“Instigator!” I looked down to see the pudgy fingers of Mrs. X dig their way into my lanky arm as she pulled me away from the fight.
“I’m not!” I yelled back, having never encountered the label before in my brief 9 year-old life, yet imagined the worst based strictly on its phonetics. It started with an IN and ended with a TOR which meant that it was not good. Mrs. X was the proprietor of a face that didn’t belong in an elementary school. We both had blue eyes, but hers were the wrong kind. Beady and stale, they glared their way into mine, along with her frothing grey lips that pumped out the words, “You make a mess of people!” into my petrified face. Her fat stomach was a never-ending rhythm of billowing disgust that permanently spilled over her cheap polyblend skirt.
I could feel the fire of embarrassment run into my cheeks with the thick coating of tears that formed heavy in my eyes. I ran inside to embrace the shady confines of our school gym and hid behind the ropes that no one ever climbed to sit it out until the bell rang.
Morphing from a shy, sensitive tween into an enraged avenger, I quickly returned home post school trauma to engulf myself in the ‘I’ section of my father’s massive dictionary. Dragging it to the corner of his den, I covered myself in his unwashed blanket and skimmed my fingers along the leather bound alphabet. Obviously, this was behavior was uncustomary in my house. Specifically for me.
“What are you doing?” My father tapped me on the head.
“Just looking up a word.”
He opened the mouth of my blanket cave and pulled the book out of my hands. “Oh, yeah. Let me see that. What word?”
There is a certain fear that only parents can implant in their children. It’s the fear to never to anything wrong all of the time. The circumstances of how my father found me, 3:15pm, blanket covered, dictionary in hand, with guilty all over my face, didn’t bode well for my situation. But I knew I wasn’t what she called me, whatever it was, so I took my chances and blurted it out hoping that it wasn’t anything really bad.
“What? Who called you that?”
“What did you do?” A typical question from a teacher who also posed as a parent. I proceeded to state my case of being wrongfully accused of meddling to my patient father, who flipped through the thin pages in search of my new title. He read it out loud.
“Instigator: Someone who deliberately foments trouble.” He looked at me. “Is that an apt description of you?”
“Then defend yourself.” He covered me back up with the blanket, let out a huge fart on my head and turned on the news. Up all night plotting my revenge, I returned to the schoolyard the next day with a recess mission. Mrs. X, dressed in a tacky flower print with beige stockings bunched around her ankles, paced back and forth between the hopscotch squares of the Grade 4 playground. My heart raced uncontrollably with my father’s inspiring words, “defend yourself” echoing in my head. I walked up behind Mrs. X and waited for her to turn around, but when she did the only words I could think of were, “Fuck you.”
I didn’t scream my retort, like I had intended. The “Fuck You” dripped its way out of my mouth landing between the squares of 4 and 5, and it changed my life.
From then on, I was a little “Fuck You” machine. At school, I said it any chance I could, to any kid who crossed my path. The “Fuck You” consumed me. I spent full class hours day dreaming about saying the “Fuck You” it in the most arbitrary places: to my grandmother at Christmas dinner, to my babysitter after she tucked me into bed, to my sister when she asked to borrow my hair brush.
This new found linguistic freedom quickly became a problem my teachers felt they had to deal with. Shortly after the initial incident, I was called into the principal’s office for an intervention.
Mrs. X, and her smug face, sat next to me.
“She doesn’t stop saying it,” she told the principal, who looked me dead in the eye and said, “Christina, what the fuck?”
“Excuse me?” The froth of Mrs. X mouth overflowed into a waterfall of spit that was summoned by the principal’s casual reaction. “Punish her!” She yelled.
“Christina, do you know why you are saying this all the time?”
“It feels good.”
“Do you know that it’s hurtful?”
“Should I tell your father?”
“Please no. Oh god, please no.”
“Will you stop saying it?”
“Yes. Yes. I really will.”
I walked out of her office, and closed the door behind me to trap the frustrating screams of Mrs. X, who was denied her satisfaction.
I saw the principal in the hallway later that day as I gathered my school bag from my mint green locker. She winked at me, and kept on walking without a second glance. I smiled.
Things have been a lot harder for me since then.