||[15 Apr 2007|06:29pm]
My Meeting with "The Board of Education"
By Megan Lowry
In the spring of 1993 I was a seventeen year old high school senior in the Sandhills Region of North Carolina. Our school district issued a parent/student handbook each fall containing some rather vague references to corporal punishment but with nothing clearly spelled out beyond its availability as "a disciplinary option." Some years before, the county school board had voted for some modifications in their paddling policies, largely in response to a 1981 incident in which three girls were severely paddled, some would say abusively, by a male staff member. That affair led to a lawsuit against the district and focused a good deal of unwanted media attention on the paddling in schools issue. One significant change to come about was the implimentation of a same gender rule, i.e., that girls were to receive licks only from a female administrator or teacher.
Although I was aware that licks were authorized, the possibility of actually receiving any myself was not something I had ever seriously contemplated, save once. In middle school I was an active combatant in what certain of my classmates humorously (and otherwise) named "The Great Lillington Food Fight of 1989." This messy affair was sparked by ill will between two opposing student cliques, and began with verbal taunts in the lunchline that rapidly escalated into all-out confrontation during which Yours Truly fired a paper cup of applesauce. The gooey projectile failed to strike its intended target and sailed through the double doors into the hallway wither it splattered against the lockers. While several belligerents were rounded up and marched away to face summary justice in the principal's office, my role somehow remained undetected. I passed three of the most anxious hours of my life until the bell mercifully rang at 3:20, fearing from moment to moment the intercom would buzz with the dread order to go report to the office. It didn't, a fact for which I was sincerely grateful to whatever kindly providence had spared my backside.
Paddling was not a subject much discussed by anyone at school, maybe out of embarrassment, but some who had found themselves on the receiving end laughed it off as a joke. While paddlings did happen from time to time they were a comparative rarity, and it appeared to me that most violations resulted in detention or a simple reprimand.
I began smoking at age 16, a habit I acquired from my friend Amanda. While my mom never actually forbade me to smoke, she disliked it and missed no oppertunity to say so. Mom was a lifelong nonsmoker and was equally disapproving of my dad's pipe. So, wearying of her maternal admonitions against the evils of tobacco, I let her believe I had quit when in truth I hadn't, and continued to sneak the occasional puff in my room.
Late in March of my senior year we were enjoying the first warm days of spring, and during the lunch hour everybody congregated outside on the lawn or in the parking lot. Amanda and I were sitting at a picnic table on the west side of the building when she made the gesture of pulling on a cigarette and exhaling. She nodded towards the building, and I understood her to mean we should go to an upstairs washroom for a quick smoke, something we'd done before without problems. I didn't refuse, although a couple of weeks before I served 120 minutes detention for smoking in the parking lot.
We went through the doors and up the staircase. The 2nd floor washroom is just to the left as you come up, and we were glad to find the hallway entirely empty. Marlboros were my brand of choice, and I had a pack with three cigarettes rolled up in my pocket. We hung out for 15 minutes before it was time to head back downstairs. But as luck would have it, just as we were going an old hag art teacher, Mrs. Gilly, pushed open the door and confronted us: "Are you girls smoking in here?" Busted ! There was no way to deny what we were up to because, first, the smell made it obvious, second, a few blue wisps of smoke hung in the air catching the sunlight, and third - most damning of all - the red and white Marlboro pack was conspicuously in my right hand. She confiscated this contraband and hauled our sorry hind ends down to the Assistant Principal's office.
Entering the school's main office, off the central corridor, to the far left there's a door marked "Assistant Principal." Through this door is a small waiting room with a window to your right and a few office chairs. Directly in front of you is the door to the A.P.'s real office, which we walked though. Amanda and I sat on chairs in front of the Assistant Principal's desk. She was a woman in her mid 30's named Jessica Dodd who was in her first year with the district and was someone I didn't know well. She listened to what Mrs. Gilly had to say and took the incriminating Marlboro pack from her, causing me to lose a perfectly good cigarette on top of all else ! Once Mrs. Gilly left Ms. Dodd asked to hear our side, and with such favorite adolescent monosyllables as "um" and "yea" we effectively conceded our guilt.
