[This is Part II of a series called “The 2nd Grade Mafia. Read part 1 by clicking on this link.]
Week 4 I was still in the lead. To show everyone in my class that I was going to do this with or without the boys, I put up some better numbers than the previous weeks. The girls had gotten their act together, however. They had read exactly one minute more than I did last week. It was a show of dominance, their reading schedules so tightly controlled and disciplined that they could strike with such precision. I sat there, staring intently ahead at the bar graph, carefully focusing so that the girls with their malicious smiles couldn’t see me crack. They wanted to see the fear in my eyes, and it was there, but as long as I kept them focused on the bar graph, no one could see my shivering soul.
I was in first. The girls were in second. Cassie was in third. If Hotchkiss had included Cassie with the girls, I was defeated, but no one else seemed to realize this, so I kept my mouth shut about it.
We had just started multiplication and I knew the awful truth. Every one minute that went by, I could put up a total of one minute, but the girls could put up 14. In one hour I could only generate 60 minutes, but the girls could accumulate 840. If they all read 2 hours a day, I’d have to read 28 hours a day in order to keep up, which didn’t seem likely. The girls had organized.
The recess bell rang, much to my sweet relief. The classroom was thick with tension and I needed to kick a soccer ball around to work out my frustration, but before I could stand up from my desk I was frozen in fear. In a synchronized motion, each girl lifted her desk and pulled out a book, then looked over at me and smiled before getting up and walking outside. No…it couldn’t be. I grabbed A Wrinkle In Time just in case, and fled out the door to the recess field. There they all were. My class of girls had formed a reading circle. That wasn’t fair. You couldn’t do school work at recess! That was against America! Yet there they sat, each happily reading away while Ms Hotchkiss watched over them to sign off on their minutes. I did some quick multiplication in my head. A total of 45 minutes of recess times 14 girls equaled….somewhere around a million minutes.
Breanne saw me first. She snapped twice and pointed as I exited the school. The girls all turned in unison and as sweetly as they could sang out “hey there, Steve.” I stood there, nervous. I lived to play soccer three times a day at school and once at the YMCA. I woke up every morning and got my soccer shorts on in preparation for school. What these girls were doing was unfair. I had a choice. I could either buckle down and read during recess, or I could do what I loved.
With a grave sadness in my heart, I approached the reading circle. Maybe, just maybe we could strike a peace between us. “Hey, uh, can I join your reading circle?”
Sarah was the only one to look up from her book, the rest went on diligently reading, although I caught a few sneaking peaks out from behind their pages. With the utmost concern in her voice, Sarah spoke for the group. “Oh, Steve, I’m sorry. This reading circle is for the team that’s going to win the ice cream party. Sorry about that.”
Sarah went back to her book; the conversation was over.
There would be no peace.
They had taken the boys’ allegiance away, they had taken soccer away, and now they had taken away any chance of readership comradery. They had me in complete isolation and the choices were to surrender to regain everything I had, or to be systematically dismantled in isolation. I couldn’t keep up, and they knew it.
I climbed the old forgotten slide on the playground and opened up my book. Maybe it was out of spite. Maybe it was out of anger. Or just maybe this was my fight to finish, because I wanted this; I needed this. I loved books and I loved soccer and I loved recess, and these girls weren’t going to ruin everything. No. For every minute I read, I took 4 seconds away from each of them. For every hour I read, I took 4 minutes away. Two could play at this game.
When recess ended, the harassment was relentless, not from the girls, but from the boys. By choosing to read, I’d apparently chosen to be a girl. The boys all made their jokes as best they could, stereotyping and sexist jokes that proved how weak their derogatory powers were, which would have been greatly improved if they actually read something.
“Why don’t you go kiss a boy, you nerd?”
“Are you growing your hair out?”
“What’s next Steve? Are you going to have a baby?”
It seemed that the boys had no knowledge of how to do a proper insult, so they scrapped the bottom of their very shallow barrels to pull out all of the information they knew about girls, which wasn’t much.
The girls were delighted at this turn of events. How easily they manipulated their male counterparts. These results were more than they could have ever hoped for. They sat back at a respectful distance and reveled in every minute of this, watching as I got ever closer to snapping. And I did, in fine form.
“You want to make fun of me because I’m reading? That’s the very thing that you swore to me you’d do on the soccer field! You think I’m a girl because I read, well let me tell you something. Men keep their promises, so if I’m a girl, I don’t know what you are, but it’s something far worse.”
Everyone, boys and girls alike, stood there in shocked silence. It was clear that the boys had come to a battle of wits unarmed. I had Beverly Cleary, Bruce Covell, Laurence Yep, Mark Twain, and a host of other ammunition. More importantly, I had allies. I had D’Artagnan, Henry Huggins, Shimmer, young Henry Jones, Phileas Fogg, Tom Sawyer, Basil of Bakerstreet, Robinson Crusoe, and an entire army of men and women that stuck it out alone against insurmountable odds no matter who was against them or who made fun of them. I was an unstoppable legion.
Week 5, Day 1 Things continued to get worse. To mark the halfway point of Read A Million Minutes, the school held an assembly. They announced a few figures to show that we were ahead of where we needed to be, and with some renewed effort we would prevail. And then they threw me under the bus.
The principal wanted to recognize the leaders of our minute count and award them each with a pencil. I was in first, Cassie was in second, Pam was in third, and Paige was in forth. The fifth was some girl from fourth grade named Samantha. The principal watched as we all got up from our seats in the gym. “Hey, Ms Hotchkiss. You’ve got the top 4 in your class? How did you do it?”
Ms Hotchkiss beamed with delight. “I’m running a boys vs girls competition.”
The principal nodded in approval. “Well why don’t we do that here? I was going to say let’s split it up by grade, but Ms Hotchkiss’s class has obviously won it for second grade. Let’s do boys verses girls!”
Boys and girls throughout the school cheered. I knew that the boys were doomed, for in that moment of friendly competition I heard Pam and Paige turn to the fourth grader Samantha and say “We’ve got this in the bag, the only boy we need to take down is Steve, and the rest will fall. Next time it’ll be five girls standing up here.”
Ms Hotchkiss’s class got an extended recess for their efforts. It stung that my effort had bought my enemies more time for them to kick their soccer ball around and laugh at me for being a nerdy girl. However, when recess hit, the three girls that played soccer weren’t there. The reading circle was gone. The boys were all lost in their game of soccer, but I needed to find out what they were up to. I ran around the recess field, and even around the school, but I could not find them until I chanced to glance into the window that led to the basement where the music room was. Every single girl in the school was in there listening to Cassie speak. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it couldn’t be good. The mafia had branched out, and now it included every girl in the school.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART III