Nicotine Teen

by | Jun 3, 1999 | Encouragement, Support

I was in my 10th grade science class, wishing, as always, that I wasn’t. As if it wasn’t bad enough that I had absolutely no interest in anything scientific, I was also totally entrenched in my own personal addiction to nicotine

I was spoiled enough — and sufficiently rebellious — to come to the conclusion, despite coaxing to the contrary, that if I wasn’t particularly crazy about a subject, I certainly should not be expected to put forth any effort whatsoever.

Furthermore, if I didn’t happen to like any particular teacher, showing respect was something I could choose to do or not. Disrupting classes, ideally by making people laugh, was my forte. Back in those days, in the early 60s when “bad” students were the ones who chewed gum in class or ran in the hall or wrote with lipstick on the bathroom mirror, I was the worst of the bad. Figuratively, I stood head and shoulders above the rest.

I loved English. And what a lucky thing that was. Mr. Tindall was fearsome. With a fixed grin, he would zone in on unruly students who whispered to their neighbor or were foolhardy enough to forget to get rid of gum before entering his class. Looking at the clock was slightly more serious than any misdemeanor and he was sure to break any lippy kid’s habit of backtalk. For some reason, I had a proclivity to respect and truly like the tough teachers. Mr.Tindall was not only tough when it came to teaching and grading, he was physical with his toughness. I had seen him throw boys who temporarily thought they were too cool into lockers and bounce them off walls. I had witnessed the whacks he was prone to give with a wooden paddle…Although the displays were stunning and scary, there were no injuries other than those to pride. Not once did it ever cross my mind to test this teacher. Never. You might think fear stopped me, but considering my ignorance in those school days, I can assure you the only reason this teacher and I did not tangle was simply that I loved English and admired Mr. Tindall.

Although I had no use for science, I did like Mr. Davies. He had a happy round face and he was funny. He wasn’t afraid of me, my attitude or my comebacks. He was one of the few who somehow knew I was not as tough as I pretended to be. He was good at bantering with me and I enjoyed the competition. Even though science stunk, Mr. Davies didn’t. I generally tolerated his class. Not that I learned anything in it. Not that I studied. Not that I tried…I just put up with it…on days that I came to school.

On this particular Friday, I couldn’t get having a cigarette out of my mind.

Being so securely hooked on this habit created a real problem for one who happened to be a 16 year old student, and one who had gotten caught sating her desire for nicotine so many times that her tendency to smoke in the john was common knowledge. I was perpetually suspect.

Some of the teachers just plain didn’t care. Maybe they had given up. But Mr. Davies was not one of them. I had to think how to do this…

Sneaky and slick, sitting at my desk toward the back of the room, I managed to withdraw a cigarette butt and a kitchen match from my purse.

Smoking, in those school days, consisted of long, burning hot drags drawn as deeply into the lungs as possible, in rapid succession, while waving one hand furtively at the puffs of smoke so that they were fairly dissipated by the time they curled over the top of the bathroom stall into plain sight. Smelling like a pool hall the majority of the time was par for the course, and another dead giveaway that one had just sucked in half a cigarette in record time. The effect was dizzying, —a rush not experienced by adult smokers who do not need to satisfy their addiction in a big hurry in a tiny bathroom stall.

Still seated at my desk, it was a snap to slip the match into the top of my sock. It required a little more care to fit the butt under my watch band. After making sure it was covered by the long sleeve of my blouse, I took a deep breath and prepared to lie.

Lying was different from just being a goof off, mouthing off or just plain being a lousy student. It bothered me to lie. I didn’t like it. Besides an upbringing by Christian parents, the meaning of my name is “truthful one” — two factors that matter. Fortunately they are also factors that mean much more now than then, since it was obviously not beneath me to lie if I wanted something badly enough that I could feel the end justified the means….

Nicotine was something I wanted badly enough.

I stood, left my desk and walked up to where Mr. Davies was sitting behind his.

He wore his pleasant face and looked me in the eye. By the twinkle in his, along with a slight smirk, I knew that he knew part of what I was going to say. And he knew that I knew he knew.

I gave the slightest little chuckle. “Mr. Davies…” He leaned back and clasped his hands behind his head, listening patiently, interested in hearing the details of my latest, but clearly not expecting to be fooled in the least…

“I need to use the restroom, but I am not going to have a cigarette. Look…I am not even taking my purse…ok?…I am leaving it right there, on my desk…” I pointed to it, in case he wanted proof. “Ok?”

By the time I finished my plea, I could see in his face that he was going to let me. I just knew he bought it…But then he looked away and he didn’t look so happy.

Quietly, he told me: “You dropped something.”

I looked at the floor and saw that hideous cigarette butt. Maybe I picked it up, but I am not sure.

Oh humble moment. Oh humblest moment of my entire life.

Instant death would have been welcomed. And deserved.

Here was this big-mouth, smart-alec class clown, supposed to be tough as nails, now slinking back to her desk, her face buried in her hands, barely able to see to find her way.

Somehow managing to seat myself at my desk while still trying to hide in my hands, my head spun and my face burned crimson as I waited to be humiliated still further by whatever words the teacher chose to finish me off with. I had lied. I had tried to trick him. And I had failed. What an opportunity was his!

He could have killed me with words at that moment. I was certainly one to recognize the perfect chance for him to get a good laugh at my expense from the entire class. This was one competition he could win so easily, so coolly, so smoothly. On top of that, he could have sent me to the principal. I would have been suspended for sure. Once again. Clearly, I was at his mercy…

I remember bracing myself. I remember no one laughed. And I will always remember exactly what he said. Most of all, I feared his words. When they came, after what seemed like about a year, I could hardly believe what I was hearing:

“I want you to know that you are a welcome part of my class. And I want to see your bright an’ smilin’ face back in here for class on Monday morning.”

That was it.

Mr. Davies was not a man to kick a girl when she was down…golden opportunity or not…

He was a gentleman. Even though I was no scholar.

Alison Peters Sweetpetes3@cs.com

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