Mr. Lark, the school’s double-duty vice principal and music teacher, called me into his office early one morning just after the bell rang. I was surprised he couldn’t wait to see me until band practice later that day but happy about it anyway. When I got to the front office, I was asked to wait while Mrs. Handy poked her head into Mr. Lark’s office to let him know that I had arrived. She motioned for me to enter his office, and I, always pleased to be in Mr. Lark’s company, practically sprinted the short distance from the front desk to Mr. Lark’s door. The name plate said, “Donald Lark – Vice Principal.” I was in fourth grade, and I had never been inside his office before. There was a large window near his desk that looked out onto the Kindergarten class’ play yard and beyond that the parking lot.
I was one of Mr. Lark’s favorites, or at least that’s how I saw it. He gave me a vocal solo in the annual Christmas program for two years in a row until I decided to play the flute in the third grade, so I could later join the school band under his tutelage. As a second grader, he gave me one of the coveted solos in “Silent Night”, and I remember feeling special singing about Jesus. As a third grader, just when I started getting interested in boys, Mr. Lark gave me a solo in “Let It Snow;” perhaps I was one of the few girls who could pull off the flirtatious verse and chorus, “The weather outside is frightful/ the fire is so delightful/ and since there’s no place to go/ let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” I’ll never forget how pleased he was when I played up the flirtatious lyrics with my third grade version of charm and nailed the sentiment that I thought he was going for. My being a poor Mexican-American girl from across town never factored into my solo potential, and so with “Let It Snow,” I left baby Jesus innocence behind and was well on my way to fourth grade. Though, to my horror, Mr. Lark was beginning his career as an administrator. I had always thought he wanted nothing more but to bring his guitar to each of the lower grades to sing, “There’s a hole in the bucket dear Liza,” “John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmidt,” and “Old Dan Tucker,” that song about a man who washed his face in a frying pan and combed his hair with a wagon wheel.
As soon as Mr. Lark greeted me with a bright smile, I realized I had been called to his office for reasons other than to see his new digs.
“Michelle, do you know why you’re here?”
What I had done to Melissa Wheeling the day before suddenly popped into my head.
“I think so,” I said, looking out the window toward the parking lot where I had grabbed Melissa's precious white blond hair and yanked her to the ground.
“You know that there’s no fighting allowed on school grounds; do you want to tell me about what happened?”
I trusted Mr. Lark a great deal, so I told him the truth. I also suspected that since he spent so much time on the play yard that he had some idea that I was involved in a very complicated love triangle.
Melissa Wheeling, blond-haired, blue-eyed Melissa Wheeling, who had been my friend, had stolen my boyfriend Donnie Baugh. Donnie and I had been carrying on for a whole month or so, and to make matters worse, he lived up the hill from me. We’d walk home together and kiss on the hill above my house to the intoxicating scent of wild lilac until our lips were sore and until after our parents had started wondering where we were. I actually don’t think I mentioned the kissing to Mr. Lark, but he had a daughter who also in fourth grade and who was just as frisky and much more popular.
“So Donnie broke up with you to go out with Melissa and that’s why you pushed her to the ground?”
“I didn’t push her Mr. Lark; I pulled her by the hair, and not because Donnie broke up with me. I did it because of what she said. And we were off school grounds, out of the parking lot.”
“But you were on the sidewalk.”
We were on the sidewalk, and Melissa and Donnie were showing off. They were holding hands, and when I called Donnie’s name, Melissa turned around and said, ‘Blondes have more fun,’ flipping her white blond hair over her shoulder. So I grabbed it and yanked her to the ground.
“I see,” said Mr. Lark with a twinkle in his eye. He tried not to smile, but I’m sure I saw the beginnings of one as he turned to look toward the window where I had been motioning. “Michelle, you know you’re not supposed to be fighting at all, and not on school grounds, right?”
“Yes,” I said. His words stung, but when I looked out the window to where the tussle took place, I was still glad I hadn’t let Melissa get away with pointing out just how different I was from her, Ronnie, and just about everyone else.
“I’m supposed to keep you after school for forgetting, but given that,” he paused, cleared his throat and then smiled wide, “well given that you’ve never been in any trouble like this before, I don’t think that’s necessary.”
And it wasn’t. Donnie broke up with Melissa soon after. The word on the playground was that Donnie broke up with Melissa because she had bad breath. I felt secretly avenged. And I had learned something back in Mr. Lark’s office, something about being discreet. It didn't feel good that everyone was talking bad about Melissa. I tried catching her eye, to be her friend again. Still, I was glad when she moved away.