The principal’s office


It came over me without any warning. The lady in the room was so alarmed she asked if I was going to be okay. Her concern was palpable because the signs were unmistakable: shortness of breath, sweaty palms, and slumped shoulders. Add to those the ashen complexion, and it really looked as if I would die any moment.

Little white spots started to fly in front of my eyes as the room darkened and spun, slowly at first then faster and faster. Shaky, I held onto the arms of the chair I was sitting in. Gazing at my feet had little if any grounding effect.

I didn’t know what was about to happen, only that her words kept echoing through my brain sending me into sheer panic. “Sit right there. He’s coming down to see you.” It wasn’t what I had expected.

In an instant I was back in school sitting just outside the principal’s office waiting to be summoned in. Only three times in my academic career have I’ve been sent to that office. Once while attending Mt. Olive Elementary School and twice at Briarwood High School, home of the Mighty Buccaneers, but the reason was always the same. I was in my situation because I was in big trouble for doing something I shouldn’t have.

Now that same feeling of hopelessness had me paralyzed with terror. Only this time, I wasn’t in school. I was at the newspaper waiting for the editor to come down and talk to me. Guess for this story I better start at the beginning – it’s a beginning from a long, long time ago, on a familiar street not so far away.

Old Mrs. Crabtree was my third grade teacher at Mt. Olive. Every Friday she’d brave taking the entire class to the library so we could do research. The research I did was determining how far a spitball could travel if shot through the hole in the middle of a giant floor globe until it hits Down the Street Bully Brad in the eye.

I found out, and after he chased me around the library and out into the hallway, Mrs. Crabtree finally caught up to both of us. Then she dragged us to Principal Baker’s office by our ears.

It hurt when Mrs. Crabtree dragged us to the office, but it was nothing like being dragged down the hall by the biggest football coach at Briarwood a few years later.

At Briarwood High School, home of the Mighty Buccaneers, if you mix all the chemicals together in chemistry class causing a toxic gas cloud that forces the evacuation of the entire school, Coach Reeves will drag you into Principal’s Baxter’s office.

Not that I’m admitting to anything, mind you. Neither one of them really knows for sure what happened that day.

And what of the second time I got sent to his office? What actually happened to the team mascot of the Headland Highlanders? You’d have to ask Goofy Steve about that. I promised never to tell.

Rational or not, my fear of being called to the office didn’t stop upon graduation from Briarwood. It continued for every job I’ve ever held, even the fire department.

After 27 years I finally retired from being a firefighter. I’ve fought hundreds of fires, been inside buildings as ceilings came crashing down, and felt searing heat coming off a 30,000-gallon gasoline tanker truck fire as it spilled its entire load of fiery death onto the streets of our downtown.

I even got lost in the sub-basement of an office building on fire. It was so hot my helmet melted down around my head and neck and then I ran out of air. I almost died that day.

Through it all, what struck more fear into me than anything else? Doing something wrong and being called into the chief’s office. During my retirement, I thought such a fear had finally been laid to rest. But I was mistaken.

Walking into the room, the editor took one look at me then asked what was wrong. I told him I felt like I’d just been summoned to the principal’s office and was in trouble. After all, the print deadline for the paper was tomorrow and he’d taken the time to come down from his office to see me. It was something I hadn’t expected.

To my relief, he smiled, assured me all was fine and asked me to come into the conference room.

I rose to follow him, my legs barely working. He closed the door behind me and asked why I had asked to speak to him.

I told him, “This Friday marks the start of 15 years that I’d been writing a weekly column for your paper. I wanted to thank you in person for allowing me to do so and the opportunity you gave me so long ago.”

Then something happened that’s never happened before in any principal’s office I’ve been in. He leaned back in his chair and said, “No — I should be thanking you.”

We chatted for a while about the origin of the phrases “dead line,” “a computer having a bug,” and “putting the paper to bed.” During our conversation, unbeknownst to him, he gave me a great idea for a column. I thanked him for the idea, and he smiled again, not knowing what I was talking about, shook my hand and said, “As always, look forward to reading it.”

With my writing career and space in the paper still intact, I left the newspaper building wondering if all those times fearing going to the principal’s and chief’s office was really worth it?

Probably not, except, of course, for that one time with Goofy Steve. That was something to truly worry about. But you’d have to ask him about it. I promised never to tell.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog:]