[Editor’s note: This story is completely true, and has been verified by the author’s mother.]
In sixth grade, I was a Klingon. Every student in my class was a Klingon, at least according to the more jocular students in the other sixth-grade classes. My teacher, you see, was named Mrs. Kling.
Mrs. Kling was a fun teacher. Her hair was gray but it was cut in the short, fashionable style figure skater Dorothy Hamill favored at the time. Mrs. Kling once told the class to avoid the phrase “I told you so” because, she said, “that phrase can lead to divorce.”
One day, about fifteen minutes before class got out, Mrs. Kling announced she had a tradition. A few times a year, she said, she’d have her students, at the end of the day, walk out to the buses in as silly a manner as possible. There was this TV show, she explained. Monty Python’s Flying Circus. And, on this show, there’s this organization called the Ministry of Silly Walks. It’s very funny, she said. So, when we went out to the buses, we were to walk silly. I’d never heard of the show. Neither, I suspect, had anyone else in the class. But I knew silly. I was determined to do the silliest walk Mrs. Kling had ever seen.
When we were dismissed from our seats, I went over by the coat rack to practice. I tried several silly walks—walks involving any number of improbable configurations of the legs and body—but none that satisfied me. They just didn’t seem silly enough. I wanted to really push the bounds of silly. Blaze new ground.
I squatted, spread my knees, lowered my arms together between my legs, and then wrapped my arms around my legs, behind my knees. This was good. I waddled a bit. This was very good. I waddled around the tiled area by the outside door, happy to be making progress, oblivious of my classmates, who milled around me, gathering their things, preparing to go out to the buses. As I waddled I wondered: “How can I make this even sillier?” I racked my brain. “Funny faces maybe? Wiggling elbows?”
Just then I became aware that I was teetering too far forward. Before I could pull my arms out from around my squatting legs to catch myself, my head hit the tile floor with a resounding crack.
Curled on the floor, the pain pushing tears into my eyes, I pressed my hands to my head and did my best not to cry, not here, not in front of everyone. I was now the center of attention. “Are you okay?” Mrs. Kling asked as I got to my feet, embarrassed, trying to look normal. “Yes, yes, I’m okay,” I said quickly. Everyone was looking at me. “Are you sure you’re okay?” a friend asked. “That sounded like it really hurt.” He swayed and tottered before my eyes. “No. Yes. I’m okay. Thanks.”
I walked out to the buses in a slow and deliberate and distinctly non-silly manner. My fellow students, all around me, were walking in various silly and creative ways. Their silliness seemed very far away. I just wanted to go home, to lie down. I got on my bus and sat next to my friend Matt.
I awoke, the sun shining through the windows. I was in a hospital bed. There were various tubes and gadgets hooked up to me. I did not feel the least bit sick or impaired—in fact, I felt quite refreshed—and I wondered at the concern I read on the faces of the nurses and doctors. I had to reassure my mom, who looked frazzled, that I was fine. I didn’t know what had happened, how I had gotten to the hospital, what had been going on while I slept, but I knew I felt fine. I learned I was in the intensive-care unit. “We didn’t know if we were going to lose you, honey,” my mom told me, sitting next to my hospital bed, holding my hand.
I told her about the silly walk and hitting my head. “I thought I was fine. I walked out and got on the bus. I remember talking with Matt a little bit on the bus but then my memory just goes blank. What happened? How did I get here?”
“Do you remember getting off the bus?”
“You refused to get off the bus when it reached your stop. You were very adamant about it. You were yelling. Matthew eventually had to get off the bus, walk up the driveway to our house, and get me. He said, ’There’s something wrong with Ed. He won’t get off the bus.’ I had to get on the bus and carry you off.”
“Oh, my gosh.”
“I put you in the car and took you to the doctors’ office. That’s when you started screaming at the door. Dr. Hindricks decided you needed to go to the hospital. So we brought you here and they put you into the intensive-care unit.”
I lay in the hospital bed for a long time. At one point, a nurse rushed into the room. The EKG, she said, showed a wildly erratic heartbeat. In my boredom, I had started toying with the heartbeat gadget that was attached to me—wiggling it, tapping it—and watching the effects on the display panel. My mother told the nurse what I was up to. Relieved, the nurse told me not to play with the things that were hooked up to me and went back out.
The doctor came in and tested my reflexes and asked me what year it was and who was the president of the United States. My reflexes were perfect and so were my answers. The doctor took one of my feet in his hand and scraped the butt end of his pen up the sole of my foot several times. This was some kind of test, too. But it felt really good. He did both feet.
Then he asked me if I’d eaten anything strange or unusual the previous day at school. “Did anyone maybe give you something in the cafeteria? Did you swap food with anyone?” No, I told him. No one gave me anything. I just had my normal lunch. He thought someone might have slipped me some kind of drug. I told him about the silly walk, about hitting my head. But that didn’t satisfy him. A lot of kids bump their heads, he said. Very few of them end up in the ICU because of it.
Later, I was told I had a visitor. The door opened and Mrs. Kling walked in. It was strange to see her outside of school. It was like seeing a celebrity on the street: she was very familiar but her context was all wrong. She looked very worried and spoke to me in a quiet voice. She said she was very, very sorry and that she would never do the silly-walks thing again. That made me feel a little guilty, because I thought the silly-walks thing was pretty cool. Now, apparently, I had ruined it for all time.
As Mrs. Kling was leaving, it was announced that I was free to go home.
About a week later, a CAT scan was performed on me, in an attempt to figure out why I had ended up in the ICU, but it was inconclusive. They never figured it out. I went on with my life as if nothing had happened, and only occasionally would I think about the time I’d been so silly I nearly died.