Shame is such a powerful thing. In "The Kite Runner", the protagonist commits some very shameful acts as a child. These acts, while we can forgive them due to his age, influence nearly all of his choices well into adulthood. It was hard to read it because I found myself "wishing" he had been good as a boy, instead of bad.
It made me think of my own life, my childhood, and what shameful things I did then that I would never do now. A memory from fifth grade kept popping into my head. I don't believe I've ever told anyone, ever, about this event. But I still smart with shame when I think about it. (Which isn't often, as our self defense mechanism enjoys burying these memories under layers and layers of happier times.)
It was the beginning of spring. Our teacher, Miss Chives, was a very large, affable woman, with long dark hair and an imposing stance. In truth, I was a little scared of her, as she could turn her smile into a sword at the strangest of moments. She once gave me a silver star for my homework assignment and then took away my recess because I didn't say thank you for the star. She showed us that she could do that if she wanted, sour the best of moments, and this was a nice tool for keeping us kids off balance and under control.
One weekend, I asked my mom if I could bring Miss Chives a Happy Spring gift. And while we were out shopping, we picked up a little strawberry plant, with one nearly ripe strawberry hanging from one of its stems. On Monday morning, I arrived in class with my 12 fellow 10 year olds and placed the little potted strawberry plant on her desk. Some kids brought apples, but I (giant ego I) had brought a plant bearing fruit. When Miss Chives entered the room, she immediately brightened upon seeing the plant. "What a marvelous gift! And with one little strawberry, how adorable. And who do I thank for such an unexpected yet delightful gift to start the spring?" I'm pretty sure my head filled every square inch of that room as I crooned, "I did. I did."
"Thank you Ricky," she said as she took the plant and placed it on the bookshelf behind her. Then she immediately went into teacher mode, and I suddenly felt robbed. That's it? It was almost as if she was disappointed that it was me bearing the gift. And I had resisted plucking that strawberry all weekend, and she doesn't even appreciate it! Perhaps I had learned one of her souring the moment stunts, but I was mad. And I sat through the morning lesson eying the strawberry dangling from the plant behind her. By recess, I had decided she didn't deserve that strawberry. She was probably going to eat it as soon as we left the room, after all she is fat.
At morning recess, I snuck back into the room when no one was there, plucked that strawberry and ate it. That was probably when I learned that eating your rage with spiteful acts doesn't taste good.The strawberry slid down my throat, and I felt it, like the poison it was, settling down into my stomach.
When recess was over, we all settled back into our seats, and Karen raised her hand and asked Miss Chives, "What happened to the strawberry?" Miss Chives turned around to see the plant, only green now, no splash of red anywhere. And she flew into a rage. "WHO DID THIS! WHO ATE THIS STRAWBERRY? WE ARE NOT LEAVING THIS ROOM UNTIL WE KNOW WHO ATE THIS STRAWBERRY! WHO! WHO? I'M GOING TO FIND OUT!" This went on for minutes. At lunchtime, we were all forced to stay in the room to eat our lunch and then put our heads down on our desk. She taught the rest of that day with an air of bitterness and disgust. What vile creatures we were. At the end of the day, she announced that there would be no recesses until the person who did this fessed up. Everyone but Ricky that is. He doesn't deserve to be punished.
Looking back, I think she knew. My face must have smarted redder than that strawberry when she said that. But I was as shameful a creature there ever was. For the rest of that week, I played at recess while my classmates had to stay in the class with their heads down on the desks. Recess that week was one of the grimmest experiences I can remember. If there's one glimmer of redemption there, it's the fact I was consumed by terrible guilt, a guilt sadly never acted on. On Friday, she took the plant home with her, and on the following Monday, everything was as if nothing had happened. She never mentioned it again. It took me 32 years, but I have finally confessed.