A Few Words on Being a Diva without a Stage (Mrs. James)

(Names changed)

When I was in the 3rd grade, I used to see our school counselor Mrs. James pretty frequently. There were a lot of problems in 3rd grade with other girls trying to bully me and my sister, and they often bit off more than they could chew. I’m not proud of my behavior as a third grader, but at least I can say it was for self-defense. I once tried to get my friend (insert male name) to do my homework when we were in the 5th grade. He did, because he had a crush on me, but I never asked anyone for help again like that. I was too easy to get him to say yes, it made me want to vomit because it wasn’t fair. I wish I could say that I have never scooted by with the absolute bare minimum, but I never cheated off someone without them implicitly offering after that point. We all cheat somewhat in school, and although I think it’s wrong, it has much more to do with not understanding who it hurts and why. It’s hard to realize that what you are doing is wrong when your teachers entirely expect it and design their curriculums to more or less encourage it. But anyways, back to Mrs. James.

She was a shorter woman. She was more or less kind, although I don’t remember much but a few conversations. She was patient, but she didn’t really trust me very much. She was kind of judgmental, and would always get upset if I didn’t say the answer she wanted me to say. Often that was an apology. But the thing is, when you have a horde of other 3rd grade girls trying to attack you here and there, and you are the only one meant to “apologize”, if you’re anything like me, you stop apologizing after a while and start spreading the mess around. People really don’t clean up their messes, and even though I have become better at asking for help and explaining them, as a third grader it was much harder to  tell Mrs. James to leave me the hell alone and start doing her job without coming off as obvious as I couldn’t.

This is not to say that I had much going for me as a third grader, but it seemed pretty ridiculous to me that I could be blamed for other peoples messes and them trying to hurt me while I was at school; I got enough crazy at home, thank you very much. She would try to ask me questions about What did you do wrong  and How did you hurt their feelings? Do you think they liked it when you said that?  After a while, it got old. So I asked her things that were a little less kind. I asked if they would like it better if I broke their nose, that kind of thing. My mom had grown up in Topeka and she also has a twin brother. She was good at taking care of herself, because the kids in her day would chase them both home and try to beat the shit out of them because of things he said. So, she often reminisced about all of that when I talked about SoandSo being mean, and as a good little sponge I told Mrs. James whatever she needed to make her leave me alone. It worked.

But I still had to keep seeing Mrs. James. I don’t know, maybe it was something I said. She kept trying to instill this motivational values crap in me, and I was over it. They made me meet with her when I could have been reading Harry Potter. Wth. Seriously, I was a hyperactive first grader and didn’t read until late second grade, but Harry Potter spoke to my soul. Get off my grill.

One day, Mrs. James asked me what I was going to be when I grew up. This woman had already given me some pretty bad advice that I had promptly told my mom and gotten slapped for; apparently “no one can make you do something or say something you don’t want to do”. Right. Back to you, Mrs. James.

She asked me as if she knew my soul, when she really just wanted me to say something extravagant so she could pad her ego and feel better about the fact that her pack of 3rd grade girls was rapidly evolving into a posse of complete bitches. I told her that I was going to be the first woman President, if Hillary Clinton didn’t get there first. She smiled this overly sensitive smile, and wrote something in my file (you bet your soul I had a file), and I didn’t have to meet with Mrs. James all that much from that point forward.

That story has nothing and everything to do with who I am today. But let me make one thing clear; I have changed quite a bit. I got to College, and I learned quickly that I was free from all that nonsense. I stopped trying to listen to the Mrs. James’; I didn’t want to give them the opportunity. I left for Chile, I came back and it was finally time to confront Mrs. James. But I had no idea what was happened at the time, I was just trying to derp my way along to a decent enough grade point average.

Not the case. There is a certain amount of garbage that burbles out of a compost-clogged sink before it drains. Same kind of garbage has to come out whether it’s on stage or not. Not all of it will be garbage; maybe you’ll uncover an innocuous but rusted spoon chisled into the garbage. If you shine it up, maybe you can even eat off of it again. But yeah, the garbage comes back up at some point, and if you’re lucky you’ll be using your spoon to scrape it back out until you get around to that shining it part.

If you want the smile and nod, I can do that. I can do your smile and nod; Mrs. James taught me. If you want to know what is wrong, that makes two of us. If you’d like me to shut up, well then, set the example. I am afraid that this post will sound judgmental if I don’t clarify, so here goes: Mrs. James wasn’t a bad person. She was kind, and she cared a lot. But she tried to rush through a situation that was so overly complicated and beyond her understanding that she only made bad worse. I learned to smile and nod, but I also kept to it for years, not because I wanted to, but because I legitimately didn’t know that I had the option to express it otherwise, with an audience no less.

I never thought about acting before. Or singing at Church. Or dancing hiphop. Or generally finding productive outlets for the garbage. Generally speaking, I thought garbage was garbage, and from what I could discern, I too was garbage. Not the case.

As much as it may be common knowledge to Mrs. James, the only people that I had ever met that acted were little bastard children at my school who would steal things from teacher’s desks, lie about it in a subtle façade that really fooled none of their peers, and then prance about on stage like their shit didn’t stink. That sounds pretty mean, but yeah, it was true. The same Denises as before, only older and with a more developed sense of being extra special and gifted. Barf.

Meanwhile, I was struggling to not laugh at my English teachers to their faces, not cry in Civics when the psychopath child started screaming about his ideas and like an idiot (I screamed back about idealism), and generally not kill myself. I’m sorry that I don’t really want to be in a Midsummer’s Nights Dream when I don’t know how I’m even getting to school tomorrow, or where in the hell I will be able to find clothes for next semester with $100 for myself and $100 for my sister. Knock it the hell off, Denise.

But yeah, actually, I could definitely see myself on a stage. Mrs. James would come, and she would even feel good that I had settled on being a beautiful actress, now that Hillary Clinton is gonna steal the Presidency (she better watch out; I can break noses according to Mrs. James). I don’t want to be an actress, Mrs. James, but I would like to burble out the garbage. Because after all, when it’s a heaping garbage mess, as long and I can draw and color in it with my rusted ass spoon, you can call it art.


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I am a second-grade teacher and pastor-to-be who loves people. I spend my weekends with friends or wandering the museums of DC alone and with a journal, trying to put words on the places of the soul that still feel wordless. I spent most of my days at school trying to learn patience through my students and running on sheer nerdy passion. I follow Jesus Christ, and savor that as my most important identity--that I am a child of God, as are infinite others, regardless of their other identities. Christ is my one thing.

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