JANINE DOESN’T GRADUATE by Shearingly
Janine was nervous – this was very important to her. She was a senior at the Waltern School of Music and would be graduating in a few weeks. It was Parent’s Weekend and the whole school was putting on a concert. In a few minutes she was going to direct the school chorus. She continued singing her part, while her mind was thinking ahead to being in front of everyone. She smoothed the narrow black skirt over her hips. She tugged at her white blouse to make sure there were no wrinkles. She wanted to reach up and pat her light brown hair but she knew the director would have a fit.
Ms. Morritz was directing this song. She was new to the school having been hired as its president two months earlier when the former one, a demanding yet fair lady, had a heart attack and took a medical retirement. Ms. Morritz had immediately established her authority with the graduation requirements. Now each student would have to satisfy Ms. Morritz herself at their senior recital and other responsibilities or they wouldn’t graduate. One of Janine’s responsibilities was as student director for this next song. She supposed that if she blew it she might not be able to graduate this year. No one had tested this new directive to find out how far Ms. Morritz would take it.
The song ended and now it was her turn to direct. Ms. Morritz announced the name of the song and that Janine would be the student director. She walked quickly in front of the chorus and took her position. She opened the score, made sure it was where she wanted it, glanced at the chorus to be sure everyone could see her, looked over at the pianist, then raised her arms and after a pickup cue, gave the downbeat. The chorus came in on right on time and they were off to a good start. Janine really put herself into it, directing energetically. Her arm motions were large and wide as she communicated her desires to the chorus. She didn’t stand in one place, but moved from side to side, forward and back to communicate with the singers. As she moved around her long hair, which she had put up in a ponytail high on the back of her head, bounced around to the beat of the music.
Somehow (it happened when Janine tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear) she got a beat behind and then things went seriously downhill from there. Trying to catch up she got the pianist rattled and she skipped over two whole measures. Then the chorus got out of sync. Janine tried to get everyone back together, moving her arms with exaggerated motions and nodding her head (making her ponytail bounce even more), but she couldn’t do it and even though it ended in a mess she was relieved it was over. What a disaster.
The next day was an assembly – all the students were gathered in the auditorium. Janine was there and was miserable. She had been summoned to Ms. Morritz’s office earlier for an evaluation of her performance. That woman had the nerve to tell her that she obviously had a lot yet to learn so she wasn’t going to be able to graduate. She was ordered to be at the assembly where everyone would be told of her change in status.
Janine sat on the front row, where she’d been told to sit. She watched as Ms. Morritz talked and talked about her new vision for the school. She emphasized over and over that the students must remove distractions from their lives in order to focus on their studies. After going on about this for 45 minutes she finally announced that she had some new freshmen to introduce to them. In this school (actually something of a conservatory) classes were held year around. Because of that the new freshmen began to arrive around the time of graduation. They didn’t show up all at once, but every few days a new group would arrive, be introduced to the student body and begin their lessons.
Ms. Morritz explained that she had four new students to introduce. She listed their names – Sheila, Tabitha, Susan and Bobbi Jo (all girls). As she spoke another teacher led them onto the stage from the wings. The audience gasped. All four of the new girls were sporting a fresh crewcut. They looked more like marine recruits than college freshmen! They kept their eyes lowered to the floor, blushing with embarrassment. Ms. Morritz looked at them with a smile and explained to the audience that the haircut was a new entrance standard and would help freshmen to concentrate on their studies their first, critical year of college.
Janine looked at them and felt sorry for them. She was glad that she had started four years ago and wouldn’t have to go through that. She reached up to touch her soft, light brown hair, as if to reassure herself that it was still there. She had pulled the sides and top into a barrette on the top of her head only leaving a few wispy bangs over her forehead. She then used electric curlers on the ends which hung six inches below her shoulders. She loved her hair – she loved the smell of it when freshly shampooed and the way it felt, soft and silky, against her cheeks at night. She had washed it the night before and brushed it vigorously this morning until it was shining with a healthy glow. She took a few strands and twisted them around her fingers nervously. She wondered how Ms. Morritz would embarrass her during the assembly this morning.
