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Fifth Grade

February 2, 2018


When I went to my 30 year class reunion last October, a divorced woman who had a little too much to drink approached me and said she had a “crush” on me a long time ago. When I asked her how long ago, she told me “fifth grade.”

I was popular in fifth grade, thin, with a thick head of brown hair. There were a few girls who liked me, I recall. I wasn’t shy but I played hard to get. I knew I was one of the “cute boys” and played it up for all it was worth.

I liked to show off in class, acting tough, worthy of respect. When a nerd named Marty was accused of having “cooties,” my friend and I were designated to take care of it. When Mrs. Ross, the teacher, was out of the classroom, my friend, Randy, took hold of Marty’s head and I lifted my arms as if I were going to smash his head against the desk.

We were kidding, of course, just trying to scare him, the way tough kids do. I lifted my arms and hands to the sky and brought them down, making sure to stop before the pounding. But I was too strong and brought my arms down a little too far.

Marty screamed in pain, his front tooth cracked against the desk. Randy and I looked at each other with that “oh-God-we-really-screwed-up” look. We were called down to the principal’s office and sat in two chairs for a never-ending two hours.

I had never seen our teacher or the principal this angry before. They were ready to suspend us, but we pleaded with them that it was just an accident. We never meant to hurt Marty. We had just been kidding around. We begged them not to call our parents, that we would deal with it ourselves. They told us our parents were going to have to pay all doctor and dentist bills.

So far, this was by far the worst day of my life. I walked home with my best friend, Louis Stone, who said to me he would talk to my parents. He knew it was unintentional and believed he could make my parents believe him.

My fears eased a little as Louis spoke. He was calm and kind and my parents liked him. They said they’d pay whatever bills they received and that Marty’s parents would accept their heartfelt apologies for my stupidity. I felt a little better when I went to bed but had an unbearable sense of guilt.

The rest of fifth grade is a blur to me now, a year of going to school and playing at home. I can remember almost nothing else, except Louis and I walking home from school over and over again.

Sixth grade I remember. I remember the birth of my baby brother, Kenny, two days before Christmas, and I remember the day our sixth grade teacher told us that Louis Stone had died in his sleep the night before from a cerebral hemorrhage. We had no idea what she was talking about. We never said a word.

Louis had disappeared and we were all suspended in shock. Except for my grandfather dying two years earlier, I didn’t know anything about death. My parents and I never discussed the subject.

A few weeks later, our first teacher took a leave of absence and was replaced by a permanent substitute, Mr. Kelly. Kelly was a very large man who had a feminine voice. We laughed when he spoke but we applauded when he took us out to the playground to play baseball,  his favorite sport. He took us out daily as the other two sixth grade classes stared out their windows with jealous faces.

Mr. Kelly surfaced again in high school when I found out he would be my ninth grade biology teacher. By then, I was also overweight like him, shy, no longer popular with the girls. But Mr. Kelly was cool because he kept us laughing.

I saw him once more a few years later at a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Town Center in Southfield, Michigan. I was getting pelted in the head with rolls of toilet paper and popcorn and turned around, furious at the joker behind me who had just doused me with soda pop. A high-talking voice laughed, “Arnie, I can’t believe it’s you!”

It was Mr. Kelly again and so I couldn’t feel that bad, even though I was covered with wet toilet paper. What was great about Mr. Kelly was that he always acted like he was still in fifth grade.

My daughter, Marlee, is in fifth grade now. She seems so much older than my friends and me when we were her age. Her mischief is instant messaging with 20 girls and 10 boys at the same time, all wanting to have their own my websites.

I am happiest when she’s home playing with one of her best friends who is sleeping over, talking, laughing, giggling like the eleven-year-olds they are. I sometimes sit at her computer, playing solitaire, just making sure she and her friend fall asleep quietly, peacefully, the monsters and bedbugs kept away by me.

From Five Fathers

By Arnie Goldman

Copyright 2006

BookSurge, LLC

Botsford Elementary School

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