I am probably five or six years old.
I’m sitting at a table with other preschool kids. The teacher is Mrs. Payne and it’s almost time for the bell to ring and dismiss a hoard of wild little kids to trample anything on their way to the school buses. Mrs. Payne is going on about something.
By my right foot, I see a piece of lead, which had broken off from a pencil.
Maybe it was my pencil. Maybe it was someone else’s pencil.
Does it really matter?
It could have been Philip, a little guy that I’d probably just met that day sitting right beside me.
For some reason, I decided that it would be a good idea to put my little shoe on top of that pencil lead and move it in a circuitous motion.
Like an artist!
Not unsurprisingly, the pencil lead leaves a dark grey mark on the hard tile floor. I think to myself, ‘That’s pretty cool. It’s like writing on the floor with your foot.’
Which is exactly what it was. Writing on the floor with your foot.
I do it again and the lead leaves more markings.
Mrs. Payne continues to lecture us on something. Philip apparently was paying attention to her. I sure wasn’t.
I continue my artwork on the tile floor, moving my right leg in various angles, circles, straight lines, and triangles. I was a budding artist right there in pre-school. I could only imagine the accolades I’d receive for this masterpiece.
After about five minutes, the whole area in which my little leg would reach was now the color of, not surprisingly, pencil lead.
At no time during my art creation did I stop and think that someone would have to clean this. I just kept writing and filling in the tiles on the floor that my leg could reach.
About 30 seconds before the dismissal bell rang, the glimmer of a large swath of pencil lead coating the floor caught the eye of Mrs. Payne, and her face contorted.
It wasn’t the happy face of a teacher who is pleased to see something a student has created. It wasn’t even like a parent seeing their child running down the sidewalk into the house after school holding a piece of paper with various markings in different colors (or maybe just one color) and a big smile on his or her face and shouting, “Look mom what I drew in school today.” And she picks you up and hugs you and puts the “art” on the refrigerator.
It wasn’t that kind of look.
It was a contortion dripping with unpleasantness. Eventually, she got out the words she was trying to say, “Who drew that on the floor?”
Her words hung over the classroom and every little head turned and looked at me. I looked at the floor suddenly thinking that maybe this wasn’t the best time to develop an art career.
I just want to say right here that I never disliked Philip.
I’d known the kid probably a few hours. We were just starting out together in this 12-year stretch of time we call education.
So, I am kinda ashamed to say that, without missing a beat and with my foot still on what was left of the pencil lead, my little right arm raised and my little finger pointed to Philip who was sitting 2 feet away from me.
His eyes widened and his face reflected a level of surprise that said, ‘Are you kidding me?’
Or something like that. I am sure it was age-appropriate.
As he looked at me incredulously, the bell rang and for a split second, my heart stopped. I thought I was going to be detained and dragged into the principal’s office for interrogation.
But, Mrs. Payne did not detain me and we left the building. I walked down the hall unsure of what I had just done. I have no memory of talking to Philip while walking down the hall to the buses. But I do remember the next day.
After we arrived and sat in our assigned tables, Mrs. Payne informed me that the janitor had to work extra hard to clean the pencil lead off the tile floor the day before. I am sure that she expected some level of shame and remorse from me.
But, honestly, I can’t remember showing anything resembling shame. But I did take note that the floor was really clean, and well, pencil lead does show up nicely on clean floors.