In second grade, it almost came unraveled, and it actually was not a time when I was in cruise control. Rather, my imagination got me called out. You know, that thing you usually encourage in children? That thing you lose as you get older and wish you could recapture? Yeah, that. It was because of my imagination I turned in what appeared to be the sloppiest, most unimaginative thing I’ve probably ever done in an academic setting. I’ve never told the story before. I was so mortified at the time, and it didn’t really lend itself to telling once the moment had passed. Or so I thought. I think I’m ready to tell it now. I just wish there was some way for Mrs. Shonkweiler to read this.*
*I also hope I spelled that right. That is not an easy name to keep in your memory for, what, twenty years?
Let’s back up a little bit, back to kindergarten for just a moment. Coloring was (and I’m assuming still is) a big part of the kindergarten experience. I always got dinged for leaving white spots, and to this day I’m a bit bitter about it. I can’t help that melted wax didn’t always smear just right into the paper. It wasn’t as if I blatantly left spots uncolored. Crayons just don’t color as evenly as pencils. I also got dinged for not being the best cutter, which is absurd, because I was a damned wizard with scissors later in elementary school. Probably still am, but I’d be the first to admit I’m rusty. Anyway, ever since I wasn’t allowed to switch kindergarten classes because of those two things, I’ve been a little sensitive about my skills in those vital areas. The coloring pages, though greatly slowed, did not stop in kindergarten.
No, even in the second grade you occasionally got to do some coloring. I couldn’t tell you a single thing I colored the whole year outside of this one, infamous picture. There was more to it than just coloring the picture. You probably had to pick out certain things, write a little description of things in the picture, and so forth. That was not enough for my imagination, though. No, I had bigger ideas than a little assignment that was most likely just something to occupy our time for a little while. We had been presented what looked like a pleasant enough day at the park with people and animals strolling through and doing park things. I saw a pair of magical cardinals.
I don’t remember everything about this picture, but I can swear to you on the pain of a gory death there were two cardinals sitting on a fountain, or maybe one at a fountain and one on a lamppost. I took a moment to survey the scene and decided that those two cardinals turned everything below it red, like little searchlights. I quickly started in coloring the birds and the area underneath them. No! I quickly decided. These cardinals were better than a pair of oddly colored flashlights. They turned all they flew over red. FOREVER. Yeah, now that’s what I’m talking about. Nobody would mess with those cardinals.
This led to a pretty sound, logical next step. These cardinals live in this park, and have for a long time. I mean, obviously cardinals are not migratory birds, that’s why they were always at the birdfeeder when we ate breakfast. That means these birds must have flown over every section of this park. Clearly, the decision was out of my hands. The entire picture must be colored red.
And it was. My hand was almost as worn down as the nub of red wax between my fingers. But there it was. A completely red rendering of this park. I didn’t know if my red crayon was going to hold out, but by God, it made it. I finished whatever else I needed to do with the assignment and handed it in, proud and sure of my work.
I did whatever it was second graders do when they’ve finished stuff early. Or, at least, whatever wouldn’t get me in trouble. Probably reading a book or something. A short while later, Mrs. Shonkweiler rather angrily yelled out, “Who did one?” We all turned to see what had happened. My eyes bulged. “Who just colored this all red? Come up here and do it right!”
Leaving aside I had clearly forgotten to put my name on it, I was mortified. It suddenly snapped in what it must have looked like from the outside. Some lazy slob just colored in the whole thing one color just to get it done. I wasn’t one of those kids! I wanted to go up and explain the whole story to her. I wanted to tell her it wasn’t what it looked like. See? I hadn’t gone over the lines! At least, not much! There was a reason for it, I didn’t just do it out of spite!
I couldn’t get the story out, though. I was more than embarrassed enough, I wasn’t going to compound it with some wild story that had seemed so real just a handful of minutes before. It wasn’t worth it. As quickly as I could, I went up, grabbed it and a blank one, and went back to my seat to color it more conventionally. I don’t remember anything about the second version, other than I did it quickly and with burning cheeks. I don’t think I said another word the rest of the day. I also don’t think the teacher said anything to me. I think she was surprised who grabbed the picture and wasn’t really prepared for one of the honor roll kids to be coming up. Now, in third grade, I was little demon who, while I still made good grades, was probably enough of a troublemaker to do something like that. Not second grade. I was sincerely still an angel at that point.* It turned in the second version, and the issue died.
*At school, anyway. I make no promises about how I was at home.
Except with me. That picture still to this day pops into my head every now and then. I still wanted to explain that there were reasons, good reasons, for why I did that. There was a narrative and a logic to the red madness. Moral of the story: if it’s not well explained, it’s not going to be seen as particularly creative, no matter what was going through your head at the time.