NDJ:7 Gail Boldt, PhD

Bee Up Her Nose

Dear New Directions Faculty, Please excuse Gail from responding to the writing prompts. She has a bee up her nose. Thank you, Mrs. Robert Boldt  

It’s September 1971, and for most students at Lansdale Elementary, it’s the second day of school. For my brother and I, it’s the first day. Actually, it’s the second day we tried to go to school, but only the first day we succeeded. On the first-first day, we hadn’t gotten any further than off the bus and to the big double doors, when we were waylaid by Big Authority and taken to the office.

“Where do you think you’re going dressed like that?” the secretary asked us, her voice thick with disapproval.

We must have looked at each other. My brother was wearing new blue jeans, a clean striped t-shirt and decent Keds. My mother had successfully wrestled me out of the cut-off shorts and hand-me-down boys’ tee I started in that morning, and into girls’ jeans and a blouse with a ruffle at the collar. We looked better than we usually did at our two previous schools, H.M. Perry in Davenport, Iowa where I spent kindergarten, Grant Wood in Muscatine, Iowa for first and second. Now, at this new school in the Philadelphia suburbs, something was obviously wrong.

“Well?” demanded the secretary.

“We’re ….um …we’re …new,” my brother — older, my protector — finally managed to stammer.

“Oh, that explains it. What are your names?”

Phone call made, mother humiliated, we were picked up and told not to return until we could meet the boys-in-khakis-and-collared-shirts/girls-in-dresses requirement of middle class schooling. My mother was beginning to understand that upward mobility was going to take more than qualifying for a bigger mortgage.

So now it was the second day of school. The teacher made little effort to disguise her disgust; my missing the first day meant that I would have to make up the placement tests. Sitting there, uncomfortable in my new dress, my desk shoved into a corner, I was nervous. The test asked me to identify objects and solve problems that I knew how to answer, but because I was so jumpy, I couldn’t focus.

I don’t know where I found the little bead. I don’t remember why I put it in my nose. I do remember realizing that it was stuck, that there was no way I could get it out. In a panic, I ran up to the teacher who was sitting at her desk, absorbed in grading as the other students tried to look busy filling in worksheets.

“I have a bead up my nose.” I whispered.

“You what?”

“A bead. I have a bead up my nose,” I tried again.

It’s not hard to understand why she heard “bee.” Perhaps it wouldn’t be plausible to an apiologist, but a lot of us have an easier time imagining that a bee might fly up the nose of an unsuspecting child than that she would deliberately shove a bead so far into her nostril that it couldn’t be dislodged.

“Oh my god!” the teacher squealed, causing every eye in the room to instantly focus on the weird new kid. “Children, stay in your seats and continue working,” she commanded as she ushered me to the office for the second time in two days.

In the phone call to my mother that afternoon, the teacher claimed that that I deliberately disrupted class to get out of a difficult test, which upon later inspection, she discovered I was failing. “She told me she had a bee up her nose,” the teacher said indignantly. “It was not a bee. It was a small plastic ball.”

“A BEAD!” I wailed to my now twice-humiliated mother. “I told her it was a BEAD!!”

But here’s the thing… In spite of the furious punishment my mother dished out, and although that teacher treated me with badly disguised disdain for the rest of the year, a new idea had been born. I understood that diversions were possible at school. Book report not done? Rush from the classroom pretending to throw up. Don’t want to do the high school physical fitness run? Forge a note: “Dear Mrs. Young. Please excuse Gail from P.E. today. The cramps from her period are unusually painful this morning.”

While it’s not a strategy I have used in some years, the strangest thing happened when I was looking at the prompts for this weekend’s conference.

I was sitting there at my computer, thinking, “Jesus, these things look like a blue book exam. I don’t know how to respond to these,” when suddenly, out of nowhere, a bee flew up my nose.