I’ll be making daily posts from now until December 25th for the Advent season in cooperation with an effort inspired by the wonderful “el tercer ojo“.
Kelly Parker at 23 years old, was a freshly educated, fresh-faced teacher, ready to take on the challenge of teaching in an under-served rural school. It was not only a condition of her scholarship, but also a personal goal for Kelly. She had always tried to be the kind of person to “pay it forward” and make an honest effort to contribute.
Her first year of teaching classes of high school freshman had gone surprisingly well for the first half a semester. Knowing the students were just out of the jungle that was middle school and in the midst of raging hormones, Kelly reasoned that the only way to get to them to listen to her and possibly even respect her, would be to treat them with respect and pay attention to them in a personal way that only she could.
During her 3rd section class in room 8, she tended to keep her eye on one student, Sonya, whom she’d noticed in recent classes looking very sleepy and somewhat depressed. Lately too, Sonya seemed to be more mopey than usual and didn’t seem to have much personal motivation. Sonya was clearly bright, made good grades, and Kelly really wanted her to succeed. Since the change in her demeanor, her grades had started worsening. Naturally, her concern made her want to help, but she wasn’t sure how to approach the girl. She didn’t want to embarrass her or single her out.
One day during that class, she could help noticing that as Sonya took her seat, she sat down rather gingerly. Kelly hadn’t noticed this before, but she wasn’t sure whether it was only because she hadn’t noticed Sonya taking her seat. She was usually already seated when Kelly came into the room.
After class, Sonya waited until most of the other students had exited and approached Kelly’s desk.
“Ms. Parker,” she said, “Can I talk to you about something? I don’t know if you can help me… I guess I need some advice.”
“Sure,” Kelly said, “I’ll be happy to offer what advice I can. At the very least I can be a good listener. What class do you have next?”
“Gym,” Sonya answered.
“I’ll write you a note for Coach Douglass. Come on back with me to my office and let’s talk about it,” Kelly said.
The tension being held in Sonya’s young body began to ease and a look of relief came over her face. The two proceeded into the adjacent small room that served as Kelly’s office. Kelly sat down behind her desk and motioned for Sonya to take a seat. Sonya looked hesitant.
“Are you okay, Sonya?” Kelly said. “You can trust me. I’m here to look out for your well-being. You don’t have to be afraid to tell me something that might be uncomfortable.”
Sonya stared into Kelly’s eyes for a moment, hoping to read something in her teacher, some sign that what she was saying was true.
“I’ve been getting paddled at home,” Sonya said, her gaze dropping to the desk. “It’s been happening more and more lately, since my dad left.”
“Oh my,” Kelly said. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Kelly’s mind was processing a mile a minute. She considered whether there might have been behavior problems that prompted paddlings, appropriate or not. She also considered whether to get Child Protective Services involved or the police.
“The thing is,” Sonya continued, “I’m not doing anything wrong. My mom gets in this really frustrated mood and she finds some excuse and tells me to go to my room. Then she comes in later and makes me bend over the bed for a paddling.”
“You really have done nothing wrong?” Kelly asked.
“I knew you wouldn’t believe me,” Sonya said and started to turn and walk out.
Kelly stood up quickly to go to Sonya, “No no no,” she said, “I believe you. It’s just that for your mom to do such a painful thing to you… Well, it’s just hard to understand.”
Kelly put a hand on Sonya’s shoulder to comfort her. Sonya turned back towards Kelly and bowed her head.
“Sonya, look at me,” she said.
Sonya looked up into Kelly’s eyes once more.
“Even if you did mis-behave, and it sounds like you didn’t, you don’t deserve to be beaten like this,” Kelly said.
“I don’t want to make trouble for your family by calling C.S.S… I want to talk to your mother first. Maybe I can get her to stop,” Kelly said.
Sonya looked up at Kelly, doubting, but with a hint of hope. She knew that in the short term it could make more trouble for her at home, but then again, now she knew she wasn’t going to suffer in silence.
It took five phone calls, voice mail messages, before Sonya’s mother finally called Kelly back. They arranged to meet at her home as Kelly had decided not to press her for fear of them not ever meeting for this much needed conference. Kelly drove out to the place with a fair amount of trepidation, not knowing what kind of reception she would receive. In her experience rural people could be the nicest you’d ever want to know. And then again, some might just as soon shoot you as look at you.
The directions were fairly clear, so she soon found the appropriate long winding driveway to drive down to get to Sonya’s house. Not sure what to wear, she didn’t want to seem like she was “putting on airs” or anything like that. So she ended up wearing a nice pair of jeans and a blouse. She was glad she did as she exited the car and step out onto the gravel driveway.
Sonya’s mom, Tracy, was waiting at the front door. She looked Kelly over, trying to assess what her attitude was going to be. To Tracy, Kelly looked very much the city kid, and she was ready to observe Kelly looking down her nose at their life.
Once inside, Tracy offered some coffee and they sat down together with Sonya in attendance as well. Kelly got straight to the point of her visit, informing Tracy that Sonya was an excellent student and well-behaved. She said that lately though, her grades had started slipping and after talking with Sonya, she’d realized it was because Sonya was suffering emotionally and physically due to the paddlings she was receiving at home.
Tracy became defensive immediately and said, “Of course she gets paddled sometimes, because sometimes she misbehaves. What am I supposed to do? Just let her get away with it?”
