"Okay people. It's time to get to know each other. Remember, a productive group is one made up of people who know each other, and feel comfortable working together," Mr. Donelly was saying.
The kids had heard this three times before. Each time they got new seats Mr. Donelly tried to play some sort of corny game in the new groups so that the kids would get to feeling comfortable. He called them "icebreakers". Last quarter they had played "micro-pictionary" it was a kind of speed charades. Each group who guessed at least two words in 60 seconds got a fistful of candy. Zig wondered what Donelly had up his sleeve this time.
"Now this time we're going to share something personal with each other," Mr. Donelly was saying. "I think you folks are mature enough for this experiment.
"Studies have shown that if two people trust each other, maximum productivity will occur. In an attempt to get you to trust your partner, you are going to tell each other something that has happened to you that is embarrassing and that no one else knows about. You will share it quietly, and and you will keep what you hear in absolute confidence.
The trust will grow in a few days, if this information is never revealed. Since no one else will know what they tell you. You will be the sole keeper of your partner's "secret". That way if it gets out, your partner will know you told it, and your math group will be terminated. In addition, your quarter grade will consequently drop by one letter grade. Yes, I believe trust is worth one full letter grade people," preached Mr. Donelly.
Zig and Grizelda could barely believe their ears. Just when they thought life was unfair, life just got RIDICULOUSLY unfair. Zig muttered, "What is wrong with him? He used to be so cool. Why is he torturing us like this?"
"This is unbelievable," let out Grizelda
"Yeah, I don't know what's come over him. He's like getting all philosophical and stuff," said Zig responding to Grizelda's comment.
"I think he means well. He just doesn't realize that this is crossing the line of what's acceptable teacher behavior," said Grizelda finding herself talking to Zig and not being scared.
"Well let's think about this for a minute. If we both make something up that's purely fictitious then we won't have to be embarrassed, even if it comes out later, because we can deny it or prove it was false."
"Yeah and then the other person will look like a jerk because the whole school will know who told," said Grizelda, impressed at Zig for being smart enough to come up with this perfectly reasonable way out. This could satisfy Mr. Donelly and protect their privacy as well. Why hadn't she been smart enough to think of it?
"But wait. What if the only way this really works, is if the secret is true. Maybe the trust won't build if there's nothing to lose," said Zig.
"I see your point," said Grizelda. She thought for a moment then said, "Okay, how about this. We each decide whether or not we want to tell the truth, and then we tell each other a secret that no other person knows. It might be false or it might be true."
Zig looked at her for the first time during this conversation. He felt a small smile growing as he said, "Why young lady, I think you have solved our mutual problem most amiably. Bravo!
"This is GREAT it'll work perfectly. You and I will have to assume that what we hear is true, because it very well might be. This will make us want to guard each other's secret more legitimately than if we knew it was just a bunch of made-up crap. But, if one of us rats out the other, the other can always deny the truth of the secret."
"Okay you go first. I won't know if what you tell me is true or not, but I'll assume that it is, because it might be," said Grizelda.
At this Zig got red in the face as his mind raced, "Man, what can I tell this girl that's embarrassing enough that she'll think it's true and therefore keep it to herself."
In the quiet moment while Zig was thinking, Grizelda made the decision to tell the truth. What did she have to lose now except EVERYTHING. If he ratted her secret out, the best grade either of them could get in geometry was a 'B'. That was simply out of the question, so she knew she had to tell the truth.
Zig looked at Grizelda again and was surprised to see that she looked calm. She was almost smiling. Well if she could be calm about something as serious as this, then so could he. He decided to tell the truth, "Okay, but you've got to promise not to laugh.
"Last year when we got our yearbooks, I gave it to Marty to sign first. He's my best friend you know." Grizelda nodded and Zig continued, "Well he took the book opened it to the front cover, took a permanent blue marker and drew a cartoon of me on the WHOLE PAGE. It was a picture of a skinny blue monster with a huge nose and underneath it he wrote 'Property of Zig Dorff pipecleaner man'. That's what they call me in gym class because my arms are so skinny.
"Well he then proceeded to pass it around my English class and every kid in the room laughed when they got my book. Every kid wrote some sarcastic comment about my nose, or my arms, or my zits. Usually I can take stuff like that 'cause I know they don't really mean it, but for some reason it really got to me.
