By sixth grade my classmates and I had developed a nasty habit. Every morning before the homeroom teacher arrived, we would play dodgeball. Our classrooms were long and narrow, like boxcars, so we'd get on either side of the classroom and hurl rubber balls at each other until the teacher showed up. Sometimes, when we felt like upping the ante, we'd throw compasses -- not the mapping tool but the type you use to draw perfect circles -- at each other. We were twelve and liked to live dangerously.
So one morning, in the midst of a heated classroom dodgeball fight, the biggest kid in the grade hurls the ball with all his arm behind it. The ball goes ovular with the force of the throw. For all his effort, this gets him nothing more than a narrow miss.
Then something happened that no one had counted on. The ball flew within inches of the porcelain statuette of the Virgin Mary the teacher kept on her desk. The force of its passing wobbled the statuette the tiniest bit. That's when everything went into slow-motion. Everyone held his breath as the statue looked like it was going to tip into a headfirst dive for the floor. It rocked back onto its base and stood erect, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Then the dodgeball hit the chalkboard just behind the desk and careened back into the statuette. It was a solid full-body impact that swept the statuette clear off the desktop and onto the linoleum floor. The statuette shattered. Everyone in the classroom took a collective gasp of horror. With the teacher due to arrive in less than five minutes, we were screwed.
The big kid and I bounded across the classroom to the teacher's desk and gathered up all the pieces we could find, then reassembled the statuette with project glue. To our credit, we did a heroic job in under a minute. The statuette was mostly intact. We set it back onto the desk, and when its head drooped ever so slightly, we gave it a gentle nudge back into place.
Our teacher -- a take-no-prisoners sort of nun -- arrived to find us all seated and quiet. This immediately sparked her ire because for the entire year she had been teaching us, we never were this well-behaved.
"What happened?" she asked the class, arms crossed and foot tapping.
Her question was met with silence.
"You... you did something," she said, rounding the desk to her chair. "And you're going to tell me."
A fine sweat broke on my brow as her hand went for the desk drawer. You see, in sixth grade our teacher had this big metal desk that the U.S. army had surplussed back in the '60's. When it came time for the army to get new desks, they sold all their old ones to our school. Any time you opened or shut the desk drawer it made a sound like a marching band brass section tossed down several flights of stairs. But it wasn't the noise so much that had me nervous -- our teacher had a penchant for slamming the drawer hard whenever she was upset.
Nuns are creatures of habit. Sure enough, she yanked the drawer and slammed it into the desk with tremendous force, the clatter reverberating off the classroom walls. At the moment of impact, the statuette imploded, collapsing into itself and scattering bits of porcelain everywhere.
Our teacher's eyes got huge. She clutched at her breast, staggered backward and braced against the chalkboard for support.
"Who!" she demanded. "Who did this?"
Silence. Then, a single hand went up. A quiet voice from the center aisle said, "You did."
Those two words got us recess detention for a month.