When I was in pre-Kindergarten, my class was a bit nontraditional. Rather than a single teacher I had three new (to the profession) teachers that tag team taught my class in small rotating groups. One of those groups was a reading session where one of our teachers would decipher hieroglyphs (to us) into classic tales and stories.
While walking up to my reading group one morning my teacher announced, “Today we will be reading about The Little Engine that Could!” as she presented the cover.
I was ELATED. I LOVED trains.
My nights before bed were often filled with re-re-watching sessions of the single Thomas the Tank Engine VHS I had at home. In my excitement, I let loose “He’s blue! Just like Thomas!” A comment that really should’ve been taken only at face value, but my teacher interjected. She looked at me with a smile on her face, but with a definitive sternness that betrayed her expression she said melodically “He is blue, but he’s not Thomas.”
My excitement deflated, replaced with confusion as I stopped dead in my tracks (haha). I felt a strange sensation in my chest, an obscure welling of emotion that I could not identify. As if a fuse had burned out in my head, I stood there frozen in time with the smile I had returned to my teacher etched on my face. I spent this intermission on the cusps of the closest thing that a 4-year-old could get to reflection. All non-essential systems needed to be shut down to maximize the mental capacity I needed to interpret how I was feeling. Feelings so complex that even today I am unable to easily summarize them in just a word. I didn’t know how to process, let alone react to what had just transpired.
Despite her delivery being given with the sweetest of smiles I heard the fraudulence in her voice. Her ladling of sweet syrupy condescension would be something I recognize years later. But I was aware that something about that interaction wasn’t right. There was something hostile and offensive about it.
I knew that she had been making a distinction between the two characters, but I was bewildering as to why. I knew they were different. My words demonstrated that. All I had been trying to do was highlight The Little Engine’s and Thomas’ similarity. I had done nothing wrong. Yet she had implied I should feel mistaken, and maybe even ashamed for innocently comparing the two.
In fact, my teacher was the one who was wrong. On top of talking down to me she ironically was the fool who had misinterpreted me. Not I. In just a few words I was disrespected, misrepresented, and discredited by her.
I was frozen for quite some time and had to be asked by the same teacher to join the reading circle while all my classmates were already seated Indian style. In that brief summon I returned to full operation. Able to join the circle no longer dwelling and fixated on the emotions that had welled up and incapacitated me. However, not forgotten.
Call me dramatic, still lamenting on an experience from 22 years ago, but I was quite upset. Considering the time I’ve had to reconcile this experience, upset is probably an understatement. Had I known how to articulate, You dumb bitch I know the difference at the time, I might have.
This was my earliest encounter with an unfair transgression that resulted in a strong emotional reaction.