The Disgraced Ruler
Updated: Feb 17, 2022
When I was a little girl, at least once a school year, a woman with carrot-coloured hair would take me out of lessons and to a private room. I knew that this woman was from the local borough. I also knew that I absolutely hated her. She only ever took me out of lessons, no one else. But what I hated the most about her was that she was there under the pretence of helping me, and I didn’t want to be helped at all. She was there to assess how accessible the school was for me, and if they could do anything to make it any more accessible. (You’re probably thinking: she sounds like a very nice woman indeed).
I strongly felt that I did not need her to come see me. I could do most things, and when it came to things that I really could not do like P.E. and D.T., I would rather be reading a book anyway. Still, in a sore attempt to validate the existence of her job, the woman with the carrot-coloured hair brought me a ruler. No, not just any old ruler. Not a thin, transparent, plastic, 15cm, slip in and out of your pencil case deal. This ruler was 30cm, wide and thick, dark blue, with a bright green alligator handle. One year, as an advance on that, she brought sticking tape to put underneath the ruler. (You’re probably thinking: she sounds like a very thoughtful woman indeed).
This was all because Maths can be a two-handed task. I struggled – and I mean, struggled – to hold an ordinary ruler down in place with my left hand, which meant that I could not draw a line with my right. To me, this was a bit of a non-issue. I hated Maths with a vehement passion. It has always been a toss-up between English and History right up until I finally cast my net with English at university. But in primary school, a fair few years off my GCSEs, I wasn’t allowed to give up on Maths completely just yet. So, it was felt the alligator handle and the sticking paper would enable me to use a ruler correctly. Couldn’t I just skip the ruler questions? No, apparently not. The sticking paper was fiddlier than it was worth.
But it was the alligator ruler that really annoyed me. It was far too cheerful.
Why was it so chunky?
Why did it have to be such a bright shade of green?
Why were the eyes of the alligator so big?
Why did it smile?
I was a cynical child. I felt the ruler was trying to badger me on to being happy about having to use it. The ruler was Loud and Proud about its physical differences from other rulers. But God, I wanted it gone. I already had to wear splints on my left limbs, why did this ruler have to mark me out as different too?
It was a statement piece and I didn’t want to own it or wear it. I wanted my left hand to work with the see-through small rulers. Just like I wanted to play the recorder, even though I could hear that they didn’t produce the most pleasant sound.
It is curious how we can put so much feeling into objects.
When I finished my last Maths exam, all the Maths tools were mercilessly chucked away. They were all finicky little irritants, let’s be honest.
The other day, my two-year-old was going through my draws. Note: adult things are inherently more interesting than anything meant for a child. I turned my back: for a moment, as you do, and then the world implodes if there’s a small person involved. When I looked again, she had dug up my alligator ruler and scribbled on it in green pen. Then, she’d abandoned it. (It was probably too close to being age appropriate to be interesting).
I hadn’t thrown it away or given it to someone else. I’d also forgotten about it. It didn’t make me angry to see it again. Or sad. I felt a softness towards my younger self and how much angst she’d put into a ruler. I sort of wanted to laugh. Not mockingly. But warmly, because sometimes obstacles can feel so enormous and impossible to see beyond, and then they’re dug up by a toddler, scribbled on, abandoned. Something can feel very major and then dissipate to not being very major at all.