My elementary school was big and boxy. Three stories tall, the brown brick structure was old enough that my grandfather went there. It boasted a cafeteria where a team of lunch ladies actually prepared food. There was a full-sized gym with bleachers and a locker room. I think it must be an obscure law that every school in Indiana must have facilities to play basketball. The school educated kids from kindergarten through sixth grade.
The playground consisted of a patch of asphalt with basketball hoops (of course) and the rest was pea gravel. There was no grass. The area was surrounded by a fence. We had none of the modern school playground apparatus you see today-- interconnected tunnels and slides over a hi-tech padding of recycled rubber. We had monkey bars, slides, swings, a merry-go-round. The far end of the gravel lot was large enough to play whiffle ball or kickball.
I was in fifth grade. I had been in sufficient trouble at the school over the years to receive a strong warning from home that there had better not be another note or phone call about my behavior. I hadn't heard Dalton's Roadhouse philosophy that there are no winners in a fight. I wasn't scrapping with my fellow students that day on the gravel playground though. I was deep in the outfield of a kickball game.
Memory does not tell me if it was spring or fall. I do recall that high booming kick. The red rubber ball arched high. It seemed higher than the school and a hundred yards distant. Both are certainly enhancements of a foolish brain. Given what adult me knows of the playground's dimensions, the ball probably went maybe 20 feet high and at most 15 or 20 yards distant from the bare spot in the gravel scuffed away to denote "home". The ball soared straight at me. I didn't even have to move. I held out my hands. I slightly bent my knees. I watched the ball all the way into my chest, where it hit with a rubbery thud and bounced away. "Shit" I exclaimed.
I felt a hand on the back of my neck. "What did you say?". Mr. G, one of the 6th grade teachers, was staring me down, a frown on his face. I never liked him much. He had what we would call today a 70's porn 'stache. I also remember that the backs of his hands and arms were remarkably hairy. He demanded again to know what I had said. I stared with a deer-in-the-headlights look. What to do. My first instinct was to just tell the truth. What was the school gonna do? Lecture me, put me in a corner, or worse smack my butt with a wooden paddle. No biggie; to 10 year-old me that was nothing. There might have even been some grudging admiration from my fellow students for having the temerity to curse on the playground. But an admission of guilt would surely garner a note to my mother and if that happened, the least I would get was a grounding at home.
"Shoot" I said.
"You did not". What a snappy comeback.
"I said 'shoot'". Ha! Prove it asshole. He tried staring me down. Ever defiant, I stared right back. I was terrified inside, but I wasn't going to give this ape-man the satisfaction.
He told me I couldn't play kickball any more that day. So what, the bell ending recess was going to ring at any moment any way.
I should have looked that teacher in the eye and told the truth.