in the hallway

The tickle in my throat distracted me from the multiplication problem. With mouth closed, I coughed as quietly as possible to relieve the irritation.

The scratching intensified.

I focused again on my workbook, but I couldn’t hold back any longer. I coughed. And then I kept on coughing. Mrs. Wile looked my way, as did my third grade classmates. I knew what she was going to say, so I gathered up my pencil, math homework, and a book.

I was being sent to the hallway.

I don’t remember if there was a chair waiting for me or if I had to take the blue plastic one from my desk. I wasn’t made to stand or sit on the floor since this wasn’t supposed to be punishment. I was disruptive, but not on purpose.

The second floor hallway was deserted. After spending many an afternoon story time here, banished so that my classmates could hear Mrs. Wile read the next chapter of a book, I had memorized every surface. The artwork on the walls rotated, the cracks in the paint lengthened, but nothing else changed.

Noticing a few open classroom doors, I strained to listen in over the muffled slap of tennis shoes and the subdued thud of basketballs on the gymnasium floor. I heard nothing of interest, so I focused on the math homework balanced on my lap.

I barked once more. The sound echoed.

I liked the solitude of the hallway. Here, no one would know that I was finishing the homework first. I didn’t have to force myself to work more slowly. I could gawk and eavesdrop as much as I wanted and still be able to complete the problems before everyone else.

Yet, being sent to the hallway was its own horrible mix of special attention and standing out. Being blessed with extra trips to the drinking fountain did not outweigh the curse of a painful, persistent cough that drew the stares of classmates. Of course, the alternative was worse. I’d rather look like a miscreant than stand beside Mrs. Wile’s desk, mouth open, eyes squeezed shut, tensing in anticipation of the Chloraseptic spray. I always flinched and ended up with numb lips and a nasty taste on my tingling tongue.

I finished the last problem just in time to hear footsteps on the stairwell. I leaned forward to catch sight of a fifth grader on his way to the third floor. Hall pass dangling from his fingers, he smirked at me.

I didn’t know his name. Did he know mine?

Happy third birthday, Yeah Write!


35 thoughts on “in the hallway

  1. the things that stay with us.. being sent out of class to cough or get a drink probably seemed innocuous to the teacher, yet the effect it had on little you was pronounced. i felt your alienation.


        1. They were not pleased.
          And thus began a series of doctor’s visits resulting in a skin prick test, learning I was allergic to the dust & mold being pumped right into the classroom via the old ventilation system, and being on the receiving end of allergy shots for the next five or six years.


  2. Isn’t it great the little things that stand out from our childhood and the strong emotions/sensory memories that come along with them? I really enjoyed this anecdote.


  3. OMG I think I blocked this whole time period out of my life. I too remember THE HALLWAY. And feeling 1/2 awesome because I got in trouble and 1/2 embarrassed about it when another kid walked by. Especially an older one. Actually I felt “cool” when an older kid walked by. lol BUT… no fair that you didn’t do anything wrong.


    1. Eventually a classmate joined me. She, too, developed a cough. Unfortunately, her illness was more serious than my allergies and she passed away when we were freshman. In that way, I treasure the time we spent in the hallway together.


  4. My husband had a very similar experience as a child so as I read your essay, I kept thinking that it was familiar. I really love that you made such good use of your time in the hallway. Some children might not have had your abilities to make that time count. Well written! Loved it as always.


  5. This brought back so many memories of being sent out into the hallway. WTF? That was such a weird thing to do to kids. Great writing here. Love the forthrightness and the lack of drama.


    1. I know that, as a teacher, I sent a few kids to the hallway. Sometimes you need to separate the disruptive ones from their audience – and pray they don’t do anything worse in the hallway.


  6. Great writing! I was only sent to the hallway once in school, and your post brought that moment back more clearly than I realized I still stored in my memory banks.


  7. god I hated grammar school and high school. ick.
    and that cough? I have it now!! not all the time, but when I get sick, it lingers (the bark- ugh) for months. every single time. it’s horrible!! I can’t imagine dealing with that as a child.


  8. So funny, this scene even brought back the smell of elementary school, the cinder block walls, all of it. Great job of capturing the scene in all of its little details.


  9. It makes me wonder why you weren’t sent to the school nurse so she could call your parents and let them know what was happening. Or maybe offer you a lozenge. Sending you into the hall seems like it wouldn’t do anything to help the problem. Nice story telling here.


    1. Since it turned out I was allergic to dust and mold, the hallway DEFINITELY did not help. But I think it was a different time then. Can you imagine a teacher using a throat spray without written consent of the parent in this day and age?


  10. I don’t think they send kids to the hallway anymore as punishment. I remember it, too, as a kid. Something I haven’t thought of in a long time! I felt like I was right back there with you.


  11. I was always sick as a kid, so yes, I remember being sent to the hallway constantly. I fondly remember one teacher telling me I sounded like a “harbor seal.”


  12. There are some people who should not be allowed to teach or interact with children, and I would say your teacher was one of them. How awful to be punished for coughing. I remember when my son’s teacher made him sit in a closet for a month because he talked too much. I was furious. Anyway, despite being sent out of class, you learned to express yourself very well.

    God bless you,


    1. You know, I really did like this teacher. And when a classmate began joining me in the hallway, it never felt like punishment. In fact, I’m grateful for the time I spent out there with Shelly, getting to know her, because she died when we were only freshman.
      What happened to your son, on the other hand, is sickening.


  13. Reblogged this on that cynking feeling and commented:

    Every time I’ve tried to suppress a cough these past two weeks, I’m reminded of my third grade self. I used to get sent to the hallway because I coughed too much. We later discovered I was allergic to dust and mold, both of which poured into the classroom due to the old heating/ventilation system. Boy, were my parents mad when they found out what had been happening. I still feel guilty when I cough too much.


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