This is probably one of the more disturbing stories from my childhood. But it’s also pretty funny. Disturbingly funny.
I learned to read at a very early age, and it got me into a lot of trouble. I remember sounding out words wherever I saw them. If I didn’t know a word, or how to pronounce it, I’d badger the nearest adult until they helped me or explained.
The first time I dropped an eff-bomb I was only 3 or 4, and we were waiting in the car for the school bus to bring my sister. I sounded out something that looked like Duck written in dirt on the back of the bus only it had an F. When I said “Mom, what does Fuck mean?” she screeched “WHERE DID YOU HEAR THAT?!”
I pointed and said “It’s right there.”
“That’s nasty. Don’t ever say that again!”
Well that just piqued my interest.
Mom also left her Stephen King novels laying around the house, so it wasn’t long before I’d expanded my nasty vocabulary. At some point she just gave up and gave me the “Not in front of grandparents, Not at church or school, and Always wait until someone else cusses first before you do” speech.
One day, Mom was shopping in the drug store in Montgomery, and I was looking at the books and magazines. I was captivated by the beautiful women on the covers of some of the books, dressed in long flowing gowns with their wavy hair to their waists and posing with long-haired, bare-chested men.
I carefully took one of those books down and tried to read the back. One of the drug store employees happened to be nearby and she came over to me and took the book out of my hand. “Honey, why don’t you look at these books in the children’s section here?”
I followed her to the picture-book section and asked “What is ‘passionate sex,’ anyway?” Mom came and whisked me away, embarrassed as hell.
By the time I was in school, I was a voracious reader who had no interest in the “baby books” I was supposed to be reading. I lived for the days I got to go to the school or public library. The school book fair was practically the highlight of my year.
During the book fair I didn’t have much money to spend, but we all got out of class to look at the rows of books. All the books were out together, so I wasn’t limited to the baby books. I could look at the books for 4th and 5th graders. I’d read the backs of all the interesting-looking books, then decide what to buy.
It was in those temporary Scholastic aisles that I read what I needed to know for the most horrible April Fool’s joke ever.
In my defense, I didn’t understand April Fool’s Day very well. I was book-smart as hell, but I still had miles to go when it came to social skills. I thought the goal was to tell the biggest lie you could come up with and see who would buy it.
I think my teacher probably must have forgotten it was April Fool’s Day, too, or else she just did not see an April Fool’s joke of this caliber coming from a first-grader.
What I’d discovered that year at the book fair, in the fourth- and fifth-grade rows, was a book about a girl with leukemia. I’d never heard of it before, so I flipped through and skimmed a little bit too.
I gleaned enough of a vocabulary from that book to inform my teacher and my first-grade class on April Fool’s Day that I had leukemia.
Once I started talking, the teacher’s shocked and somber response inspired me to elaborate further. I added that my mom and dad had just found out, and I was going to start chemotherapy soon. I was hoping to live a few more months. But we would have to see how my treatment went.
During this speech I was shifting from foot to foot, chewing my lip, looking at the floor, but instead of using these verbal cues to discern that I was telling a lie of epic proportions, the teacher must have misread my body language as this poor kid just found out she’s dying of cancer.
I had intended to yell “APRIL FOOL’S!” at the end of my announcement, but everyone looked so serious, I wasn’t sure what to do. I had the feeling I’d done something very, very wrong, and I didn’t know how to go about undoing it.
So I didn’t say anything else.
Everyone in my class shuffled around drearily that day; if someone was laughing or smiling, they’d stop when they saw me. Kids who had previously been mean to me were approaching me apologetically, inviting me to play with them when they never had before. A few shared their snacks with me. One even gave me his snack money.
I remember wondering if I could keep my big fat lie going a little longer, because people sure were being nicer to me than usual. Even other teachers were going out of their way to be kind. Mrs. H must have gossiped.
But I decided I had to do the big reveal, because that’s what April Fool’s Day was all about. A couple times during the day I thought this might be a good time to let them in on the joke, but my nerve failed. The thing had snowballed out of my control.
When we started to pack up our stuff and get ready to go home, I knew it was now or never. So I walked up to the front of the class, smiled a big, bright smile, and yelled “APRIL FOOL’S!”
Dead silence. Didn’t they hear me?
“I don’t really have leukemia. April fool’s!”
Some kids laughed nervously, some looked confused, and others looked completely horrified. The teacher looked like she’d eaten some bad fish. As she hastily organized us into walkers, bus-riders and car-riders, she sputtered in my direction that my joke was completely inappropriate and that she needed to talk to my mother right now.
By this time Mom was driving us to school, so Mrs. H made me wait until the other kids were disbursed, then she marched me out to the car. Mom came out and I got put in the car while she got an ear full. When she came back and Mrs. H had retreated into the school, she laughed her ass off. “You little fool! For-god-sake Izzy, you don’t joke about leukemia!”
Well, nobody had ever told me.
Lesson learned…reputation as “that weird kid” solidified.