20: Dirty Little Fingers

20: Dirty Little Fingers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Dirty Little Fingers

Holding resentment is like eating poison and waiting for the other person to keel over.


His name was Jeremy and everybody in the sixth grade class thought he was hilarious. That is, of course, except for our teacher. It was apparent that he had a true behavioral problem, but we were in a pre-Ritalin time period and it was still acceptable to punish children who had attention and hyperactivity issues.

Jeremy was a constant disruption to our class and he had been since the fourth grade. He called our teacher funny names, blurted out inappropriate comments, and threw objects across the room. Early on, he was reprimanded and sent out of the classroom. But that only enabled him to cause more of a ruckus by pressing his mouth against the window like a blowfish and writing bad words in the condensation of the glass.

Our teacher then tried other forms of punishment, such as placing him in a corner and tying him to his desk with a jump rope. Somehow, he always managed to make a scene and the punishment was usually more disruptive than the initial act.

Still, Jeremy was outrageously funny and his behavior was a welcomed distraction for the sixth grade class. It was much more enjoyable watching him spit paper at the ceiling or draw stick figures on his desk with a permanent marker than learning how to divide fractions. He completely exhausted our teacher but we were so thankful for him.

One of Jeremy’s favorite hobbies was picking on people. He made fun of the overweight children, the boy who got braces, and the girl who was just beginning to develop. He picked on anything and anyone he could, and each time he did, his audience roared. He was a real comedian.

It was a Tuesday in March, and Jeremy had arrived at school in typical form. His outbursts were frequent and his comments were more lewd than ever before. And as usual, his fans were thoroughly entertained. We were about to go to art class when Jeremy turned around in his seat, pointed his dirty finger at me and shouted, “Look y’all! Melissa’s picking her nose!”

Of course I wasn’t. But try telling that to twenty-five hysterical twelve-year-olds. Red in their faces, they all stared, laughed, and pointed at me, even the ones I thought were my friends. I cried.

Jeremy said I was picking my nose so it had to be true. I even started questioning myself. Was I picking my nose and I didn’t realize it? Maybe I had scratched my nose from an angle and made it appear that I was picking. I didn’t know what had happened. But I did know that I felt humiliated, upset, and very, very alone.

The next day was nearly as tragic. At snack time, Jeremy announced, “What do you have for snack today, Melissa? Is it a Boogerfinger Bar?” I held back the tears and ate my granola bar while my classmates laughed at me. And for three more days, I endured ridicule from Jeremy and his twenty-four devotees.

Then, just as the teasing had begun, it suddenly stopped. Jeremy was easily bored and he had found another target. A new girl, Diane, entered our class and she had very curly hair. “You’re a spaghetti head!” he laughed. “You’ve got oodles of noodles on your scalp!” Everyone roared, except for me. I didn’t think Jeremy was funny anymore.

Jeremy left our school the following year and did not return until we were well into high school. He was very different from how I remembered him, perhaps more mature, or maybe just medicated. He was calm, well-mannered, and not at all funny.

After graduation, I heard he was earning a living by driving trucks across the country. I pictured him pointing his dirty finger and laughing at the other drivers. Sixth grade was long ago; but I couldn’t help but remember him that way.

I somehow survived the traumas of my sixth grade year and have even forgiven Jeremy for the way he teased me. I haven’t forgotten; I have forgiven.

Two years ago, I saw Jeremy. I had just moved back to my hometown and had accepted a position as a sixth grade teacher at my former school. I saw Jeremy after class one day making ice cream sundaes at his sister’s restaurant. I recognized him when I watched him jokingly point his finger at a customer. It still looked a little dirty to me.

But when he walked to my car, he was so excited to see me that he gave me an enormous hug. I ordered a Butterfinger sundae and he brought it to my window. We caught up on the past ten years of our lives and reminisced about our middle school days. When I got ready to leave, Jeremy said, “It was so good to see you Melissa! I wish you the best in everything.”

“You too,” I replied. And I meant it.

~Melissa Face

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