It happened right at the end of class. In that moment when everyone has their attention somewhere else and nobody notices a single thing. I was standing at my spot by the exit door, waiting for all the nine-year-olds in my classroom to finish putting their belongings in their backpacks. We had just wrapped up the last day of school, and the kids were taking home everything that had managed to migrate from home to school (and not back again) over the course of ten months.
I suppose, from their perspective, I was there one minute and gone the next. I hadn’t technically “gone” anywhere, but I’m certain I was in no shape to be seen. From my perspective, I suddenly felt very hot. Hot and dizzy. I felt another migraine coming on. I closed my eyes for a moment to rub my temples and pray to whomever was listening that it could hold off until I got home and got some ice on my neck.
When I opened my eyes again, I didn’t believe what I was seeing. Ruby Rose, the smallest of all the second-graders in the whole school, was towering over me like some kind of giant. She had her arms akimbo, and she was surveying the classroom. I called her name, louder and louder, until I realized she couldn’t hear me above the overall din in the room. I stuck my fingers in my mouth and let out my famous ear-piercing whistle, which I won’t normally do indoors, but this time I got no reaction. Not from Ruby Rose, standing no more than a foot from me, and not even from Dustin, who is quite sensitive to sharp noises.
Ruby, being the student-of-the-week during the very last week of second grade, took her job very seriously. She knew it was her responsibility to make sure there was a line of students, all facing the same way, with all of their belongings, along the line of blue tape on the floor.
I looked down. Here I am, standing on my usual spot at the head of the line, right by the door, waiting for a gaggle of children to organize themselves and stampede right down this line of blue tape and out the back door. On any given day, there would be no stampede. I work too hard at the beginning of the year, practicing and perfecting our lines. This earns us compliments from other teachers, which in turn earns them prizes. It works right up until the last day, when the excitement overtakes their desire to please the adult in the room, and they run, screaming (literally screaming, they are nine years old) out into the parking lot and into their parents’ loving arms.
But. The. Blue. Tape.
It’s got to be as wide as I am tall. There is a little edge peeling up at the corner, and it reaches right up to my waist. I reach out and flick it, but it doesn’t move. Suddenly, I realize how very large Ruby’s red, sparkly Converse are in relation to me, and simultaneously, notice that they are headed in my direction. Ruby is making a beeline to where I am standing. She appears to be moving in slow motion, but she’s already halfway here and I’m frozen to the spot. I am not even sure where to go. She’s about to open the door, and dismiss students who are seated quietly at their desks.
I am told that the mark of good classroom management is that the students can follow the routines even in the absence of the teacher. They certainly won’t notice me down here! As Ruby reaches her spot she reaches up and flicks the light switch off and on again. Instant quiet. I don’t even have a second to revel in my own brilliance because I know I have to get off this spot and out of harm’s way before she calls the first group to line up. Ruby’s giant foot is only feet from where I stand (inches? my perspective was all off).
I took a deep breath and looked around for shelter of some kind. To my left was a file cabinet, to my right was the sink. The cabinet door under the sink had a space beneath it. The filing cabinet was closer, but offered me no hiding place. I didn’t have long to act, the bell would ring shortly and not even Ruby Rose could hold back the flow of small bodies heaving toward the door. In true Ruby Rose fashion, she was taking her sweet time to choose the quietest group.
With the room on “silent” I tried to call Ruby’s name again. I called her first name, her first and middle together, and then all four of her names (that usually gets her attention) to no avail. She picked table three. My time was up. I ran as fast as I could toward that cabinet door and the blissful space beneath.
It seemed to take forever to get there. By the time I was halfway there, the bell had rung and all hell broke loose. I hit the ground and assumed the earthquake drill position I’d learned all the way back when I was in elementary school. I knew it couldn’t save me from a giant shoe but I also didn’t want to witness that happen, at any rate. Then, I had to cover my ears because of the ungodly noise made by twenty-four children screaming at the top of their lungs. Lucky for me, Ruby did not let anyone run astray of the blue line and somehow, I didn’t get squished.
When the noise had moved from indoors to outdoors, I took a peek from between my fingers (I always wondered why people do that in films. I now know). The room was blissfully empty of pint-size giants. The door was open, the lights were on, and I was left with not one clue of what to do next.
Ruby’s giant head popped back in the doorway and she bellowed, “See you later, Ms. D!” before pirouetting out the door and into the summer sunshine.
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