“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people” – Victor Burge
In 1982, the price of gasoline was 91 cents a gallon, Michael Jackson released Thriller, and Sylvester Stallone premiered Rocky III. My favorite cartoon was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and my favorite classmate was named Gabriela.
Gabriela was a quiet Mexican girl with shoulder length pigtails. She didn’t say much, but her hypnotic smile and her big brown eyes were enough to mesmerize me into a daze. I wasn’t exactly friends with her. We did not play together at recess. We did not eat lunch together. Heck, we didn’t even sit next to each other. I was a shy ten year old boy with missing teeth and a homemade haircut who would often get yelled at by the teacher’s aide for drawing on classwork. I was too shy to say hello, so I admired her from across the room. I had no reason or excuse to approach her but, the chance and excuse to talk to her approached me.
One autumn Monday morning, the time came for our teacher, Ms. O’Neil, to assign week long responsibilities to students. The menial tasks were always assigned to couples and I was never chosen for anything. So, when the teacher announced the first victims, my face burst into a hot glow like that of a jack-o-lantern! Gabriela and I were assigned to Office Monitors. I couldn’t believe it. Finally! Something to do with her!
My pessimism was clearly established at that age. My smile faded when I became conscious that there wasn’t really much glory to owning that title. Office Monitors were only used when teachers had something to send to the office or vice versa. Sometimes main office would have important forms or flyers to hand out. Every now and then, they’d escort a sick kid to the nurse. You were nothing but a glorified messenger, a go-fer. The only perk was the magical hall pass that entitled you to roam the hallway at any time, hence, the brief sensation of deviance.
The assignation of Eraser Cleaners would have been fun. We would have taken the blackboard erasers outside and beat them senseless against the balcony rail. Sure, the messy task would have had us breathing and tasting the cloud of chalk dust that would’ve consumed us and perhaps our clothes would have gotten ruined but it would have been fun to see her laugh with me. Ball Monitors would have been really cool too. She and I would have left the class early to claim the assigned kick ball and tetherball. Leaving the class early for equipment was a guaranteed daily opportunity to share a smile. The problem was, no one knew when an Office Monitor would be needed. The duty was not a daily activity.
It was only a weeklong privilege so every day counted. The teacher didn’t have anything for us to do the day of the crowning. Thanksgiving and Christmas break were around the corner, so I wanted the office to call us for schedule announcements or something—anything. But no, Tuesday was just as quiet as Monday. By Wednesday, I’m hoping someone would get sick but, for some strange reason, breakfast and lunch sat well with everyone. No one had to be escorted to the nurse’s office. I saw the usual barf scattered around the playground, but none of it belonged to any of my classmates. Thursday came and went and I had not had the opportunity to walk the halls with Gabriela. I couldn’t believe it. A week went by and the teacher didn’t have anything for us to pick up from the office. I went home disappointed every day. Four days went by and the office did not have one single hand out to circulate—until Friday.
It’s almost lunch time. Friday morning slipped away along with my hopes of enforcing our assigned powers. Just as Ms. O’Neil is winding down the blue whale lesson, the old intercom ignited with a blaring, unintelligible request for Office Monitors. I sported an instant smile and nodded at Gabriela from across the room. She nodded back, so I stood up in attention and headed towards the hall pass that hung by the classroom door. Gabriela met me at the door, and off we went.
I was giddy and nervous. My heart raced because that was the moment I’d been waiting for. My goal was to make her laugh and it wasn’t going to be easy. I had to think fast because my heart wasn’t the only thing racing. Gabriela took that task very seriously. She broke out of the classroom like a horse out of the gate. She walked as if lives were at stake. I tried to break the ice, so I gave her the hall pass to hold. She accepted the hall pass but it wasn’t enough to break that determined look in her eyes, nor her fierce pace. I struggled to keep up and I didn’t know what to do. What I did know was that I had to be fast because the office was a very short walk away—the next building over!
We walked side to side. I’d take glimpses of her, but it was as if she wore blinders. She wouldn’t even look in my direction and I couldn’t think of anything to say. In a blink of an eye, we’d raced out of our building, crossed through the connecting bridge and in the Main building.
I couldn’t believe how fast we got to the main office. What happened? Gabriela was in line, two students away from receiving the pack of forms from the clerk. We were on the verge of returning back to our classroom and I hadn’t been able to get her to notice me. We couldn’t walk back the same quiet way that we did. I couldn’t picture myself sitting in that classroom with regrets. One way or another, I was determined to make her laugh.
Gabriela accepted the forms and we U-turned out of the office. I don’t know if it’s my nerves or not but, she seemed to be walking faster. I could see the sands sifting away, time running out, as we made our way out of the Main building. The opportunity would be officially gone by the time we got past the bridge and we were approaching it even faster than the first time. What should I do!? There were three steps that introduced the connecting bridge, so a couple yards before reach them, I’m struck by a brilliant idea to get her to laugh. I’m the oldest of my siblings. I’ve the perfect idea.
As we approached the steps that led to the connecting bridge, I slowed my pace and allowed her to walk ahead of me. As soon as she walked down the steps I yelled, “Gabriela!” and I purposely farted in midair as I hopped over the steps. I landed with a giggle from embarrassment. But, it was all in vain because Gabriela never noticed my acrobatic feat. She never slowed her pace enough to admire my attempt. I don’t think she even turned around when I called her. She kept going. As I walked after her, I thought of all those nerves and how all that suspense was for nothing. I should not have tried so hard, especially when I forced my well timed, midair fart. As I walked way behind Gabriela, I felt as if I had a scoop of chunky peanut butter between my cheeks. My crack seemed to exfoliate with every step. Yes, I ‘sharted’.
My class was already lined up in the hallway on their way to lunch. So, I stayed in the back of the line and I deviated to the boy’s room as soon as I could. I tried to clean up as best as I could but, it was noticeable. Once in the classroom, it was impossible to hide. When my table noticed it was me, they yelled it out. I couldn’t tell them the truth so I blamed it on having slipped in the restroom. I wanted the Earth to swallow me whole.
My mom picked us up after school. I tried to stay away from my brother and cousin as we waited for her to pick us up but, when we jumped in the car, they all noticed the scent. Once in the car, I blamed it on my cousin. He had a reputation for it anyway.
That ever happen to you?