in kindergarten I had already started down the road of laziness and shirked duty that would later prove so fatal when it came to writing papers. However, being so young and unaccustomed to the trickery necessary to obtain my desired freedom from all work, I was unable to figure out a fool-proof way to get out scot-free. Then, once the means fell into my hands, shown to me accidentally by a guileless peer, I lacked the foresight to use them properly, and what could have been my salvation from scholastic drudgery became a curse that would haunt me for all of my lower educational years.

           This guileless peer, named Adam, because I cannot remember his real name (for who cares to remember the innocent?), and cannot think of a more fitting name, since all I know of him is that he was, in fact, a boy, showed me the means, as I say, by accident. On a Monday a couple months after my involuntary interment at Franklin Elementary, and after the new school clothes that had bought my silence had long since become plain and worn, everyday clothes, Adam developed a stomach ache. Our lovely teacher, who was young and silly and really did think she cared for us, as most young, silly kindergarten teachers are wont to fool themselves, sent Adam to the office. I noted his departure, and, keeping a watch on the clock (because I had already learned at what time we would be set free, and often checked it against the actual time, in vain hopes of freedom), noted also that he never returned. Intrigued, I questioned my teacher.

           “Where did Adam go?” I asked.

           “To the office, because he had a stomach ache.”

           “But how come he isn’t back?” I continued, digging further into the issue at hand.

           “His mother came and picked him up, since he was sick,” said my clueless young teacher.

           I was not expecting this answer, and partly because of my surprise, and partly because even then I possessed a small bit of wisdom, I waited and did not complain of a stomach ache until midmorning the next day. I was sent to the office, as expected, and taken home, as expected. That was Tuesday. At the same time on Wednesday, I once again complained of a stomach ache, and on Thursday, and on Friday as well. Sadly, my mother was not quite so young and inexperienced as my kindergarten teacher, because when the office called her on Friday morning she told them to send me straight back to my class, as I was only pretending. At which point I was forced to return to kindergarten and listen to boring stories and play boring games until my mother came and picked me up.

           I would like to be able to say that despite being rather wise and experienced, my mother was also the forgive-and-forget type. Sadly, that is not, and was never, the case. From that day on, my mother looked upon my every sickness with suspicion, and it became harder and harder for me to fool her into letting me stay home. In fact, more often than not I had to display multiple symptoms of an illness before a reprieve from scholastic endeavors was permitted. I cannot count how often the following scenario unfolded:

           “Mom, I feel sick and I have a fever and a cough,” I would complain, and then obligingly cough, to make good on my claims.

           “Well, then,” my mother would say, “I’d better call the doctor right away.”

           “Oh… oh, don’t do that. I just wanted you to know. I still want to go to school today.”

           “If you insist,” my mother would say, nodding sagely.

           I knew she was never fooled for a minute, but I also knew that if I did go to the doctor’s, he would declare nothing was wrong with me and my mother would drop me off at school before I could say “must’ve been allergies.” And Mom would be mad, too, because I’d have interrupted her plans for the day. So, all-in-all, it was better to keep up appearances than to openly admit I’d been outmaneuvered. Furthermore, it made her think twice those times when I actually submitted myself to a trip to the doctor’s. Sometimes she’d even let me stay at home after the doctor’d told her I was perfectly healthy, just because I’d thought myself sick enough to visit the doctors.

           Of course, as I said, this became my curse. There were times when I truly felt horrible, and my mother would have none of it. Times when, with a verified fever of 99.9° F, she’d drop me off in front of the school with the parting words “tough luck.” Yes, my lack of cunning and foresight, in the form of blatant misuse of the system, in kindergarten ruined forever my chances at proper ditching. I was plagued from them onward with sick days spent at school, and, on the occasional day I either actually fooled my mother, or when she was just too tired of it and gave up the fight, with an annoying, nagging sense of guilt. There are many things if my life I’d change, if I had the chance, but this one sits foremost on the list; if I could say any one thing to my past self, at any time, I would choose the day Adam got sick, and I would tell myself “A little bit of cunning, mixed with subtlety and forbearance, goes a long way.”

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