It was not the first time someone had said such a thing. Starting when I was in third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Jauss, had routinely asked me to be in charge when she left the room, a task that sometimes necessitated my telling John Rasch to sit down or stop poking Donna Zinser and resulted in John reminding me that I wasn’t a teacher. In fourth grade, I’d been elected co-captain of the safety patrol, which occasionally elicited similar resistance from my peers. But Mr. Gurski’s remark was the sentiment’s clearest and most succinct expression in my life thus far and gave me, henceforth, a kind of shorthand understanding of the irritation and resentment I provoked in others. Not all others, of course—plenty of people admired that I was eager and responsible—but among those provoked were both men and women, adults and children.
Is it odd that I feel a certain gratitude to Bud Gurski? It’s for (yes) two reasons. First: He said what he said at just the right moment. I was still in possession of the brazen confidence of a nine-year-old girl and didn’t take him seriously, the way I might have if I were twelve or thirteen. Second: He used less ugly terms than he could have, far less ugly than I’ve encountered in the years since. Opinionated for a girl? Of course I was opinionated! And indeed I was a girl. He was stating facts more than offering insult.