Ms. Dodd lectured us on smoking: "Don't you realize it's bad for your health?" and "Didn't you know this campus is smoke free?" (We couldn't plead ignorance on No.2 - the student handbook did clearly say as much.) Neither of us offered much in reply. Ms. Dodd stood up from her desk and walked to the grey metal filing cabinets in the corner. Taking out two manila folders, our student files for her office, she returned to the desk and began paging through their contents. Finally laying them to one side, she looked at us and said she saw from our records that this was the third violation that quarter for each of us. This was so. As mentioned before, I was caught smoking in the parking lot and also skipped a day in early March. Amanda had skipped with me and had another violation I don't recall. Ms. Dodd then said that under the policies adopted by the county school board she had the "option" (her word) of using corporal punishment in lieu of detention for a third violation. It occured to me that if this was, in fact, the official policy, it was not clearly spelled out in any information ever provided to me. What she said next gave me the feeling of an electric charge in the pit of my stomach: "I think you ladies could benefit from a paddlng. I'm sorry, but I really do."
Opening a desk drawer she took out two blue slips of paper. These were Parental Consent Forms whose use was only recently mandated by the Board. She handed one to each of us, said to have mom or dad sign it and to bring it in to her at 7:30 the following morning. The current rule is that parents must indicate by checking the form and signing whether corporal punishment can be administered for a violation, and detention is automatically assigned if permission for licks is denied. Ms. Dodd told us to get ready for our next class at 12:45 and we walked out into the hallway. Once out of the office, Amanda was nonchalant "Don't worry about it. I got it in 9th and it wasn't too bad." I assured her I was not worried in any way because "My mom will *never* let this happen!" I was 100% sure of that, too.
Mom hit the ceiling when, at 4:00 that afternoon, I 'fessed up about what happened. We engaged in verbal sparring for the better part of two hours, and she was really torqued off. First, she was upset at more trouble in school when I'd just pulled detention for skipping, plus the revelation of my having also served detention for a previous smoking incident, something he hadn't known. Mom also felt I'd lied to her, having led her to think I'd quit smoking when I hadn't. To cut to the chase, she said she'd give her permission for licks because, quote: "You have to learn that sometimes when you break rules there are going to be consequences you don't like!" (Duhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, mom! Thanks for that lesson in logic. I guess I'd never have figured that out otherwise, now would I?) It made no difference how I tried to talk, plead or whine my way out of it. She wasn't listening and I gave up arguing.
That evening I had some English homework on The Merchant of Venice and I remember the movie I was trying to watch when my boyfriend Jeff stopped over at 7:30 The flick had Johnny Cash as a sheriff in the 1940's and Andy Griffith as a guy who'd killed somebody for stealing a cow. It was probably an okay movie, but my mind was distracted and I was growing more and more apprehensive over what would happen in the morning. Jeff asked me if something was wrong and I told him no. Out of sheer embarrassment, I intimated nothing about what had happened and nothing about my hiney's impending doom. After he left I considered phoning Amanda with the idea if *her* parents had refused to give permission, then my mom might still be dissuaded. But I never called.
I went to bed around 10:00 and had no trouble falling asleep. Morning dawned all too soon, and I had to get up and get ready for school. I put on jeans and plain white cotton panties, with a pullover top and sneakers. I wore a gold chain on my left wrist, a gift the previous Christmas from Jeff, and had my hair tied back as I normally wore it then. Mom had piled my books and stuff on the kitchen counter. Protruding from between the pages of one, where I couldn't fail to see it, was the blue consent form, checked, signed and folded. Looking back at it now, I'll say that had I known she'd really give her permission for the paddling I'd have forged her signature and left her in the dark about what had happened. I have no memory of breakfast, only that I had no appetite. With mounting anxiety I realized if I refused to be paddled after mom gave her okay, I would be automatically suspended with failing grades for the quarter, something that simply wasn't in the picture. I was trying to maintain my g.p.a. with graduation was only two months ahead. I threw on a white windbreaker and left without the usual Good Byes, giving the door a slam - but not as hard as I'd have liked to !
My wheels took the form of a 1975 Monte Carlo my dad had found for me in Fayetteville, one of those with the radical long hoods, light blue with white vinyl roof. With eight blocks to drive to school, I drove through the Stop-and-Go lights down the block and switched on the radio to WDKS-FM. They were playing Alan Parsons Project "Eye in the Sky" as I turned into the parking lot and pulled up in my usual spot. Needless to say, hearing that song today always sends me right back to that time and place.
I walked into the building and went to my locker to deposit my windbreaker. Probably almost blushing with self consciousness, I went through the main office where, thankfully, no one paid any attention. I was happy to see only a few school secretaries and no other kids hanging around. On entering the waiting area, I saw two desks had been brought in since yesterday. Amanda was seated at one, writing on some lined paper. I said hi, and she mumbled "hi" back, nothing more. Undoubtedly her emotions were exactly in sync with mine: fear, anger and embarrassment.
Amanda was wearing white Levis and a red sweat shirt with the school logo in white. She was a member of The Rubies, the school's danceline troupe that performed at games, Homecoming and so on. Ms. Dodd stepped out of the office and asked for the consent form which I had folded up small in my hand - very small, that is, not wanting anyone I might encounter to suspect what was happening. She scanned it, then handed me some lined paper. "Megan, I want you to write these sentences fifty times. 'I was paddled for smoking on school property. I will not commit this offense again.' Then, when you're done, just sign it at the bottom, understand?" I understood, and plopped down to begin scribbling these words of wisdom.
Amanda had been there awhile and was halfway through her sentences. I made an effort to stimulate conversation but she had little to say and remained intently focused on her writing. For just a moment she put her head down on her arms and I thought she would start crying, but she didn't. I desperately wanted to say something that might help, but could think of nothing at all. Amanda put down her pen and ran her finger down one side of the paper then the other, making certain she'd completed all fifty sentences. She stood up quickly and walked into the office, her whole demeanor seeming to say "OK, FINE, LET'S GET THIS OVER WITH NOW." I overheard Jessica Dodd click the intercom and say something about "come down now..." She was summoning another teacher to act as witness, a precaution required by North Carolina law in event Amanda or I would claim our punishments were excessive or abusive.
The witness evidently knew what she was coming for, but hadn't been told who was involved. The door from the main office opened a minute later and she walked in. Her name was Andrea Kelly, somewhere in her mid 20's, an English teacher who was also in charge of the drama club. I knew Ms. Kelly but never had one of her classes. "Oh, hi Megan" she chirped, just like she'd run into me at the mall or somewhere. "What are you doing in here?" I told her quickly what had happened, thinking maybe she would or could do something to get us out of the mess we were in. No such luck. She arched her eyebrows in a somewhat reproachful look, said "Hmmmmmmmmmm, well...." and went into the office shutting the door behind her.
Sitting alone at the desk, cheery spring sunshine beaming in the windows, my stomach doing flip flops and feelings of anxiety heightening by the second, I emphatically did not find the notion of being paddled to be a joke casually laughed off. The situation was truly intimidating. I was worried I'd cry when getting spanked and hoped I'd be able to hold it back and not show any emotions. I feared if Amanda cried, I'd be more likely to when feeling the sting of the paddle a few minutes later. I reasoned if I could survive the licks without tears, Ms. Dodd would think it hadn't much hurt and thus I'd preserve some dignity. I was not a happy camper, as they used to say, but I was acutely aware we were being punished for willful infractions of the school rules and that punishment isn't meant for fun.
From inside the office I could hear voices, but the words were unintelligible. Then, sudden and startling, "CRACK!!!" Silence. I was thankful Amanda hadn't screamed. Nervous as the proverbial long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, if Amanda had screamed so would I ! 10 to 15 seconds later ...."CRACK!!!!!" Silence again. Amanda was doing okay with it until, that is, she got her 4th lick, greeted with a sharp yelp of "WOO-HOO!!" Maybe ten seconds later was her fifth and final lick, at which she seemed to gasp and stifle a scream. Apart from this I heard nothing, and felt a certain relief that Amanda's paddling hadn't seemed quite as severe an ordeal as I'd feared.
Within half a minute Amanda came out, her face flushed and eyes moist, appearing angry and sullen. Looking at her I stammered "Did it hurt?" (Dumb question, huh?) Amanda shot back, "My God, Megan! Do you HAVE to be such a baby about everything?" She grabbed her jacket and books and stormed out.