“There are other ways to punish your daughter, ma’am,” Kelly offered.
“Don’t you ma’am me, like you’re trying to show me respect. You don’t have any respect for me or you wouldn’t be coming around here trying to tell me how to raise my daughter,” Tracy said.
“I’m not trying to tell you how to raise her,” Kelly said. “All I’m saying is that she’s a wonderful person, a great student, but she’s being held back by these hurtful paddlings.”
“That’s your opinion,” Tracy said. “I think it’s the right way to discipline her. As a matter of fact, she’s got a paddling coming tonight. She violated one of my rules yesterday.”
Sonya’s eyes widened as she tried to pull herself further into her seat in a self-protective measure.
“That’s right,” Tracy continued. “She’s getting forty licks with the paddle tonight and there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it… unless you want to take her place.”
Tracy smiled defiantly, victoriously.
“Okay,” Kely said.
Tracy frowned. Sonya looked at her, confused.
“Okay what?” Tracy said.
“I’ll take her place,” Kelly said, the gravity of her offer hitting her as the words escaped her lips.
“What do you mean you’ll take her place?” Tracy asked, astonished.
“Just that,” Kelly said, her righteous courage rising. “I’ll take her paddling for her if you agree to stop paddling her for the rest of the school year.”
Tracy’s face showed a flurry of emotions, as did Sonya’s. Tracy realized she had been so defensive because she didn’t want to feel guilty for excessively punishing Sonya – taking out her frustrations on the girl’s bottom. She really had wanted to stop, but because of being confronted by Kelly, her pride wouldn’t have let her. But here was a perfect excuse to stop it and gain the satisfaction of punishing this city-dwelling do-gooder.
“Okay, Ms. Parker,” Tracy said. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”
Kelly, still in a state of disbelief over where her principles had landed her, reached out to meet Tracy’s handshake. Tracy stood up and went to her coat closet. From along a wall of the closet she pulled a two-foot long, inch-thick, sorority paddle. Kelly’s jaw fell open and she thought for a moment about just running like crazy back to her car. But then, looking over at Sonya, she saw a jaded look on her face and she imagined her thinking “Of course she’s going to back out”. So instead Kelly swallowed hard and stayed.
“Alright,” Tracy said, “bend over the back of this sofa.”
Tracy tapped the back of the sofa with the heavy paddle. Hearing the thud as hit the sofa, Kelly felt her heart racing. She walked over to the back of the sofa and bent over it, resting her hands on it’s middle cushion. Her bottom was now elevated and the tightness of her jeans highlighted the womanly shape of her buttocks and hips. Sonya and Tracy both marveled at the fact that a grown woman was about to get paddled for ‘real’ right here.
Tracy decided that this teacher was obviously a good egg. She was just a fool, that’s all and so just deserved the same kind of paddling she would have given Sonya. Tracy set aside thoughts of how bruised she would make Kelly’s butt. Just the standard amount of bruising would do. This woman would soon be crying like a girl.
Tracy, holding the paddle with two hands for stability and aim, swung it back and the forwards to Kelly’s upturned bottom. The familiar THWACK made Sonya jump. Kelly let out an “Ah!” and then several quick breaths as she absorbed what it meant to be punished by paddling.
Kelly looked back over her shoulder at Sonya in disbelief. Sonya nodded with a sad and serious look on her face. Kelly wondered how she could take thirty-nine more like this. She set her jaw and waited.
The paddle strokes continued at a regular pace, with Tracy counting each one aloud. There was a space of about two or three seconds between for Kelly to really feel the blows as they sank in. After fifteen strokes, Kelly allowed herself to cry. She had tried desperately to remember whether crying might help in dealing with pain or if it would make her feel worse. She had decided that she couldn’t take it otherwise and so she stuck out her bottom lip, pouted, and let the tears flow.
As the paddling continued, Tracy reacted to Kelly’s crying with some degree of sympathy, but also with the thought that this know-it-all woman was getting what she deserved. Any thought of taking it easy on her was ameliorated by the idea of her daughter seeing her showing more mercy to a stranger than to her. So she gave Kelly the same kind of paddling she would have given to Sonya. And Sonya saw the same reactions that she’d experienced, but from the outside. She saw Kelly’s hips wiggle from side to side in a vain effort to avoid the blows. She saw her teacher’s tear-streaked and flushed face as she cried like a young girl. She saw as Kelly pounded her hands onto the cushions to help her deal with the pain.
During the last ten strokes of the paddle, Kelly sucked her thumb for comfort as she continued to cry. Having lost count she simply held on to the hope that it would end soon. True to her word, Tracy stopped after the fortieth stroke. Realizing it had ended, Kelly pushed herself up, dizzy from the pain and endorphins. She rubbed her bottom and danced in place for a few seconds.
“God,” Kelly said. “Is that what you’ve put her through?”
Tracy nodded, somewhat defiantly, somewhat as an admission.
Continuing to rub her bottom, Kelly said, “Now I understand why you couldn’t concentrate, Sonya. Ow…”
Sonya nodded, feeling understood now. Kelly left their home feeling like she had actually made a difference, but now understanding the level of sacrifice it sometimes took to make that difference. As she drove home, each bump in the road reminded her of what she learned about how some girls’ lives were like in these places. The invaluable knowledge that comes from experience would surely serve her well in the years to come. For now though, it just made her involuntarily whimper and pout.