It was autumn of 1979. I was in the middle of my first semester in the sixth grade. My life was going pretty good. I was making decent grades, and I had an amazing friend named Cathy. We were so close that we even went to the bathroom together, as girls often do. Whenever we were sitting in class and one of us had a piece of gossip to tell the other, we would pass a tiny sheet of paper to the other that said ‘B.T.’, otherwise known as Bathroom Time. Then, we would each ask the teacher if we could go to the bathroom. He would say yes every time, because would he really want us to pee all over ourselves? I think not.
One day, I had something to tell Cathy. I handed her a little piece of paper that said ‘B.T.’, and I went to the desk to ask the teacher if I could go to the bathroom. He said yes. I waited in the hall for Cathy to come out, and she finally did. We ran to the bathroom, opened the door, and found the most unpleasant of surprises. There was an ocean of brown paper towels on the floor! So many in fact, that we couldn’t see the floor. We looked at each other in disbelief and said, “Oh my God! What are we going to do?” We couldn’t fit them into the trash can because it was already full, and we couldn’t flush them down the toilet because we knew it would overflow. There was only one feasible solution.
On the other side of the room, there happened to be one opened window. I looked out, and two floors below it looked as if there was a dumpster. So, I told Cathy that we had to do it. So here we went, tossing paper towels out the window like there was no tomorrow. We thought we were doing such a good thing. What a sense of accomplishment we felt, until we opened the door to leave.
In front of us stood the scariest man that we had ever seen. It was our principal, Mr. Fleming. He looked down at us, and we just stood there; two of the most pitiful creatures God had ever made. He asked us if we had noticed anything unusual because he had been sitting in his office, looked out of his window and described what he saw as ‘paper towels coming down like snowflakes’. What we didn’t know was that his office was directly below the girls’ bathroom!
So, we immediately set up our line of defense. “Oh no! We were just using the bathroom, and the wind started blowing, and I guess paper towels just started flying out the window.” He wasn’t buying any of it. But that was our story, and we were sticking to it. We weren’t going to tell a single soul, not even a bush.
He walked us back to class and knocked on the door. Our teacher walked into the hallway. The interrogation was as intense as an episode of CSI. Finally, he told us to go back into the classroom. Of course when we walked in, all the other kids shouted “Woooooo!” But the two of us never faltered. It was our little secret.
Nothing else was said or done until that following Monday afternoon. We were sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch. Mr. Fleming walks over and asks us if we still didn’t do it. We looked up at him and said an emphatic “No.” He looks at us and says, “Well, I guess maybe a ghost did it.” I looked at him and replied, “Well, if that’s what you want to believe.” So that was the end of it. No punishment, no nothing, or so I thought.
Two years later. I was in the County Spelling Bee. By now, Mr. Fleming had not only been elected Superintendent of Schools, but he was also on stage handing out certificates to all the participants. When he called my name, I walked on the stage praying he wouldn’t remember me. He handed me my certificate, shook my hand and said, “You still didn’t do it?” I said “Nope” and walked off the stage. I still wasn’t off the hook!
Four years later, I was walking the stage at my high school graduation. He was still Superintendent, and he had been given the high duty of handing out diplomas. When my name was called, our eyes met as I walked across the stage. I shook his hand, grabbed my diploma and said, “Yes, I did it!” After six years of sleepless nights and endless paranoia, I finally emerged a free woman.