She was startled into paying attention when she heard her name. Ms. Morritz was looking right at her with a sarcastic sneer. “Janine, if you would be so kind, please join me on the stage,” she asked for the third time. Everyone in the audience giggled. Janine nervously got to her feet, adjusted her skirt and sweater and slowly climbed the steps to the stage to stand by Ms. Morritz.
The president of the school proceeded to explain in agonizing detail every mistake and shortcoming that Janine had recently committed. As the list went on she wanted to disappear into the floor. Her face colored with shame and embarrassment. She so wanted to graduate from this school which had a good reputation and would make it easier for her to get a good job. She had told Ms. Morritz that she really wanted to graduate and would accept whatever she decided in terms of her future education.
Ms. Morritz had paused and was looking at her. Then spoke slowly and clearly, “We believe that Janine is not ready for graduation with her class. In fact, she has demonstrated such a complete lack of musical knowledge, we are putting Janine back into the freshman class.”
Once again the audience gasped. That had never happened before. Some students had been held over a year to retake some classes, but never had anyone been put back four years and made to retake the whole curriculum. Janine’s legs felt weak and rubbery. Ms. Morritz nodded to a couple of the teachers who went behind the curtain and dragged out a strange contraption. On a closer look it turned out to be a white kneeling bench like couples use at a wedding. There was a padded bench about eight inches above the floor and a metal frame to lean against for balance. The teachers positioned it at the front of the stage and then stood back.
“Janine,” Ms. Morritz said, “we must prepare you to enter the freshmen class. Please kneel on the bench over there.”
Janine couldn’t move. She felt a strange sensation between her legs and wondered if she would lose control of her bladder. Two teachers came over and taking her arms escorted her to the bench. They gently lowered her onto the padded kneeling board. Her arms rested on the back frame. Janine couldn’t believe this was happening to her. She thought it must be a dream and she’d wake up soon. While she was in a state of semi-shock Ms. Morritz came over and stood behind her. She rubbed the back of her hand across the nicely curled ends of Janine’s soft hair. Then with a savage jerk Ms. Morritz pulled the barrette out of Janine’s hair. Several long strands came out by the roots. An involuntary, “OUCH,” came out of Janine’s mouth.
A buzzing sound like the drone of a cloud of bees approached her head. She felt the cold teeth of clippers on her forehead. They ate through her wispy bangs like a junior high boy with a bag of Doritos. Pieces of hair began to drift down her face, tickling her nose and cheeks then falling to the floor. The clippers continued their path across the top of her head. Janine was sobbing, “Please Ms. Morritz, I didn’t know you were going to do this. Do you have to? Please don’t cut my hair!”
Ms. Morritz took a large handful of the thick brown mane and jerked cruelly. “Be quiet, girl! You agreed to whatever we decided. You need to start over and you need to do it without this distraction.”
The clippers kept a steady rhythm, mowing off three inch wide swaths of hair. The severed strands were piling up around Janine as they slithered across her shoulders on their way to the floor. Janine took a couple of deep breaths, hoping she wouldn’t faint or pass out before the whole school. She gritted her teeth as the clippers marched on. Her head was pushed forward exposing her long, slender neck. The buzzing sound climbed up the nape of her neck shearing off every bit of hair in its path. Ms. Morritz roughly tilted Janine’s head one way and then the other as she cleaned up around her ears. Finally Janine heard a switch click off and the buzzing sound stopped. Tears were rolling down her face but she was relieved that it was done.
She started to get up when she felt a hand push down on her stubble-covered head. “Not so fast, girl.” Ms. Morritz said. Janine heard a whooshing sound and then felt something moist being rubbed onto her scalp. It took a moment for it to register, but at the first raspy sound of a razor cutting through stubble it dawned on her. That was when she lost control of her bladder. A large wet spot grew on her black skirt – visible to the whole assembly. She heard some of them laugh. Her face colored bright red. Janine didn’t know how long it took but it seemed to be an eternity. When she was finally told to get up, she reached up to touch her head and felt only smooth, bare scalp. She was made to stand before the whole group in her damp skirt and cue ball head while she was introduced as one of the incoming freshmen.
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