Writing Prompt: Instigate

From a writing prompt, the prompt was simply the word “instigate.”

One year in high school, the school lowered the temperature in the building to some obnoxiously chilly level. Teachers were skulking around, muttering. Students were wearing their winter coats all day instead of leaving them in their lockers. In science we determined that the temperature in the building was 58°.

I want to say I was a sophomore. Or maybe I was a junior. But I really don’t remember. I’d been around long enough to know how things worked at that school.

I knew people. People knew me.

I kept a low profile… but my profile level was a strategy game, known only to me.

See, I was the kid in elementary school who would intentionally spend 8 months of the school year building up a reputation as the quiet, nice girl who was pleasant to teachers and stayed out of trouble… specifically so that I could spend the last month of the school year pulling off low-key shenanigans that I’d never get blamed for. By that time, no one would ever believe it was me. I never had to say anything; others would jump to my defense before I had the chance, yelling that there was NO WAY. JUST NO WAY it was me…while I sat, silent, with a straight face, slight shrug. The teachers, flustered, would let it go, eager for the school year to be over anyhow and just not wanting to fool with us anymore.

Yeah. I was THAT person.

It was totally worth it to me to play the long game. To put in the time and effort to create a persona that literally no one would believe would do such a thing. So that I could absolutely do such a thing, and never even be suspected. This was a source of much entertainment to me over the years.

There are fun words for this. Aries, Slytherin, enneagram 8. (I prefer these words to a few others I have been called when people’s doubts have finally been overcome and I’ve been found out.)

When I was 10 or 11, my sibling and I had a brief stint where we’d gather little sticks, leaves, and grass into a teacup sized ball, put it in the street by the curb, and light it on fire. We just liked watching it burn up. We didn’t know anything.

When our parents caught us — we weren’t hiding it, we didn’t know it was bad — they were livid. What were you thinking? they demanded. (Ummm…fire is pretty? I thought, but knew better than to talk back.) Our sentence was to write a 2-page essay on why what we’d done was wrong and why we were never going to do it again. I chose wide-ruled paper and lounged lazily under a tree, writing my letters as large as I thought I could get away with, contemplating the mechanics of explaining why something was wrong when no one had ever taught me.

By high school I’d had quite enough of my life, so I had a low-grade rage boiling inside me. And, I was bored — which is one of the most dangerous things an enneagram 8 can be. (If you know, you know.)

When the school experimented on us for the sake of the budget, first with lowering the temperature (more inexplicable decisions would come in the future), I sat, shivering on the outside, simmering on the inside, in my classes, my laser stare unfocused.

It had been about 3 weeks since this madness had started. First period was art for me. We had a forward-thinking teacher who would cut us to the core with the ability to really see us, see our minds through our art, who lovingly called us “children of the corn” (a reference I wouldn’t get until adulthood and was subsequently horrified and tickled) and challenged us to push ourselves further. Naturally, I adored her. She also trusted me — a hormonal teenager with pent-up rage and a still-developing brain. Stranger things, as they say.

The windows of the art room faced the entrance of the building, and since the art room was a very long, rectangular shape, those windows took up the entire front-facing side of the building. This particular week, I knew the school was having some very important district leaders coming in for some kind of meeting. The first morning of that week, instead of doing my art assignment, I glanced at my teacher, grabbed some poster board and sharpies, and went to work. A couple of my friends nudged each other. Holding the teacher’s gaze (when she saw what I was doing, she nodded to me, bemused), they grabbed some poster board and came to help me.

As the leaders of the school district filed in, they were greeted with signs plastering the entire front of the building, taped into the windows:

HELP US, WE ARE FREEZING

58 DEGREES IS TOO COLD TO LEARN

FROZEN FINGERS CAN’T WRITE

WINTER COATS ARE FOR WINTER

S.O.S. IT IS TOO COLD IN HERE

By the end of the next school day, the temperature was back up to a toasty 68.

They did not lower it again for the rest of my high school career.

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