Flushing — New York 1978
My sixth grade teacher is a mean old bitch who wears ascots and leather pants. Her grey hair is pulled back tight into a ponytail and she wears too much make up on her leathery face. She stands in front of the classroom, hands on hips, glaring at me. What did I do this time?
Nothing, other than existing, for that’s been her modus operandi since the beginning of the year. Funny thing is she was my teacher last year but she never targeted me as much as she has this year. She’s furious, the wrinkles on her forehead more prominent, the lines around her mouth etched ever deeper into her face. I didn’t do anything. This is how it is this year, each day, every day. Not one day goes by without her insulting me or making fun of me in some way.
A ‘Strega’, that’s what she is, and this is the name I’d come to call her.
Once Strega mocked my long hair, announced to the class that I looked like a girl, fluttered her eyelids to indicate she thought I was a ‘faggot’. The entire class laughed at me. When she did this the student teacher stood up for me but Strega lost her shit and berated her as well, told her to shut up and mind her own business.
Strega also confiscates my books, tells me that they aren’t ‘appropriate’ for me to read. I can’t count how many times I have to have my mother come to school to demand that she give them back to me. Then Strega would lecture my mother about ‘appropriate reading material’. My mother basically told her to fuck off — though not in those exact words — that I can read whatever I wanted to, that if anyone is going to decide what I should and shouldn’t read it would be her. Strega didn’t like that.
Why this sudden change in behavior? When and why did she decide to single me out for abuse?
It all starts when I become friends with the new kid. He recently moved in from another neighborhood, a product of a broken home. He’s the first kid I ever met whose parents are divorced. He’s essentially a latch-key kid, also has a mind of his own, is into the same things I’m into and we immediately become friends. For some reason Strega doesn’t approve of our friendship and soon she begins to berate, insult and denigrate him as well. We form a bond, the new kid and I, and soon we’re in open defiance of Strega, pissing her off even more. The closer we become as friends, the worse Strega gets. She’s a woman unhinged and she stops at nothing to make sure each day is one of humiliation.
This goes on for the entire school year and no matter how often my parents speak to her nothing is ever done about it. It’s ignored by the school’s principal, who spends most of his time in his office, locked away from everyone. Each day is worse than the next. The only reprieve my friend and I get is when Strega is absent and that isn’t too often.
The end of the school year approaches and we are relieved. Freedom. We’ll never have to see Strega ever again. The summer vacation awaits, then we are to move on to junior high school — new friends, new teachers, new experiences. My friend and I finally get the opportunity to get back at Strega for a whole year’s worth of abuse. There’s going to be a “Last Day of School Party” and Strega, not without irony in her voice, puts me and my friend in charge of baking cupcakes for the party. We look at one another, already reading each other’s minds.
On the afternoon before the last day of school we get to work, having a well thought out plan put in place. We go into my friend’s kitchen to prepare. Five of the six cupcakes are perfectly okay to eat. The sixth one, however, is going to be specially made for Strega.
The ingredients: litter from my friend’s cat’s box, dried up cat shit which we crumble into the batter, dirt and dust from the floor, stray hairs we find around his apartment, then we each spit in it. For the literal — and figurative — icing on the cake, we melt a bar of Ex-Lax, a popular laxative at the time, in a frying pan and use it as icing. In order to be sure we don’t give out the wrong one to some poor soul in the class, we have to figure out a way to be sure that Strega gets the right one. We look in one of the kitchen drawers and find toothpicks with paper American flags affixed to them. We put them in each of the cupcakes, all facing in the same direction — except for Strega’s.
The next day, we walk into class and the Strega eyes the tray of cupcakes. Being the selfish bitch that she is, she immediately wants one. We hand her the special concoction, smile ever so slightly as she devours it with relish.
We really have no way of knowing what the effect is going to be. Once we leave for the day, we’ll never see her again but I want to believe that she had a terrible night. My friend and I never reveal what we did. We just carry on the rest of the afternoon satisfied in the knowledge that Strega is going to get what she so richly deserves.