When I was in the fifth grade, a car hit me while I walked back to school after lunch. I lived in a tiny town, where no one felt concerned about safety for a long time, so we had an open campus lunch policy at the elementary school. Starting in the fourth grade, students could eat off campus every day. (Please don’t ask how this made sense.) Just about every kid in school found a way to eat off campus. Would you like a wiener doused with barbecue sauce, a spoonful of fruit cocktail, some peas, and a chocolate milk? Or would you like a burger and fries with the option of junk candy for dessert? Really, you have to ask?
The off-campus options were limited.
The first restaurant option was approximately three blocks from the school in a building that, excepting the Open/Closed sign on the front and the cars parked around it everyday, looked condemned. The front of the restaurant housed a long L-shaped counter with swiveling bar stools. You could get two hotdogs, some fries, and a Coke for about two bucks. The place made the best chili dogs ever. The school kids ate outside on some delapidated picnic tables. We scarfed down our food, and then headed back inside to buy some Airheads for the road. This was all well and good for fourth grade, but one day my dad and brothers decided to eat at the back of the same restaurant, where the owner had some booths. They watched the cook grilling up all the orders, and happened to look over just as she had to sneeze – right on top of the grill. Yep. I had to find a new option for fifth grade.
The next eating option was Red’s Drive In. To this day, Red’s is still one of my favorite places to eat in this world. Burgers, chicken fried steak, tacos, nachos, hot dogs, you name it. The kicker? It took about ten minutes to walk there. By the time you dropped off your books, gathered your eating buds, walked to Red’s, got your food, ate your food, and walked back, there was not much time to get to your next class. Still worth it.
On this fateful lunch period, my friends and I were heading back to school. A couple of us had to go over to the Gifted and Talented Program in the elementary school’s annex building. Yes, I was in the Gifted and Talented Program, a school-administered “Kick Me” sign. The “non-gifted or talented” kids called us Gifted Turds. My classmates liked to chant this at the top of their lungs everyday as we rode an old bus to the high school for beginning band.
Essentially the “gifted” students got a free pass on regular school work once a week and got to head over to the Gifted and Talented teacher, where we learned how to solve mind teaser puzzles and also how to explain how that guy hung himself in an empty room with only a pool of water underneath him. We would occasionally take field trips to local businesses or museums. Sometimes we made collages depicting the symbolism of life. Or something. (We were part of the pilot program. I think it eventually grew to be more academically rigorous.) Mostly, people just called us Gifted Turds. Gosh, I hated fifth grade.
Anyway, the kids who ate lunch with me that day had some Gifted Turds, and we decided to take a shortcut over to the annex. Just as I started crossing the road, I heard tires throwing up gravel. I spun my head hard to the right to see an old Ford pickup barreling its way toward me. I only had time to throw up my arm. The pickup skidded to a stop, knocking me on my side and slamming my head on the asphalt. The driver (a freaked-out high school girl) and her buddy (some guy I knew who played trumpet in the high school band) jumped out of the car to see if I was okay. My friends, along with some other kids who were ahead of us on the road, all ran over to me. I blanked out quite a bit, but apparently, I said things like, “LEAVE ME ALONE!” “DON’T TELL MY MOM!” and “I ONLY HAD A HAMBURGER AND FRIES!”
The girl and her friend put me in the pickup (I know, right? Kidnapping. Endangerment. Hit-and-Take? So many things.) and drove me to the local hospital, where I vomited several times, peed on the nurse giving me a tetanus shot, and learned I had nothing broken. The hospital called my mom and dad. They took me home for the afternoon. Later in the evening, I received house calls from several friends and teachers who were all concerned about me. The other Gifted Turds spent their afternoon away from regular classes to make a collage on poster board for me, highlighting things I should keep with me at all times like pillows for a soft landing. They also wrote my hallucinatory outbursts in Sharpie marker amidst the magazine cutouts. God bless em.
I went to school the next day after lunch, showing up on the playground during a free period in band. I was the most popular girl in school for about 30 minutes. It was all very dramatic and exciting, and of course, all was back to normal – Gifted Turd chants and all – by the next day.