I never set out to be labelled as a ‘bad’ kid, but over the summer I was told by my art teacher that I am a terrible role model. I don’t listen to directions; I focus too much on whatever tasks at hand and ignore everything else; and, according to her, I am a “disruption to the class.” All because I put a hole through her table.
In my defense, it wasn’t a very big hole. In fact she probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t nailed my sculpture to it. But the damn thing was refusing to cooperate and I was being unusually clumsy with the hammer and I had an audience, for the first time in forever. There were at least three or four kids seated around me, watching and waiting for me to pioneer the final step of the day’s art project. A few had never handled a hammer before, and they were all younger than I. Which was another thing that she didn’t fail to remind me on, after seeing what I had done. “For Christ’s sake, you’re almost the oldest student here. They should be looking up to you.” They did, in fact, but in the way she had hoped.
When at last the nail did start to go through the foot of my papier mache acrobat, my audience began to cheer. I, fueled by their applause, redoubled my efforts to succeed. Step One: Ignore the teacher’s explicit directions to hammer the nails over the edge of the table. Or maybe she just forgot to mention that step altogether before I started working. Step Two: Put a ridiculous amount of focus on conquering a simple task like hammering a single nail into a wooden board, so much so that you don’t even realize when you’ve gone too far.
It was immediately apparent to the other kids, however; the atmosphere surrounding my feat changed in heartbeat. There was a collective gasp, and all I could think was, ‘I’ve really f****ed up now.’ Cautiously, still unsure of what I had done wrong, I set the hammer down and looked around. “What?”
“You—” The girl to my left couldn’t finish her sentence. She only gestured to where the board and table met, and I knew what I had done. ‘Oh…..Oh.’ I gave my board a yank, hoping in vain that it would come away at once. I could feel the nail in the wood, and where it stuck, steadfast, in the table. Someone must have called the teacher over because the next thing I know she’s at my side, cold fury and disappointment rolling off her in waves.
“Oh my,” she said. “Oh no. We can’t have that.” She gets pliers and wearily, as though this has happened a thousand times, tries to twist the nail out of the table. It won’t budge. She throws all her weight into it, and after an eternity pulls the nail free. What’s left in it’s place is a small, neatly, perfectly round hole, almost invisible against the dark table. “We can’t have that. This is my own table!”
I surprise myself by feeling utterly numb and indifferent towards the fact that I’ve damaged her personal furniture. Something must showed in my face because her own expression darkens when she takes me in. “You just stay here,” she says, and I suddenly wonder if I’ll be asked to leave the class. Or forced to replace the table. How much do tables with fake wood panelling even cost, anyway?
I sit in silence as my audience dissipates, each member slinking back to their workbench. My art teacher gives me one last quote before she turns to go. “I though I could trust you with the materials we’ll be using. I feel embarrassed.”
At that point, I was embarrassed. But I was also proud. With a comical and dramatic flare I chose to see this as the moment where I shattered my fear of angering authority and took my first steps into the edgier, Alex Turner-like image I that I was destined to uphold.
After class I went up to my teacher and apologized. I offered to buy a new table or repay her in some other way. It was an accident, I pleaded, and I wasn’t thinking.She just listened in silence to my apology and muttered an acceptance. At the end of the week she called me back to talk to her again. “I know you mean well,” she said, “but honey, I think you should know you’re a terrible role model. The other kids should be looking up to you and I don’t feel like that really happened this week.”
I nodded, deciding not to tell her that every day since the incident, the other kids had treated me with the reverence and respect that can be gained only through being bad.