Today, when I tripped over the threshhold of an unfamiliar doorway, I was catapulted back to another time and place.
I was the narrator in The Gingerbread Boy, which we were presenting to the kindergarten class, and Tommy N had the lead role. A social misfit, Tommy was not a popular boy. He was a victim of constant harassment (for reasons I don't recall). That my teacher, Mrs. Mack, had chosen Tommy for the lead was most likely an (uncharacteristic) act of kindness on her part. In this particular scene, Tommy the Gingerbread Boy was running around the room as we sang,
"He ran and ran, as fast as he can, that naughty fresh-baked gingerbread man!"
I guess the modeling of kindness toward Tommy was lost on me, because during this scene, when Tommy fell flat on his face, our entire class laughed out loud, to the point of disrupting our song. Quickly, Tommy got up and continued his escape while the chorus returned to task. My line following the song was, "No one could catch him! He was the fastest gingerbread man on earth." However, I could not proceed!
A lesser-known fact about me is that when people get hurt, I laugh. Fall down some stairs in front of me, and I am likely to fall apart in giggles. Break your toe on the livingroom couch, and I am in stitches! It's a pattern that I can trace all the way back to this Gingerbread event, although I'm really not sure if it started that day or not. Regardless, when Tommy fell, a switch was tripped in me, and I laughed so hard, I nearly choked. This is not, of course, good form for the narrator in an otherwise hitch-free performance. I could not stop laughing, even after the other kids had; my eyes teared up from the exertion.
They dried up rather quickly, however, when my gaze fell upon Mrs. Mack; her tight, blond beehive a beacon above blazing eyes in a stone face. Instantly sobered, I continued with my lines.
I had never liked Mrs. Mack. She definitely played favorites, and she gave kids extra credit for massaging her shoulders during movies. I wanted the extra credit but hated the thought of touching her, so it ticked me off. On this day, back in the classroom after the performance, there was hell to pay. Mrs. Mack chewed us all a new one for laughing when Tommy fell, but she saved the climax of her tirade for me. I don't remember her words; only my public shame and the tears of humiliation that accompanied it.
Obviously, I never forgot that day. I wish I could say it cured me of laughing when people get hurt, but it didn't. Must be just nerves, I guess, because clearly, it is not funny when your neighbor (weirdo or not) trips in your garage at your Halloween party, leaving an actual piece of scalp stuck in your doorway molding and having to go home with a really bad headache.
I'll keep working on that bad habit of mine. If you're ever a victim of my seeming lack of compassion, please forgive me and know that it's nothing personal. (We all react to stress differently.) Besides, I'm an equal-opportunity laugher. I posted this, didn't I?
Post originally published September 29, 2007