When I was in grade five, I was singled out as a “gifted” student.
Because of this, I was shipped off every Thursday to room 320, in order to spend the day away from my friends with the biggest losers I had ever met.
(Or at least the biggest losers in my highly-evolved eleven-year old opinion.)
And no doubt, all of those kids were looking at me in the exact same light.
The condescension hung heavy in that classroom, let me tell you. Like a really snotty cumulus cloud.
We were all there to participate in a program entitled “COW: Changing our World.”
This was horrible.
I was missing double gym to spend my day talking about environmental and political actions that, sure I cared about, but didn’t really care about.
Not more than kicking ass in frisbee death anyway.
One afternoon, after emptying our juice boxes and wiping the peanut butter from our mouths, Ms. Marvin asked us to sit in a circle and tell the group about our heroes.
What kind of question was that?
I can remember wracking my brain for strong female icons that I could proudly say were my heroes. I admired Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedman, but they weren’t mine. But I admired them to such an extent that they were pratically mythological, made-up figures and they existed for me because of everything my mother had told me about them, and the few books I had found in my library.
The same for Roberta Bondar and Nancy Green and Nelly McClung.
Each name stuck in my throat like a ball of hair; I could feel my tongue trying to push words to the front of my mouth, but nothing would come but nerves and peanut butter breath.
I cannot remember whom the first three students named.
Perhaps this is because of the enormity of Justin’s (number four’s) pick. He sat there in his green club-med sweatshirt, tapered jeans and classic bowl cut, so confident, so ready.
He was more than prepared to announce to the world his hero.
I remember he even inhaled before speaking.
“My hero is Jean Chretien.”
I want to embellish here and say that I came close to passing out upon hearing this, but it’s not true. I might have been a drama queen, but I knew where to draw the line.
But still – Jean Chretien?
How could anyone in their right mind possibly say that he was their hero? It certainly didn’t make things better when the girl next to him (I’ve since forgotten her name) declared that her hero was Kim Campbell.
The only thing running through my head was: WHO ARE THESE WEIRDOS?
KIM CAMPBELL AND JEAN CHRETIEN!?!?
ARE WE IN BIZARRO WORLD?
Now to be fair, in retrospect, I can (kind of) understand the reasoning behind an eleven-year-old girl’s decision to pick Kim Campbell.
Being the first female prime minister of Canada definitely propels you into a certain category of individuals (despite the fact that her party had already been decisively trounced in the elections).
But didn’t she listen to Double Exposure? They made fun of her all the damned time!
I do not recall the way the rest of the day panned out; I was too unsettled, too shaken up.
As I walked home, scuffing my tennis shoes and tripping over their laces, my mind raced with makeshift answers. Justin was not the athletic type – his legs were even skinnier than mine (and I was of such a stick-like nature that I could see my heart beating every time I emerged scrubbed-pink from the bathtub), so it was acceptable that he wouldn‘t pick a sports figure. He didn’t seem one to idolize film stars or literary giants.
And because of this, I began to question the defining qualities of this commonly used label.
If someone could say that Canada’ twentieth prime minister was their hero, what did that mean for the term itself? Could just about anyone be a hero? What were the specific requirements and did they all have to be met? How could Jean Chretien be so special to one little boy? It was obviously not a choice born out of passion.
But then again maybe he was just a HUGE fan of the Constitution.
Looking back, the best that I can come up with was that this choice was one of utmost pragmatism.
On the first day of class Justin had said that he wanted to be a politician; somewhere along the line he must have realized that in order to accomplish this, it might be good to look up to someone who had already achieved this position.
And now of course, I know that there is nothing wrong with that.
In fact, if I could go back in time I would say party on Justin.
(Liberal) PARTY ON.
But that night I sat at the dining room table with my feet tucked neatly into the folds of my knees and slowly mashed my tofu around my plate. My mother, used to my pickiness, sat across from me and told me to stop molesting my bean curd.
“It’s not the tofu,” I said. Because in fact it wasn’t the tofu, as I really liked tofu (and still do to this day.)
“Well then what’s the matter?” My mother crossed her arms and looked at me, cocking her head to one side, making the dangly parts of her earrings knock together like wind chimes.
“Some stupid idiot in my class today told everyone that Jean Chretien is his hero.” I rolled by eyes. My fork clanged onto the plate as I let it slip from my fingers. “Isn’t that the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard?”
I knew that my mom didn’t want to laugh. But she was one with whom I would listen to Double Exposure on the CBC. She also read Frank Magazine (in fact she had been lampooned herself in the rag) and like her daughter, thought that this was just too much.
My mother let out a wallop of a laugh.
Her whole body shook like an oversized maraca.
So I let loose too, laughing with an intensity that felt unnatural, but I felt like if I laughed hard enough the uncomfortable pit buried deep inside of me wouldn’t sprout leaves and grow into a tree.
As long as I laughed I could think Justin as a strange anomaly and continue to think of heroes as easily definable, realistic beings.
But eventually, I stopped.
And I, on this day, April 30, 2012, would like to extend an apology to both Justin, and the unnamed Kim Campbell fan.
In an age of Jersey Shore and Kim Kardashian and Twilight – I’ll take their choices.
But I”ll probably still need that juice box.
Because although I might take it, it’s still not going to go down any easier then it did the first time around.
And for that I blame Double Exposure.
(And my mom.)