I was playing in my front yard in second grade. We lived in a city, so our yard wasn't so much a yard as it was a bit of dirt, grass, and rocks in some concrete next to the stoop. Nevertheless, I overturned some stones and was surprised to find some salamanders under them. My mom helped me poke some holes in a jar lid, and I put a bunch of salamanders in the jar, along with some small bugs to eat and some water so they didn't dry out. She told me I could bring them to school and show my class, and I imagined myself being sort of a hero for bringing such awesome creepy crawlies to school. The teacher would love it because animals are educational, and the kids would love it because they're slimy.
When I got on the bus in the morning and showed the kids what I had found, their reactions were not at all what I expected.
"Ooooooh! You're going to get in trouble!" they told me.
When I walked into school, I held my arm carrying the jar inside my coat so nobody would see it. I tried to stealthily slip it into my desk when I sat down, but my teacher saw me.
"What is that?" she asked.
"Salamanders," I sighed, pulling them out of the desk to show her. I was fucked.
"Those are really cool," she said. My heart lifted a little. "But you can't bring animals to school." My heart sank again.
She brought me to the vice principal's office. The vice principal thought the salamanders were cool, too, but she also told me that animals weren't allowed in school, unless the animals in question were her ugly little toy poodles, of course. She told me that she would hold on to the salamanders until the end of the day, and then I could come to her office and get them.
All day, I thought about how I couldn't wait to be reunited with my jar of amphibians. Those suckers were awesome.
At the end of the day, I went to the vice principal's office. She handed me a brown paper bag.
"There was a little problem," she told me in a soft voice. Her eyes looked like she was trying to act sad.
I reached into the bag and pulled out my jar of salamanders. When I had given her the jar, there was a little bit of water in the bottom. Now, the jar was full to the brim. Floating at the top were all the salamanders, dead.
"They were trying to climb out of the water," she told me, "so I thought they needed more water."
I started crying. I put the jar back in the bag, and put the bag in my backpack.
"I'm sorry," she said as I left.
When I got home, I went to my parents.
"How'd school go?" my dad asked.
I burst into tears, threw my backpack at the wall, and yelled something unintelligible. They told me to calm down and tell them what happened, so I did my best to be coherent, and sobbed my story to them. My mom hugged me and picked up my backpack, which was now drenched with dead salamander water.
My dad told me that I could use the opportunity as a learning experience, and dissect one of the salamanders. My parents had bought me a science kit that contained, among lots of other things, a preserved frog in a jar and the tools to cut it up with. I used the tools, and cut up a salamander, but I didn't learn anything. It was stiffer than the frog was, and much smaller. It was too hard to cut, and too small to see its insides.
I've wondered for years if the vice principal was just being malicious. It's hard for me to believe anybody could be that stupid. They were climbing out of the water, so they needed more water? I guess it's likely that she actually was that stupid, but all the adults at that school left me with horrible impressions, like the sort of people who would kill a child's jar of salamanders just to teach them not to bring animals to school.