Made to Shame

Sunday, February 23, 2014 / 11:00 AM

My mother made every trip to the fabric store an adventure. We would walk up and down each aisle, playing "I Spy" and commenting on everything: the ribbons, the cross-stitch patterns, the cake molds. We never needed any of these things, but if we made the trip an exciting outing, it would seem less mechanical and tiresome.

By the fifth grade, I wore headscarves daily. The materials we chose were often dark and subtle so that none stood out too much. My mother informed my teachers and school administrators about my condition because headscarves were not part of the school's dress code. But among the white polo shirts, navy pants and gray jumpers, my headscarves always stood out.

One day, a fourth grade substitute teacher stopped me in the hallway on my way back to my classroom from the restroom.

"You can't wear that scarf," she said, motioning to the blue velvet covering my secret.

"It's OK," I stuttered. My cheeks turned bright red, and I didn't know how to explain. Would an adult believe an 11-year-old girl?

She held her hand out. "That's against the dress code. Give me the scarf or you'll have to go down to the principal."

I immediately felt tears forming at the corners of my eyes. I was a good student and a quiet girl. I'd never been sent to the principal's office before. I could hand over the scarf, but then I'd have to return to my classroom and endure certain humiliation.

"Mrs. Chorley says it's fine," I pleaded. My voice was shaking.

She put one hand on her hip and grabbed me by the shoulder with the other. "Then let's go talk to her," she said. She led me back down the hall toward my classroom.

When we got to the doorway, Mrs. Chorley stopped in the middle of her lesson plan and stepped out into the hallway. My classmates all sat up in their seats and strained to hear what was happening. Mrs. Chorley sent me inside the classroom and I quickly rubbed my eyes with the sleeves of my sweatshirt and went back to my desk, embarrassed. I heard whispers and a few laughs.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Chorley re-entered the classroom and resumed her lesson plan. I barely paid attention to a word she wrote on the chalkboard. When the bell rang for lunchtime, I went to the restroom and hid in a stall for the next 45 minutes.

The next day, I ran into the substitute teacher in the hallway again. She barely even looked at me.

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