My instinct was always to go straight to the back. The light was a little dimmer there, whichever class used this as a form room had PE bags piled on the window sills. Nobody would really notice you there, I imagined.
But I couldn’t dare sit there. So I’d aim for the middle of the opposite side, it was that or in front of the teacher and no matter what I was NOT sitting there, that was asking for it. I sat down and put my scruffy bag next to me, and put my oversized blazer on the back of the chair.
You might be forgiven for thinking that I was one of those kids that felt invisible in school but it was much worse than that. I felt completely visible, I felt magnified, I crawled through school in a complete state of paranoia and embarrassment. By the time it came to sitting in this particular History class, I would refuse to turn my head when someone called my name because I was sure they would just laugh, for no reason other than me turning around, and that just made me burn with shame.
So Mrs McCullough comes into the room and without fail, tells someone to close the blinds. I’ve only done that once, they’re on the other side of the room. I thought at the time she was about 70 but God knows really. She had grey hair and she could shout when she wanted to but she seemed sort of delicate, like talcum powder.
We got our homework out. Well, they got their homeworks out. I didn’t. Ever, really. Or I did but it was always late. I was constantly in detention because I couldn’t be bothered to do it, and usually, it was Mrs. McCullough giving me them. She didn’t this time, she gave me a day, and I just remember feeling embarrassed that for five minutes everyone was looking at me, but nothing happened.
“Open your books to page 47.
She would repeat things endlessly, but it must’ve worked because I fluked a B.
Dutifully, we opened out books (well, I opened hers, I’d forgot mine) and on pg.47 was the beginning of a module about the start of World War One. She would read through the book and copy out bits with the driest whiteboard marker she could find squeaking, and always repeating.
“Who -” she intoned, clicking the lid back onto her marker and swivelling in her moccasins “was assassinated at Sarajevo?”
She peered through her glasses looking for a hand when Peter shouted out “Franz Ferdinand!” From the far back corner.
“Peter McKeown, this is not a pantomime!” She snapped at him, and the room hushed.
And in a flash without skipping a beat Peter McKeown smirked and shouted
“OH YES IT IS!”
Into the most hysterical shrieks of laughter ever experienced, I was crying hunched over the table, tears were streaming down my face and I couldn’t stop, it just got worse. The room was silent, and I had dissolved into a shaking wreck of laughter with no breathe to make noise.
I couldn’t stop. Everyone was staring at me, really staring. I had no mates to find it funny for me to take the shade, and when I thought about it later I just burned and shrivelled and died in my seat.
The bell went, people began to leave, I began to breathe.
And then Mrs McCullough gave me detention.