|The real life "Ms. Flanigan" eyeing me, in stripes, to make sure I don't talk|
In sixth grade, Ms. Flanagan said I talked too much. In September, she called me loquacious. By April, she had to resort to a different approach to shut me up.
“Michelle, you’re being much too loquacious.”
She said it just like that, one hand suspended in mid-air, holding a piece of chalk, the other on her waist -- she had been writing on the board and stopped because I was talking, turned in my seat to face Amelie who sat near the back of the room because she was tall, taller than most of the boys. We must have been in the middle of an English lesson.
“Do you know what loquacious means?” she turned back to the board to write the word for us all to see. Ms. Flanagan was a petite woman with black hair, a little nose, a little mouth, and big brown eyes. The chalk snapped as she dotted the ‘i’.
I shifted in my seat, trying not to giggle.
She continued talking, not really waiting for anyone in the room to answer the question, “Loquacious means talkative, as in excessively talkative,” she faced the classroom, looking me in the eye, and smiling wide.
I sat in the front row because I, being well under five feet tall, couldn’t see over the others’ heads otherwise. We were in one of the new classrooms on the backside of the playground, the ones that had been finished over the summer. They still smelled like fresh building materials and paint. There was a window at the back of the class that looked onto an old oak tree, under which lay a huge tractor meant for climbing, the hole covered by a piece of heavy plywood. The bathrooms in the new building smelled new too, all the faucets and toilets worked, and there were shiny chrome boxes on the walls in the stalls of the girls’ bathrooms, shiny chrome boxes for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade girls who might be having a period. During recess, we had to walk around younger kids who played jacks on the brand new black top in front of the classroom.
“Loads of loquacious laughter,” said Amelie, as Ms. Flanagan went back to writing on the board. She said it quiet enough so Ms. Flanagan wouldn’t know who was speaking out of turn but quiet enough so I could hear. Amelie and I, and couple of others, started laughing. Ms. Flanagan turned quickly around, her super straight curtain of black hair swung around with her.
“Okay, girls, that’s quite enough,” her smile gone, her eyes narrow. Her hair was mostly all black, but there were a couple of wiry grey hairs that sprouted at the crown. I could see them sticking out when the light hit her hair in just the right way or when standing up close.
Ms. Flanagan was hip in her own way. We all liked her a lot at first and wanted her approval because she was petite and pretty and because she was our teacher. Besides my music teacher, Mr. Lark, I had only had female teachers up to that point and they had all been dowdy in some way. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Robinson, was remarkably fat. I always marveled when she lead us in PE on the black top, singing “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes, knees and toes,” coming very close to touching her toes every time. Ms. Flanagan seemed younger and more hip than many of the others who wore heavy shoes and tent sized dresses that made them look older and heavier than they probably were. Ms. Flanigan wore blouses and slacks rather than dresses and her slacks weren’t made of 100% polyester.
But during the second half of the year, the boys and the girls were separated for sex ed. All the sixth grade girls came to Ms. Flanagan’s class to watch the sex ed movie from which we learned the anatomical names for the different parts of the male and female genitalia. Several weeks before, we all had to get permission slips signed by our parents to even participate or we’d be sent to the library where we might have been able to find a book that covered the same material. We learned about semen, or sperm, and how it got from the male body into the female body, and how it can fertilize an egg, which would result in a pregnancy. On a separate day, so as not to scare the total crap out of us all at once, we watched a video about VD. The movie was full of graphic examples of people with hideous rashes on their hands and feet, stories of people who went insane because their diseases went untreated. We learned words like discharge, chancre, testes, and clitoris. Sometimes poor Ms. Flanagan would use the terms like “balls” and “crotch” to clarify what she meant, and she did it with straight face. I didn’t dare look at Amelie.
Once the movie was over, Ms. Flanagan got even more serious than she had been. The lights were back on, the move projector was pushed to the side of the room, and she was standing at the board.
“Now girls, it’s important that you understand that if you have sex, you will get pregnant.”
It sounded like something adults say just to scare kids out of doing something they might want to do, and I knew it wasn’t true. It wasn’t true according to the first sex ed movie that explained how a women could only get pregnant during a certain time of the month, sometime after she had her period. And I knew it wasn’t true because our house was small, and my mom was loud, and I had heard my mom have sex plenty of times, way more than three times, but I kept my mouth shut. I knew this wasn’t the time to talk out of turn or contradict, but I really wanted to. I wanted to expose the lie.
By April, Ms. Flanigan had had it with all my talking, and I was tired of her too -- tired of her posing as a hip, modern female teacher when she wasn’t one at all.
One day in April, after a particularly loquacious morning, Mrs. Flanagan, interrupted my talking, and held up a roll of invisible tape.
“Michelle, come up here. Come here and take a piece of this tape and put it over your mouth.”
I didn’t move or get up. I stared at her, thinking at first that she was making a joke.
“Michelle, come and get a piece of tape, she said again, shaking the roll of tape in her hand.
I got out of my seat and walked the length of waxed floor from my desk to hers. I took some tape off the roll and went back to my seat. A few students were watching, and the others were pretending to be focused on Ms. Flanagan’s lesson on the board. I had been given no other orders. I didn’t know for how long I was supposed to wear the invisible tape, but I didn’t want her telling me to do it again, so I pressed my lips together and covered them with two pieces of tape. I had to breathe through my nose, and I was aware that some others were still watching me. Amelie was quiet. And now, so was I.
Just before lunchtime Ms. Flanagan remembered that I had the tape over my lips and told me to remove.
“Oh, Michelle, it’s been so quiet. I almost forgot. You can take the tape off now,” she looked at me and shifted quickly back to her lesson.
I hesitated because I wasn’t sure if I should remove the invisible tape slowly or all at once. It didn’t matter either way. As I pulled up and over, a layer of my skin came off with it. I winced and spoke, my voice a bit scratchy at first.
“My lips are bleeding,” I rasped loudly, making a scene. “ Ms. Flanagan, my lips were chapped – the tape ripped off my skin.” I held up the tape for affect.
A flash of worry lit up her face, not for me, but like she didn't quite know what to do -- then the bell rang. Without looking at me again, she found her lanyard of keys, put it around her neck and excused us all for lunch.