A new teacher joined the school to teach fifth grade, a man named Mr. Machian. I called him Mr. Martian behind his back. He believed in proper places for little boys and little girls and he was determined to teach us the rules of each category.
The desks in our classroom could not support our growing bottoms and the screws fell out of someone’s seat at least once a month. Each time Mr. Martian would pick a boy to put the screws back in. Close to the end of the year when the heat was just beginning to creep indoors a screw fell out of a girl’s chair. Before Mr. Martian could assign a boy to the task I raised my hand. I stood keeping my hands to my side to hide my nerves.
“Why do you always ask the boys to fix the desks?”
He handed me the screwdriver and the screw with a smirk. “Go on.”
The boys never turned the desks over. They got down on the floor underneath the desk and screwed the screws in upside down. Since I wore a jumper and not pants I had to be careful but I knew I had to get on the floor and do it the way they did it.
The girl with the seat missing the screw sat upright to keep the bottom in place. My hands were trembling and coated with a thin layer of sweat. I couldn’t get the screw to stay in the hole. I’d never held a screwdriver before. I didn’t know which way to turn the screw to keep it in. After several minutes hearing me struggle the girl in the seat tilted her head down and whispered, “You can fix it.”
I took a breath and thought for a moment. The screw had ridges the screwdriver could fit into. Put screw in hole, line up ridges in screw with screwdriver, turn left, no, turn right – success.
I got up, brushed off my skirt, and placed the screwdriver on Mr. Martian’s desk.
There was no celebration or congratulations but every girl smiled when I took my seat.