THE ABOMINABLE MISS SLUDGE
Second grade is a terrifying time in a child’s life, a time filled with uncertainty, fear, and nameless dread. At least that was the case in MY life. Only my dread had a name, and her name was Miss Sludge.
I dare not use her real name, as, if she has any survivors in this county, I would almost certainly be sued for slander. And yet every word of my horrible tale is true. Another reason why perhaps I won’t use her real name may be fear…an irrational, unreasoning fear that somehow, some way, she may yet be ALIVE…….Alive and terrible and able to still creep into my house at night and GET me……..
This, then, is the ghastly tale of THE ABOMINABLE MISS SLUDGE.
I was a nervous lad in second grade. Above all else, I didn’t want any trouble. And certainly not from my teacher.
Miss Sludge was a legend for years before I ever even set foot in her class. The oldest, meanest teacher in the school, in any school for that matter. No one was sure exactly where she came from, or exactly how old she was. She was a hundred and ten if she were a day.
A mean scowl permanently etched on her ancient face, eyes in a fixed squint behind granny glasses that slid down her pointy nose, she was a vision of terror to the little seven-year-old charges at her mercy. And a more merciless soul you would not meet in any elementary school in this or any other country (except maybe Russia or China, where I imagine the elementary school teachers are bred to be inhuman).
A fright wig of flaming orange hair topped off this hideous visage, adding even more to the horrific effect. Only Bette Davis or Joan Crawford at their oldest, ugliest, and most crazed could ever hope to portray this woman in a movie……
And I was a nervous lad to begin with.
She had terrorized my older sister Kimberly two years earlier. Kim used to hide behind the TV set in the living-room in the mornings when it came time to go to school, so traumatized was she by this old ogre. She wound up having to repeat second grade after a year with Miss Sludge.
There was a boy in Kim’s class who had been left back a time or two, and he took a shine to my sister. Kim was terrified of the boy, as he liked to touch her white-blonde hair. He would harass her on the playground at recess, and Kim would come home crying to our mother.
One day at recess, the class had to make a big circle and all the students had to hold hands, for some game or other. This pest of a boy maneuvered his way next to my sister, in order that he might get the chance to hold her hand. Kim begged Miss Sludge not to allow this unthinkable act to occur, finally near hysterics…. But to no avail. Miss Sludge forced her to hold hands with the young misanthrope.
When my sister came home, wailing to my Mom about the awful incident, my mother naturally marched to school (perhaps that very afternoon) to confront Miss Sludge.
She warned the old beast that she had better NEVER put her daughter near that boy again, or else. According to the report I heard, Miss Sludge was taken aback, and very apologetic. She assured my mother that Kim would never have to hold hands with the boy again.
Kim still hid behind the TV set almost every morning, and, as I said, repeated second grade. Had she had a normal teacher instead of this sociopath, she would have done just fine.
Now it was my turn.
Kim was my half-sister…. She was a Michaelchuck, I was a Kopko. Perhaps, I hoped against hope, Miss Sludge wouldn’t even know we were brother and sister. I thought of Hansel and Gretel, and how the evil witch tried to turn them into cookies and eat them. That is how I felt about Miss Sludge. She had already gotten my sister Gretel two years earlier. Would I be her next victim?
My worst fears were realized on the first day of school, when the old battle-axe looked up from the attendance roll as she went down the list of names, fixed her squinty gaze on me, and asked “Are you Kimberly’s brother?”
Cold fear gripped me and I fought the mad urge to bolt and run.
“Yes…..” I stammered.
She made a noise that sounded like Hmmmmm…..as though pondering this new development, as though contemplating what awful torments she could inflict on me throughout the coming year. The other children in the class lived in fear of her as well. We didn’t have long to wait for her reign of terror to begin…..
Ronny Campbell was the first victim to suffer her wrath. Ronny was the class clown. Whenever Miss Sludge would leave the room, Ronny would get up on top of his desk and dance. The class would laugh at his antics, and the more they laughed, the more he would carry on.
One day, in the middle of his dancing-on-top-of-the-desk act, he was really getting great laughs. So on he went, dancing himself into a herky-jerky frenzy, completely oblivious to his surroundings. Also oblivious to the fact that the class was no longer laughing. Miss Sludge had returned. She stood and watched him dancing on top of the desk for several seconds.
Poor Ronnie didn’t know she was back until she was on top of him, yanking him right off the desk by his arm. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he finally, too late, saw her. Surprise and fear and bulging eyes and open mouth……
Then the shaking began. Miss Sludge gripped Ronnie’s shoulders in both her hands, and using all of her fearsome strength, shook him like a rag doll. We all feared she would do him some great bodily harm, so terrific was this shaking. It was only the first of dozens the poor boy would receive that school year.
It wasn’t long before I felt the cruel sting of this tyrant’s whip.
I have always been a sniffler. A chronic sinus condition, probably from growing up in an area where the air quality is equivalent to that of Venus, has afflicted me from my earliest days. Or, perhaps as Dad always suggested, I was just a little hypochondriac weirdo. Either way, I was constantly sniffling.