Jessica Dodd came to the door, telling me to "hurry up and finish writing." Done at last, I forced myself away from the desk and entered her office. For the sake of drama I wish it were possible for me to write that I was replaying in my mind the "Last Mile" scene from some corny Jimmy Cagney movie, but I wasn't. All I was thinking is that I wanted this over and done with, and right now.
Ms. Dodd took the paper from me, and I was told "sit down for just a minute" while she and Ms. Kelly tinkered with a FAX machine on the small table to the right of the door as you walked in. Sitting in the exact same spot as the day before, on an office chair in front of her desk, it occured to me it was still within my power to stop this. Nobody could prevent me from simply walking out, firing up the Monte Carlo and driving away. But, to avoid being paddled in this way would have entailed academic consequences I couldn't afford, namely failing grades for the quarter two months before graduation. Not a cool option, and I stayed put. My eyes were all over that room with its tacky aqua carpeting and walls painted off white. There was a window behind the desk, and as I sat there a semi or heavy Diesel truck of some kind rumbled past on the street, the driver for some reason giving a blast on its deep air horn. Why this sticks in my mind I cannot say. My eyes darted all over the office for the paddle, but it was nowhere to be seen. Rumor had it the paddles were made downstairs in the woodworking shop and there were two designs: essentially the same, but a slightly lighter version for girls. Having never actually seen the "Board of Education" I was unsure what to expect. Uncomfortably warm, self conscious and edgy, I felt like screaming at Ms. Dodd and Ms. Kelly "WILL YOU GET ON WITH IT, DAMN YOU ?! "
Whatever the problem was with the FAX, they got it resolved. Ms. Dodd told me to stand up, and Andrea Kelly walked over and shoved my chair to the left and up against the wall. Ms. Dodd asked if there was anything in my back pockets, and I removed a pocket comb and a couple of coins and laid them on the desk. The Assistant Principal walked over to those same filing cabinets that held our records, reached behind it and brought out the paddle. Seeing it made my heart go up in my throat. About 20" long and 4" wide, it looked to be about a half inch thick. It was made from light colored wood and appeared heavy. One end was sawed in to form the handle which was wrapped in black tape. My sister Laurie, who is now a high school English teacher, later told me this is done to provide a better grip.
Ms. Dodd stood by the filing cabinet and told me to "lean way forward" over the front of her desk. The usual desk clutter, including a lamp and telephone, had been pushed to one side. Being out of options I did as ordered, resting my weight on my elbows and crossing my arms. Just as I bent down the first bell rang, and from out in the hallway filtered in the sound of people going back and forth, locker doors slamming and all the mundane noises of the start of the school day. The faded blue denim of my jeans stretched tightly across my upturned buttocks and was uncomfortable.
Once I was bent down, Jessica Dodd walked away from the filing cabinets and to my left and a little ways behind. Andrea Kelly stood to my right, near the door to the waiting room, arms folded and staring at the floor. She didn't seem happy at being there. Turning my head to see what Ms. Dodd was doing, I saw she had the paddle in her right hand and was tapping it against the palm of her left. We had a moment's eye contact, and she said to stand with my feet a little further apart. I was still looking back when she touched the paddle to the seat of my jeans and I recall that spooky pressure only too well. The paddle felt hard and solid and cold. No pain yet, but the sick thought that heartbeats from now it would burn like hellfire.
Ms. Dodd rubbed the paddle slightly from left to right, lining it up to take aim, making a slight rustling sound. Laurie, ever a fountainhead of information, would also later tell me this is done as a precaution in order to avoid striking the lower back or legs. Jessica Dodd swung the paddle way back to her right. I turned my face forward and concentrated on the wall beneath the window behind her desk. I tensed, clenching the muscles in my butt, clenching my teeth, balling my hands into fists, and telling myself "HERE IT IS AND IT ISN"T GOING TO BE SO BAD !"