"The next day when I woke up my mom was in my room glancing at my yearbook. I went wild and yelled at her to mind her own business, get out of my room and leave my stuff alone. She looked up at me with such surprise and sadness in her eyes, and then she quietly left my room.
"I burst out crying. I cried for fifteen minutes before I could get up the courage to go and apologize to my mom. I told her that I don't know why the cartoon had such an effect on me. I told her I loved her and begged her to forgive me. She held me a long time and told me it would all be okay. My mom loves me more than anyone in the entire world. She's always been there for me, and it tears me up to think how I yelled at her that day. There it might sound stupid, but that's my secret. Please don't tell anyone EVER."
Grizelda felt a bit of her heart go out to Zig. Who could imagine that the great Zig Dorff, clown of all clowns, might have some of the same trouble that she had. Everyone loved Zig. He always was surrounded by people in the halls and in the cafeteria. He was always laughing and joking. Who could imagine this bit of info was true.
Something inside her assured her it was. She didn't tell him, but she had been in that English class too, and she had seen the cartoon as the yearbook was being passed around the room.
Now she was even more convinced that she would tell him a true secret. She decided not to tell him about the girls screaming behind her apartment building. The political cartoon catastrophe seemed to be appropriate at this juncture.
"Okay, that might be true, but I can beat it for embarrassment factor," Grizelda assured Zig.
"Oh really? Can you? Will yours be true?"
"You'll have to decide that for yourself. I'm not going to tell you.
"This atrocious embarrassment happened several months ago, and if anyone ever knew about it, I'd be mortified," said Grizelda finding herself opening up to Zig in the most relaxed manner she'd ever had with another kid her age.
"Back in November we had one of those unscheduled fire drills right at the end of fifth period. Everyone was taken by surprise that the bell was ringing during the lunch period so they just got up and ran. No one turned off their computers in keyboarding class.
"Well, I had keyboarding class sixth period. When I got to my seat, the computer was already on, so I didn't bother to log on under my own name. All we were doing that day was practice since there was a sub, so I figured who cares. In fact, the sub didn't have anything planned for us and she just let us mess around all period.
"I got bored after about a half hour, so I went into 'paint' and started doodling. I ended up drawing a gross picture of myself. It had two different size and colored eyes, and hair like red Medusa snakes, and black balls for teeth.
"Then the unthinkable happened. The fire alarm went off again, right at the end of the period. We all rushed outside without logging off. When we got back to class the announcement was made to 'report to your seventh period class'. So I went to seventh period. I never once thought about the self portrait on that computer I left behind.
"The next day in Civics class we had to turn in our political cartoons on a social issue pertinent to teenagers. Do you remember that assignment?" Grizelda asked.
"Yeah, sure," replied Zig, finding himself interested.
"Well, we all turned them in, and the next day Mrs. Smith had her favorites stapled to her bulletin board. To my HORROR, there in full color was my self portrait doodle pinned to the board. The caption underneath said, 'The dangers of smoking', and David Shelby's name was on it as the author. He must have had keyboarding seventh period, found my picture, modified it, and then printed it out for his civics assignment.
"I almost fainted, really," Grizelda paused to look at Zig to see if he was believing her. For some reason she really wanted him to believe.
"Oh my God. I remember that one. We all laughed at it. No one could believe Dave Shelby came up with that one himself. One kid asked him if his little sister had drawn it for him," laughed Zig. "So it was really you all the time. Does Dave Know?"
"NO. No one knows. I told you, I would be mortified if this ever got out, so I'm trusting you with some really big info here Zig," said Grizelda.
"Don't worry. I won't screw this one up. There's too much riding on it."
"More than you can possibly imagine," said Grizelda. "Also the story has one more twist. As you know Mrs. Smith lets her civics students vote on their favorite cartoon of the month. Then she submits it to the school newspaper for publication. Dave's, got picked and they put that awful thing in the newspaper.
"I went home that day thanking God that I hadn't logged on to that computer. So nothing could be traced to me. I am the only living person who knows the truth, except for you now," finished Grizelda.
Zig and Grizelda took a quick, embarrassed look at each other. They both felt that the other had told the truth, and they both made silent promises not to break the trust.
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