Becoming Miss McReary …
It was cold and rainy in my soul on that fetid Wednesday. Can a day be fetid? … The putrid smell of failure was heavy in the air. Some of the new students weren’t getting it. It being the joy, the spiralling joy of learning. We were doing our Ancestor project (junior high) – always a hit – not a hit to them. The sound of splat echoed in my soul …
I searched it – my soul. Found my mother and her page online describing her beloved first husband, shot in 1944 in a small town in France. Mom was a nurse on the front. I show the kids her page. I was entranced and so were some of them. Ideas began to filter in - a glimmer, a gleam, but still …
Enter Miss McCreary!
I don’t know quite how she got there (here). I was looking at rules from the 1800s for teachers and kids. Mom loved school as an escape from her broken home. I put on a long black skirt and a tight-waisted black jacket. Mom’s antique whistle and filigree monacle. A black hat and a white scarf. Black ankle boots – and there she was – ramrod backed with a thick Scottish accent.
I walked down the hall with my yardstick and I was no longer me. Miss McCreary used “dear” a lot. “What’s yr last name dear?” She called everyone by their last names. We loved her. She came to every class. She took no guff. She raised her eyebrow with a quelling flick and it was done. Miss McCreary.
I’d forgotten about alter egos for a time. Sure I used accents and personas as highlights keeping things light and loose but I hadn’t done a full alter ego in a few years. Telling a friend about Miss McCreary, I was reminded fondly of Dr. Nasty. The kids loved her … better than me sometimes.
When the red haze hung over my blurring vision, I would sometimes say, “OK kids, I’m going to Starbucks for a chai latte and my twin sister Dr. Nasty is going to take the class ‘til I get back. “Ha!” they would say and I would leave the portable (more like a studio cottage), turn and knock on the door. Someone would answer it and there was Dr. Nasty. “Hey Kids, I’m s’posta look after ya. Whater we doin?” … “Sidown, sidown. I cain’t hear myself think!” … “Here’s what were gonna do.” … “What’s yer name?” etc. They ate it up.
One day I had a child who had “selective mutism” (we’ll call her S) in my lower el. class. She only spoke to her dad and sometimes to the phys-ed teacher but otherwise she remained silent. The class began, things were restive so I decided to head to “Starbucks” and leave Dr. Nasty in charge. Out I went, in came she and began her speil. S erupted in joy shrieking, “Dr. Nasty, Dr. Nasty.” The class was drama and we did some plays based on fairy tales but everyone changed their endings. Dr. Nasty sat in her chair, dry as a bone, making cryptic comments, and snorting at the funny bits. It felt like a spell of WE … WHEEEE … was woven from silly and sublime. Who can figure? Not me certainly. In the me part of my brain I was dreaming of writing eminent papers on the cure for selective mutism. S clung to my leg giggling and I had to walk her back to her class. I called her dad and described what happened. “She likes it when we play,” he said. I was riding a cloud of self-congratulatory euphoria.
It never worked again.