Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Plagiarism (Part II)

The new school year began with me in seventh grade which, in our district, meant I was now in junior high school. 

Just before the end of sixth grade I had been diagnosed with dyslexia, and over the summer, was enrolled in an experimental class out of SMU.  I went from a reading comprehension and vocabulary of a third-grader to the reading comprehension and vocabulary of a post-graduate level college student in three months.  My body, however, was not keeping up.

I was one of the smallest kids in the school. That summer, a kid picked a fight with me, and (to my shame) I walked away. I had never done that before, and I hated myself for it. My ego was shot before that happened, but I was so surprised by my own reaction, and the fear I felt when challenged— not to mention the awareness that everyone but me seemed to be growing-- that I dreaded starting school that year. I was certain that I would be picked-on, and humiliated on a daily basis.

It was not that way at all. But I did suffer a tremendous set back right at the start. I was heavier than I had ever been—and I have never been overweight. All my weight was in my arm and shoulder, because I spent all summer riding my bicycle and swimming.
I had a ten speed, but did not know anything about cadence. I kept my bike in too low a gear, and pushed hard against the pedals. I had no idea that this mistake in form had built up bulk in my legs—I thought my leg were getting fat. On the other hand, I swam using fast twitch muscle tissue, and so instead of bulk, my arms were conditioned and quick, but with relatively little muscle mass except for the shoulders. Being so short for my age, I must have looked rather lopsided.

As a result, I could press over 750 lbs with my legs, but not even my own weight with my arms.  Worse, it would turn out to be, that I had no leg speed. Because of my leg speed, I could not compete with my now lankier friends, and did not make the football team with them. I was crushed. That devastated me, because I had looked forward to junior high mostly because of my expectation of playing the national sport of Texas.

I was certain that I would be unpopular and have a miserable three years in the new school. Ah, but then there were dances! And my distancing from my family had resulted in a sort of Lone Ranger attitude. I didn’t have anyone to back me up, but I had somehow become extroverted. While the other, much older looking, guys grouped together I was out finding girls who wanted to dance.

Way back in first grade, about the second week of school, my naivete became a joke-- for about one hour. The kids in the class-- all of them strangers to me-- were talking about "cooties." I had never heard the word, and they teased me for not knowing anything about girls and cooties. As they explained it to me, I sat there at my desk, becoming increasingly certain that everyone of them was crazy.

But at recess! 

At recess, all of the guys were outside the fenced playground area on the open field. All of the girls were inside where the see-saws and swings were. One pretty little girl, Ann, had my attention. She was wild, and fun to watch. She did what she wanted to do, alone or with anyone else who wanted to join her. I was amazed.

A few minutes later, I was running around and chasing a ball a few of us were tossing around, when I noticed a crowd of boys taunting Ann, much as they had taunted me in class. I stopped playing and went to the chain link fence which separated them. In fact, it was the same subject, Ann claiming that there is no such thing a cooties, and the boys saying she had them. She said something about the story was that you got it from kissing a girl, and not just touching, and that it wasn't true anyway. I was ready to defend her, when she taunted back at the boys, "You are all just scared of girls, that is why you make up those stories-- you are to scared to kiss a girl!"

Someone said, "Crews? You don't believe in cooties? So prove it." Ann looked at me differently. Not angry, not taunting, but peaceful. Her short page-boy haircut blowing in the wind, and it got quiet. I walked over to the fence and she said, "You aren't scared to kiss me, are you." It was a declaration to the others not a question.

"No. And I don't believe in cooties."

"Let's touch tongues. It i the real way to kiss" she said. 

Through the chain link fence we lined up our lips inside one of the diamond openings of the chain link and kissed, touching tongues so everyone could see.  "Ewwwww!" was the most common reaction from the boys and the girls. A whistle blew, and the startled teachers were trying to decide what to do. I could see no problem. There wasn't anything that made me want to go "Ewww," in fact, it was kind of nice. 

So Ann wanted me to walk home with her, and I was happy to have a new friend only two or three blocks away. Her family had just moved there and she invited me inside. We went up to her room. There was no furniture, and no toys. Clothes on the floor, and an empty closet. She got us some koolaid and we sat on the floor talking. She showed me around the upstairs and her Mom's room. It was a wreck and a mattress on the floor was the only furniture. 

Back in her room, she asked me to sit on the floor, commented that I wasn't afraid of girl's and said she wanted to show me something she had seen her Mom do with her husband. Ann lifted her short plaid skirt, spread her legs and began peeing through her panties onto the floor. I was seven, so had no guess what she had seen and may have been trying to act out. I was out the door five minutes later, very confused, and not so intrigued with my pretty new friend anymore.

But back to Junior High...

I did not know then that many girls had crushes on me, but I was naive, self-loathing, acutely aware of all of my lackings, and oblivious to any strengths I might possess. My father seemed amused that I was enjoying girls a much as I did—especially when he had to drive me to the dates I kept getting. One night, early in the year, he asked me about my new hobby in this way, “You know, old Schnicklefritz used to chase cars all the time, but I always wondered if he knew what to do with one if he actually caught one?” I said, “Dad, I’m not sure I have it worked out yet, but I am having a great time trying to find out.”

I got accepted on the school newspaper staff, and instantly made a new set of friends. The notoriety that would come from that surprised me, and I enjoyed being told that I write well and that I have a good sense of humor. I was being supported and thought highly of, and did not understand why I had such a different image with my classmates than I had in my family. Actually, I still do not understand that.

Early in that Fall semester, one class required a creative writing assignment. It had to be a short story told in the third person but on any subject. I loved trains, and read several books on them, including history books on my own time. So, I took what I had learned, gave my story an historical setting, and wrote of a train wreck in the third person.

I sat down one evening, excited with my idea for the story which I had been working out in my head for days, and began to write. The words flowed out, and I had finished the assignment in about an hour—a little over the page length of the assignment but I had no way to shorten it and didn’t think it would be counted against me. I reread what I had penned, and was satisfied. I actually liked it, and hoped the teacher would, too.
I came downstairs to share it with my parents to get their opinion and any suggestions. After I finished reading it to them, I sat on the foot of their bed and said, “Well, is it okay?”  
Silence was my answer. My mom stared at her knitting and did not look up, but glanced sideways at my Dad, who said to her, “Are you thinking what I am thinking?”
She answered, “I think so.”
To me, my Dad says, “Let’s go upstairs to your room.”
I was confused by this, but followed him up to my room.
“Where are all of your books on trains?”
I knitted my eyebrows questioningly, and pulled my small but beloved collection from the étagère and handed them to my father. He took them and said, “Let me have the paper and I am going downstairs. I'll call for you when we are ready.”

He left, closing my door which suggested I was confined to my room.
I was called downstairs about an hour later.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Son, the story is good. But your mother and I question whether or not it is your story. You know, you cannot copy something out of a book and call it your own?”
“Yes, I know that. So you thought I copied that story from one of my books?”
“Do you have any other books upstairs?”
“No. And I gather that you ask, because you have already found out that I wrote that. It isn’t in any of those books, is it? Sorry to disappoint you.”
“M_____, talk to him, and I am going upstairs and search his room.”

He left, and I sat down on the foot of their bed in exasperation and I did my best to look neutral as I began to seethe inside.

My mother filled the time by telling me how they may have been wrong, but they had never seen me turn out such work before and so I should understand their suspicions. It didn’t take my father long to return and with a sort of laugh that indicated some level of surprise, he spoke kindly to both of us, saying, “I guess he really did write that. I don’t know what to think.”

“Well,” my mother aid, “it really is good, and we are pleased. You may go."

I got up, picked up my train books, my paper, and stopped at the door, and spoke, looking at them both and noticing neither could look back at me, “I came down for your opinion and any advice. I now know your opinion of my story—it is good. I also know your opinion of me, and therefore, I no longer seek your advice. Goodnight.”

They said nothing.

Despite my stern and harsh manner, I cried in my room that night.

The next day, I woke, went downstairs to pour a cup of coffee (I had begun my love affair with coffee when I was five), and instead of sitting at table with the family, took it back up to my room to read again my story and decided it was still a work I was proud of producing. I wondered how long I would have to wait for a grade, and really thought I could get a good one. I arrived at the class-- my second one of the day and was horrified when the instructor surprised all of us by announcing that we would read our papers aloud in front of the class.

Many of those who were called on either claimed or really didn’t have their assignments ready. I was tempted to say I left mine at home if called upon. I was watching the clock and noticing the pattern the instructor used to call out who would read next. At first, I felt better because I would have another day to get ready to read my story out loud to my peers.

As he went down each row, starting to his left, I would be the first of the last row. But several of the stories were very short, and five persons, straight, claimed not to have their paper ready or with them. It was getting close to me. There was ten minute left in class when my name came up. “Do you have your paper ready, Mr. Giles?”

“Yes sir, but I would rather have another day—I had not planned on reading it.”

“Neither has anyone else. Come on up front.”

I walked up and started reading. As I read, my classmates reacted to the exciting parts as if they were witnessing the story for real, they made sounds of disgust at the gruesome description of injuries, and sighed with sorrow at the aftermath. I glanced up from my paper a few time and saw everyone paying attention. No one had been doing that when others had read. It crossed my mind that my peers were acting oddly, smiling at me as I read, nodding their heads, some had eyes wide.  

I finished and turned to hand the paper to our instructor and people started clapping. Someone said, “God! That was great!” Someone else I did not even know, said, “He is going to be rich someday.”

The instructor smiled at me as he took the paper, and said, “I have been reading his papers-- all the term-- and was expecting something good, but that was even better than I was prepared for. Mr. Giles, thank you for sharing your talent with us.”  

I was not keeping up with this unexpected praise and support and had nothing in my mind to say. Time saved me, as the bell rang. Private praise followed me into the hall.

That evening, when my mother got home and I came in from playing with my friends outside, she said, “Did you turn your story in?”
“Yes. No one knew that we were going to have to read it allowed, but I did it.”
“How did that go?”
“It went okay. I’m going upstairs now.”

Copyright © 2008 W. Crews Giles

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