I had a great attendance record for a fourth-grader. I wasn't kept home by the occasional clammy forehead or rumbling stomach—not because I loved school so much, but because I was afraid.
See, if I stayed home, my friends wouldn't talk to me the next day at school because Tamara would tell everyone not to.
"Let's gang up on Shari tomorrow," she'd say, and we'd listen—it was fun as long as I wasn't the brunt of it.
Tamara was a wild child; a blond, braided Pippi Longstocking from Israel who wore knee socks with her sandals which were always slap-slap-slapping against the pavement as she ran around the yard, the classroom, chasing someone, or being chased by someone she'd started up with.
I was glad I hadn't called in sick that blustery fall day—because our teacher had! A substitute meant all kinds of mischief, especially with Tamara around. By the midmorning break, someone had already tried to tie the sub up with the venetian blinds cord—he was sent to the principal's office—and the day seemed endless. We couldn't even go outside for recess because it was too cold.
"I have an idea," Tamara said during recess. "Let's frame Mark."
I didn't know what she meant, but nodded along with everyone else. It was decided. Dara, a goody two-shoes who always sat in the front of the room and never forgot her assignments, would "lose" her science book. And it would be magically "found," in Mark's things. Mark was new to our class that year, a hyperactive kid with unruly curly hair that flopped in his face when he was upset. Which was often.
Someone planted the book under Mark's desk during recess, and at the start of what promised to be a very boring science lesson, Dara made a big show of how she'd forgotten her book. I imagine it was lost on the teacher, who didn't know how unusual it was for this pig-tailed perfect student.
"I am sure I had it," she said loudly, as we all smirked in the back. She turned her desk upside down, the good actress that she was. (I knew that, since she practically stole the part of Dorothy away from me in "The Wizard of Oz" and I had to be the Wicked Witch.)
Dara started wandering around the room, casually looking on people's desks. When she passed Mark's desk in the back—of course in the back, I think reading comic books—she "spied" her book among his pile.
"That's my book!" she cried.
Mark jumped out of his chair and looked down in horror. "I've been framed!" he yelled.
Even though I was only 10 years old, I remember thinking at the time that this was rather surreal. (Although I did not know the word "surreal," but I knew the sentiment.) I was having a kind of out-of-body experience, watching the scene and wondering how Mark knew he was set-up, and how he even knew the expression, "framed," and how he knew exactly who was behind it.
"It was YOU!" he pointed dramatically across the room at Tamara, who, for once, was seemingly minding her own business. That was probably the giveaway.
She stood up, made a face of mock innocence, but it was no good: Mark was already dashing toward her, and they made merry chase around the room. This was so much better than science class.
Eventually Mark caught her and the sub caught both of them and dragged them to the principal's office. It wasn't their first time and it certainly wouldn't be their last—for that year, anyway. By the summer, Tamara's family decided to return to Israel, where, Tamara eventually became an army commander, not surprisingly.
Mark and I graduated high school together, but we didn't have much to do with each other after grade school ... until the new millennium. I reached out to him when I first joined Facebook in 2005, and we became frequent commenters on each other's posts. Turned out we shared many of the same values—which were the opposite of those we'd been educated to believe in.
Our friendship now—with enthusiastic spouses included—is partially based on having escaped our shared past, which we discuss often. Except not that day. I never bring it up and neither does he.