At the tender age of five, children are very curious, some more than others. The introduction to school can be a terrifying and exciting experience. Some children adapt well and conform to the expected behavior. Others take more time to adjust.
I may have fallen into the latter category.
My youthful expressions of curiosity included testing the limits of my body’s ability to bend, flex, bounce, and to force large items into small places.
There you go with your dirty mind!
Bored while standing in line for lunch one day, my phantom arm went exploring. Standing on one four steps leading up in the middle of the hallway, I gently worked my hand between the handrail and the wall. I removed it. Satisfied that I could accomplish this masterful feat, once again I worked my hand between the handrail and the wall. I went a step further and worked my elbow down through it as well.
About that time, the line progressed forward and wouldn’t you know it. I couldn’t move. No matter how hard I pulled, twisted, or turned, that elbow was not coming out. My five year old classmates continued to walk around me until I was at the back of the line.
Luckily, I caught the attention of my teacher, Miss West. Miss West was so beautiful. My little heart would flutter every time she walked by. Apparently, there was no mutual admiration as her eyes rolled at viewing my predicament. In retrospect, her reaction may have been because this wasn’t an isolated incident.
She and another teacher tried in vain to pull my elbow from the handrail, all the while, verbally ruminating on what exactly would make a child do such stupid things. When their first attempt failed the other teacher left and returned with cooking oil from the cafeteria. That didn’t work either. It was as if by some mystery of particle physics the molecules in my elbow joint compressed in some freak alignment of electrons to pass through solid matter. Whatever phenomenon, I couldn’t replicate it to extract my phantom arm.
You must know, this was no ordinary handrail. No, this was built to withstand ages of young children hanging and leaning on it day in and day out. Where some hand rails are attached to brackets fastened to the wall, this handrail was one piece of tubular steel welded to prefabricated brackets that were mortared into the cinder block wall – it was time for the big guns.
In came maintenance. As you might expect, the head maintenance man was older, hefty and his leathery skin was well weathered by years of exposure to hard outdoor labor. Carrying the tools and accompanying him was his much younger apprentice. I know this because, at the age of five I was astute and aware of all the available professions at any given elementary school. In addition, I had probably already been chastised or punished by every faculty and staff member as well.
Miss West and the other teacher stood by as the maintenance men grumbled and cursed the drastic action they were about to take. Old guy held out his hand to young guy and received a hacksaw. Old guy grumbled again and muttered something about cutting off the arm. To this utterance I screamed and resisted as I kicked at the old guy. No one was going to cut off my arm. It was mine!
Old guy laughed a bit and pressed his butt against my face as he reached down to grab the hand rail. He started sawing. He sawed some more. Old guy got tired and young guy took over. After two cuts and what seemed like an eternity, the handrail fell to the ground.
I was relived. I still had my arm – for now.
I saw old guy again a couple weeks later. This time he had only a pair of wire cutters. We were old buddies now. I had somehow managed to squeeze my phantom arm through the handle of my black metal lunch box, passed the elbow, and onto my shoulder. This, only a day after he had extracted my right hand from the slats in the back of my classroom chair.