Here is the result of my inability to fall asleep yet again. It is a story–not one of knights and dragons, but of the true sort. Here is the story of the lunchroom bell.
During lunch my fourth grade year, the cafeteria often became quite noisy. When this happened, the lunch monitors would take medium-sized bells out of their apron pockets and ring them–over and over and over again. The chatter would dull for about thirty seconds and then rise right back up again. The bells didn’t get to me at first. As time wore on, however, they grated on me more and more. It was illogical and stupid. I felt that if I, a nine-year-old, could think of a better solution than the adults could, something was wrong. I decided to do something about it.
My first method was not effective. I raised my hand and asked one of the lunch monitors if she could help open my milk carton–you know, to get her in reaching distance. I then got up and threw away a packet of ketchup, which would serve as a distraction. While I was doing this, my friend and accomplice–whom I will call Beatrice–balled up napkins and stuffed them in the bell that was sticking out of the lunch monitor’s apron pocket. She soon noticed and responded with, “I am watching you.”
We (my accomplice and I) were freaked, but it wasn’t enough to deter us from our goal. Our next approach was to make life absolutely miserable for that lunch monitor.
My friend had to go to the bathroom, so she raised her hand and asked. The lunch monitor, for some reason, said no. I could see the look of desperation on my friend’s face. It was an emergency. Beatrice needed my help. Angry, I used my best weapon–my mouth.
“If you don’t let her go, she’ll pee on the floor, and you’ll have to clean it up.” Beatrice giggled a little as I sat there, perfectly calm. The lunch monitor was caught off guard.
“No, your mommy will have to clean it up.”
It made me laugh, though–the ridiculousness of the thought. My mother driving to school to clean up my friend’s urine. Yet again, I was seeing faults in the logic of adults. Something was happening in my mind. For the first time in my life, I was no longer seeing all adults as ideal, perfect beings. I was questioning. I was beginning to wonder if they were wrong and I was right.
The situation escalated. With Beatrice, I gathered together a small group of rebels to fight against the oppression of the lunchroom bell. We gathered as much information as we could on the offending lunchroom monitor. Word of our little uprising spread, as all things do in the fourth grade. Teachers tried to get involved, but I did my best to shut them out of it. This was my moment. My time to shine. We wrote letters to the principal and the administration. We signed petitions. I had started something, and nobody was going to stop it. Finally, I gathered my group and we marched down to speak with the assistant principal in person. We gave him the petitions. We explained ourselves. Finally, after all our fighting, he obliged. By the next Friday, the lunchroom bell was to be no more.
The day after our rebel victory, even the sixth graders knew about the changes to come. Everyone was excited. I was sky-high. A big eleven-year-old asked me when the changes were to be implemented, and I was in the middle of telling him when I felt a grasp on my arm.
The lunch monitor.
I had driven her to the end of her patience. I didn’t know why she was interrupting a perfectly harmless conversation to deal with the issue, but she was. She had had enough. I was dragged into the assistant principal’s office–where just days earlier I had led my little group into “battle”. The only reason I began to cry was because I was afraid that the talk with the assistant principal would go on my permanent record, and no universities would ever accept me because they would think I was a bad kid. I saw myself as a senior in high school, applying everywhere, and being rejected every time. “Sorry, you had a talk with the assistant principal when you were nine. We just don’t want sketchy figures at our school.” So I cried. I cried a lot. I don’t even remember what the assistant principal was saying, or what I was saying–I just remember lots of crying, and staring at a very attractive potted plant through very watery eyes.
I was ushered back into the classroom. Because I’d been sent to the office at the end of lunch, and the talk had lasted for a good long while, there was a lesson already being taught without me. It felt incredibly awkward, walking in late with my trusty blue clipboard and a tear-streamed face. In fact, the class was being given a special talk.
The talk was about respect, and had been planned due to the recent bell events. I knew the talk was really meant for me, so I felt ashamed. The shame was so great that I felt ashamed of every single bit of me that moment–my face, my clothes, and my clipboard. Even the clipboard I was ashamed of! Not only had I blown my chances at getting into college, but I’d let down my entire class and indirectly forced them to endure a long and boring lecture. What would I do with my life? Would I have to sell the wax from my Babybel cheese on the streets for nickels and dimes? I was absolutely crushed. They–the adults–had broken me down. I was just another student. They had tamed me, the wild beast. Two years from then, I’d be a smiling safety patrol on the bus. The days of battle were over.
But I’ve never been quite the same since that year. The spark has been ignited. Deep within, I question those whose power I am under. I will never be quite content with authority ever again.
I was beaten down into the model student mold that day in fourth grade, but there is still a part of me that will always refuse to be just another smiling face, just another student ID number.
By the way, the lunchroom changes were implemented on Friday, as promised. A noise detector was put in the cafeteria–it was a traffic light that would supposedly turn red when the cafeteria became too noisy. Due to frequent malfunctions, the traffic lights were quickly done away with. They were replaced with red, yellow, and green cups. The cups were placed on each table and stacked. When an individual table became too loud, a lunch monitor would come by and put the yellow cup on top–as a warning. If the noise persisted, the cup would be changed to red. This method proved much more effective than the bell, despite the cups being ripped, defaced, changed when the monitors weren’t looking, and used to hide trash and leftover food.
So, yes. You can blame Beatrice and me for the tacky cups on all the tables in my old elementary school. They’re tacky, but I’m proud of them in a way. Maybe I really have done something with my life.