March 24, 2007

Mrs. DeLea

Forgive the verbosity- this is a piece I did for my writing group this month.

My sister Allie spent the entire summer prepping me on what a terrifying teacher I had drawn for first grade. Allie had been in Mrs. DeLea's class years before and whispered horror stories to me when Mom wasn't watching. By the first day of school she had me convinced I was headed straight for Satan's lair.

Sensing my terror, Mom assigned my sister, Mary to walk me to class on my first day. We were a few feet from the doorway when out came the woman herself. Her mouth opened wide in what might have been a smile and she advanced on me. A summer's worth of dread bubbled over. I grabbed the hallway banister and screamed at the top of my lungs. Mary tugged at my shirt but all I saw was the advancing monster and the shrieks escalated.

A crowd assembled. The Vice Principle showed up, I woman I had learned to love the previous year. She patted my shoulder and tried to reason with me. When that failed, she joined the tugging crew. I was finally wrenched from the banister and pushed into the classroom. Mrs. DeLea closed the door behind me and blocked my escape. I looked up at her, quivering with terror. It was all true, she was a monster. Her body was almost as wide as she was tall. She wore a tight golden choker around her thick neck. Her nostrils were enormous and from my vantage point I could almost see the naughty children she had imprisoned inside. She wore long, white fake fingernails and there was a smell - not the normal old woman smell that I had grown to love from our sweet neighbor, Mrs. Lange across the street. No, this smell was of dark dungeons seeping the folds of her voluminous Dress Barn robes.

We were not allowed to use erasers in Mrs. DeLea's classroom. If you made a spelling mistake on an assignment, you were expected to wad up the entire paper and start over again. One day I was almost finished with an assignment, writing the words to the song Sakura under my inspiring illustration of cherry blossoms. But I got sloppy as I neared the end and misspelled a word. Would I really have to throw away my drawing and begin again? I glanced around to make sure no one was looking then slowly flipped my pencil over. I was sure the eraser marks were undetectable and turned in the assignment with crossed fingers. (As a side note, crossing your fingers is a ill-advised strategy for deception.) Mrs. DeLea was a trained killer and knew blood when she smelled it. The assignment was returned with a vicious, red circle around my erased letter and a condemning frowny face. I was crushed.

I spent most of the year staring in sick fascination at this woman. She had a peculiar way of picking her nose. She'd wrap a Kleenex around one of her fangs then slowly excavate each nostril. Our view up her wide nose showed there was always some great prize to be had inside. This picking ritual was repeated every ten minutes or so throughout the day. I finally understood what fake nails were for. The golden collar around her neck was a permanent fixture. From the way her skin bulged around the top and bottom of it, I was sure she hadn't taken it off in years. I wondered what would happen if she put on even more weight, surely this golden band would become a problem. I would imagine her suddenly grabbing her throat and falling to the ground, breathless. The handsome gym teacher would arrive and try to pry off the choker but find it welded to her neck. We'd sit there, helpless and watch her choke to death. These were the things I spent thinking about in class rather than learning whatever it was she was teaching.

I can't be sure, but I've always suspected she put out a playground hit on me. Her favorite student in the class was named Matthew Barnes. The two of them would exchange loving looks and laugh at each other's jokes while the rest of us sat gloomily at our desks. On the tube slide one day at recess Matt was close on my tail. Halfway down he took a massive bite out of my bottom. I reached the ground screaming in pain but he just grinned and ran back inside. Back to her? It's not impossible. The Recess Aide sent me to the clinic where I had to lay face down on the table with my bottom exposed while the nurse assessed the damage. It was such a senseless, demoralizing act of terror. She applied an inadequate band aid to my rump and sent me back to class. I gingerly took my seat while Mrs. DeLea watched in silence. I could see it in her eyes, she was thrilled.

The thought of this woman still makes my heart shrink. I often replay my tenuous grip on the hallway banister slowly weakening. If only I had held on a little tighter.


Adrienne said...

Oh man... Sakura. I think every elementary school kid has to learn that song. I used to know it in Japanese... "Sakura, sakura, ya yo izo izu ruuuuuuu...."(phonetic, of course.)

My god, what USED to live in that brain cell?

Jill said...

My kindergarten teacher used to actually pinch us, hard, on St. Patrick's day if we weren't wearing green. She called us all by nicknames and I did NOT like mine. Also, on April Fool's day, she told us all we were being bad and she lined us up and marched us all crying down to the principal's office to be spanked. When she got there, she turned around and said, "April Fools!" and we, still crying, said "What's that?"

Lindsay said...

This woman sounds like how I might have described my 3rd grade teacher -- that is, if it weren't for the fact that she hated us all so much, she made us keep our heads down on our desks for most of the year, keeping me from getting a real good look at her.

Antonella DeLeo said...

Mrs. DeLeo is my mother. To me she is beautiful. She LOVED you! She always came home from school at the end of the day telling us how it was worth it to leave us little children at home alone, shivering in the cold, with no food, just for the joy it gave her to know that she was molding the writers and teachers of tomorrow. She told us it was our shared sacrifice.

I see that you are a good writer. That makes my deprivations worthwhile. But why do you revile my precious mother?

Sarah said...

I know it's not PC to say anything other than your elementary school teachers were saints but can't a kid have a few memories of dread? Can't help that I do.

Jill - I'm dying to know what you nickname was... that principle's office thing is insane.

AzĂșcar said...

The whole piece of paper? You were in first grade!

Colleen said...

My first grade teacher's name was Mrs. Simonitch. We called her Mrs. Cinnamon Witch. She was scary.

Jenny said...

We had a substitute teacher named D. Russian or something like that. She was awful, but probably not as bad as Mrs. DeLea. When we found out she would be sub-ing in our classes, my brother would say, "Take to D hills, D Russian is coming!"

s'mee said...

6th grade teacher: Mr. Schmelling, no joke.