One awful afternoon, while sitting in the reading circle, I must have gotten on Miss Sludge's’ nerves with my endless sniffling. Other (that is to say, “normal”) teachers might have politely asked me to please blow my nose. Not our Miss Sludge.
Out of nowhere she sprang on me, clamping a hanky over my little nose. Squeezing my nose within this hanky until I thought she would wring blood, she SCREAMED at me, “BLOW!!!”
I honked my nose in a panic, ice cold terror and humiliation consuming me all at once.
“BLOW!!!” she screamed again, squeezing my nose even harder. I blew again, feeling as though I had been assaulted.
Finally, the dreadful creature released me from her grip, lecturing me angrily regarding proper use of a handkerchief. I could think of a few novel uses for one at that moment, none of them having anything to do with blowing my nose.
The final pathetic victim of Miss Sludge’s abuse (at least for this tale) was little Roberta Peterson. Evidently, handkerchiefs were a fetish with old Miss Sludge. Each child had to bring a clean one to school every day. Not a Kleenex, a handkerchief. She would walk up and down the aisles each day, first checking to make sure our hands and fingernails were clean. Then she would check for our hankies. She was like some guard in a Nazi concentration camp with these intrusive inspections.
One terrible day, Roberta, a mere wisp of a girl, who looked like a little bird with big brown eyes, forgot her hanky. Miss Sludge, as always, made the rounds of the classroom, hovering over each desk like an evil vampire bat. When she came to Roberta’s desk, she saw she had no handkerchief. She said nothing, continuing the inspections until she checked the last student. Then, she returned to her desk at the head of the class.
“Roberta…. did you remember your handkerchief today?”
The sadistic fiend KNEW Roberta had no hanky. She was toying with her.
“Yes, Miss Sludge….” the poor frightened child lied.
Who knew what awful punishment, what insidious torture lay in wait for her if she dared admit her lapse? We had all witnessed children humiliated, children screamed at, and children even physically man-handled by this wicked old brute. No one could fault poor little Roberta for telling a fib in order to avoid Miss Sludge’s punishment.
But Roberta had lied. And old Miss Sludge knew she had lied.
“Roberta….Take your handkerchief….AND BLOW YOUR NOSE!”
The entire class was stunned into a dead silence. Surely this monster in the form of a second-grade teacher would not allow this little girl to do the unthinkable. Roberta did not move, or respond.
“Roberta…..I SAID…..BLOW YOUR NOSE!”
What happened next was proof that there needed to be a major overhaul of the educational system in the United States. Where were the responsible adults? Where was the Principal? Where was the Superintendent? Where were the other teachers, the parents, the Federal government? All of the people who knew that a crazy woman was abusing seven-year old children every school year for decades?
For what happened next, this old fool should have been taken out of that classroom in handcuffs, and never allowed to darken the doorway of a school again.
Yes, you guessed it. Overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, little Roberta cupped her bare hands together, pretending she had a handkerchief, and blew her nose. Miss Sludge went ballistic. Leaping up, she ran over to Roberta’s desk screaming at the terrified little girl.
“Let me see your hands!” she yelled. She asked for it. Roberta showed her.
“That is DISGUSTING!! That is the DIRTIEST THING IN THE WORLD!! You get out of here right now and go WASH YOUR HANDS!!” she screamed at the child.
Roberta rushed out of the room to the girl’s lavatory, but she did not cry. Miss Sludge lectured the class on how filthy Roberta’s actions were. Never mind that she was the one who made her do it.
This awful teacher went on to harass, torment and terrify our class for the remainder of second grade. She went on to do the same for many more classes for many more years. Her legend continued to grow with each succeeding class of traumatized seven-year-olds.
I don’t know when they finally forced the old war-horse to retire, and I don’t know what ever happened to poor Ronny Campbell or little Roberta Peterson.
But flash forward to the late 80’s…….
I’m sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Minnitti’s office one spring evening, waiting to take a physical for work. It’s a good twenty-two years since second grade.
Out of one of the examining rooms, to my shock and amazement, shuffles old Miss Sludge. She was almost unrecognizable with age…bent, frail, all but blind and walking with a cane. She passed me, no recognition flashing across her wrinkled face. I doubt her eyesight was even good enough to see me sitting there, much less distinguish my features.
A giddy idea formed in my mind. There were no witnesses. She could never identify me. I could pull it off and be down the street, walking casually but quickly out of the area….
All I had to do was to follow ancient, bent, shuffling Miss Sludge out the door of Dr. Minnitti’s office, onto his front steps.
There, with all of my might, I could kick the old bat down those steps.
Just one good swift kick in her backside to send her tumbling… for that little seven year old boy that I was…for my sister Kimberly…for Ronny Campbell…and especially for little Roberta…..
“Mr. Kopko…Dr. Minnitti will see you now…”
I got up out of my chair and walked into the examining room.
Copyright © 2004 by Kevin Kopko
This page was last edited on 03/3/2007