"whoooooosssshhh .......... CRRRAACK !!!!!!!!" The sound and the sensation was like a firecracker exploding. And HURT? It burned like I had just sat on a hot stove. I swallowed hard, determined they wouldn't see me cry. A few seconds passed. Jessica Dodd again lined up the paddle against my backside and delivered the second lick. With buttocks already sore and throbbing and hot, the second spank seared across my bottom with such intensity that I quite literally saw stars. I kid you not, as Bogart says in The Caine Mutiny. I was whacked with enough force knock me forward a little and up onto my toes. Struggling to seem in control, I steeled myself and concentrated on not breaking down. The Assistant Principal repeated the routine, again lining up the paddle on my now sizzling backside for a few seconds, and cracked my butt a third time. On top of the accumulated pain of two slaps within 30 seconds, the sting was far sharper than I'd anticipated and salty tears welled up in my eyes. Like Amanda, my self control couldn't survive the 4th spank. "THWACCCCKK !!!!" I screamed. Jumping up from the desk and placing both hands on my bottom, hot tears rolling down my cheeks, I blubbered to Jessica Dodd "I CAN'T TAKE ANY MORE OF THIS !!!!!!........"
Ms. Kelly walked over and asked very quietly if I was all right. I was afraid to answer, knowing my voice would crack if I did. Ms. Dodd said I was required to take all five licks "or it doesn't count," but "it's okay if you need a minute to recover." Andrea Kelly handed me a Kleenex. Stepping away from them, I stood by the office window, eyes bleary with tears and gradually regaining some control. More than anything else I needed to avoid breaking down completely. The assistant principal and the witness stood in front of the desk while I passed a couple of minutes leaning against the window, bottom afire and burning with deeper shame and humiliation than I'd ever felt in my life. Finally, Andrea Kelly walked over and in that same quiet little voice said "Megan, I think it would be a good idea if you took the last one while you're still numb." I turned away from the window and came to the front of the desk, avoiding eye contact with both, and bent over. Right off, without lining up the paddle, Jessica Dodd gave me my last lick, pretty hard but not quite as hard as the first four. "That's all, Meg" and she said I could stand up. Ms. Dodd offered a pen and said I could sign my name on the paddle as this was a "school tradition." I declined. She shrugged her shoulders and said "Up to you." A number of signatures were scrawled on the paddle. Someone had drawn a "Smiley Face."
The paddle had a small hole in the upper handle, and she returned it to the hook behind the cabinets. She turned and in a very matter of fact voice, just like she was discussing the weather, told me I could go and to get ready for homeroom. I didn't say a word, but picked up my comb and coins from the desk and walked into the waiting area to grab my books. Three school secretaries stood behind the counter in the main office, two of them just a few years older than me. All three wore grins on their faces as though sharing a private joke, and one looked directly at me. They'd obviously overheard the two of us being punished and must have found the whole thing funny.
Andrea Kelly followed me into the hallway. "Megan, were you ever paddled before?" I told her I hadn't. "Well, I'm sure this'll be the only time, hon." I had the impression she wished to say more, maybe that she didn't approve of what she'd just seen, but she didn't. Once in the washroom, I spashed cold water on my face, combed my air and went to homeroom at 8:30.
The intense sting wore off in a few minutes, but I was hot and headachy all day, the hard desk chairs feeling uncomfortable. For the remainder of that day the sensation in my nether regions was like a bad sunburn, and my jeans felt tight and chaffed. Returning home that afternoon I showered and checked for damage in the full length mirror in the bathroom. My bottom was still reddish to dark pink with some bruising on the right cheek but not the left. No welts like I figured there might be. The bruise lasted a few days, but the redness was largely faded by the next morning. For a couple of days I experienced an annoying "twang" of discomfort when sitting on a hard surface or moving in just the wrong way.
At the time, I had a part time job Thursday and some Friday evenings at Food Lion, working at the courtesy counter from 5:00 to 8:00 PM. So there I was, a young woman old enough to drive and hold employment, conversant with the facts of life, and mature in most ways, at my job with a sore bottom because of being spanked like an eight year old a few hours before. The irony was not lost on me, not then and not now.
For awhile after the paddling I carried around feelings of shame and self pity. You might say the paddle had stung my pride more than my 17 year old backside, and I'll admit that's true. The following weekend I told the whole story to my older sister. She was sympathetic to the emotions caused by the spanking, but not to the behavior that resulted in it. She helped me place it in clearer perspective when she said, "Well, I know it was painful but now it's over and done with. It's nothing to worry about." She told me she didn't "exactly agree" with our mom giving permission, but it would be best to simply regard it all as a part of growing up. That was wise advice which I have followed.