Everything I’ve trained for has prepared me for this moment.
I do a quick mental check before pushing open the door. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to do something. What was it? Just nerves. I push the door open, emerge into the chattering class. I tell myself to breathe. All that training has led up to this. Which is precisely the right way to think if I want to feel an immense amount of pressure. I close the door behind me. The noise subsides a little. I can’t let them smell my fear.
I turn and survey my charges. Twenty pairs of fifteen year old eyes gaze back at me. At least they aren’t looking away, distracted. At least no one is bored, yet. I suppose I should start with my name. Then inside my jacket, which is draped across my chair, my phone starts up- playing the guitar riff at the beginning of Fortunate Son. I knew I forgot something. A chorus of laughter assaults my ears. I maintain the blank expression, despite the warmth- I must not show weakness. I saunter over to my chair, face hot. Reaching inside my jacket I take out the phone. It’s Tom. I hang up.
A boy with terrible acne says “No phones allowed in school.” His clansmen laugh. Perhaps I should dicipline them or something. Or something indeed. With my phone in hand, I ask the class, “Can anyone tell me what song that was?” These kids were three when The Matrix came out. Might not even have seen a phone with a cord before. Right in the back, a girl wearing thick, black-rimmed spectacles puts up her hand. I say to her “Yes- and what’s your name?”
“The song, it’s Fortunate Son, by Creedence Clearwater Revival.” This one, has excellent parents, or whoever it was that implanted a bit of good taste in her.
“Most people just call them Creedence, but yes. Do you know what the song is about?”
On the whiteboard I write “The Gulf of Tonkin Incident.” “It’s about the Vietnam War.” I say to the class. Then I spend the next hour showing the kids youtube videos of Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones. I explain the lyrics of each song, somewhat aware of how reductive I’m being. I’m do it partly to teach them about Vietnam, mostly because they need to listen to some real music. I keep trying to find a way to say something about autotuned pop songs, but it never happens. Next class then. Halfway through my phone buzzes. Message from Tom: <My seniors secreatry is fuken HAWT. Drinks later?> I ignore it. After class I text <ok>.
I’m not of a going out sort of person so I follow Tom’s directions to the right bar. Inside I realise I still haven’t gotten used to Tom’s haircut. If I didn’t know him any better I might have assumed he was a real, honest to goodness contributing citizen. After his first three beers he starts to pepper his speech liberally. “Dude!” he says. “You look good, man.” I eyee him above the lip of the glass bottle. Tom says, “So uh, I wanted you to meet someone.”
“She’s your seniors secretary you lunatic- do you want to lose your job?”
He smiles, looks wistful for a moment, shakes his head. “No, no, this ones for you my friend. She works with me, her name is Rachel. She’s hot man.” Ambushed.
I hold up my hands. An old feeling surfaces in my stomach, starts climbing towards my head. “No thanks Tom. I appreciate it really. Very grateful. But no thanks.”
“Alright dude. Your loss. But like, you sure? Is it because of uh…Jann…”
“No.” I say, immediately, without even wondering about it. Anger waits right around the corner. He drops it, and the rest of the evening is awakward, hovering in a shadow.
Later, at home, I search for the old picture frame. Panic when I can’t find it. After half an hour I excavate the thing from the bottom of a pile of takeaway brochures. I run my finger around the edges of the back of the frame. Eventually I turn it over. Her white dress strikes me. I let myself mutter out loud- beautiful. I like the way she’s shorter than me. Inside the picture we look like a unit. The sky in the background aches a deep blue. The frisbee poes out of my hand, in the corner, revealing half a skull. I tchh out loud. I didn’t remember that being in the frame. I should have cropped that out.
For one moment I consider defacing the picture with a scissor, to edit out the skull. Instead I close my eyes and try to remember what flavor ice cream she had. I had chocolate chip, she had, raspberry? Lemon sorbet. Relief. I remember the rest of the date, in bits and pieces. I remember it very well. That certainty haunts me all the way to bed. In the morning the picture is on the floor, a quick examination revealing the frame isn’t cracked. Carefully I deposit it in another drawer. Close it.
In school I quickly develop a reputation amongst the kids as the rock n’ roll teacher. It felt good. What felt better was overhearing their tastes slowly change. They seemed to listen, as a whole, to less pop. For a glorious few weeks the whole year worshipped Pink Floyd. Everyday I couldn’t help but think back to when I was a kid. That felt like a taboo thing to do, as if getting too much perspective destroyed my role as overseer. I used to hate teachers. Funny how I now realise they were just as clueless and petty as I can be.
One day I thought I was busted, that my unorthodox methods were coming to an end when the head of the history department called me in. I spent a good while in the staff room psyching myself up, going for a Dead Poet’s Society state of mind. Remember not go get angry though- I do like this job.
Turned out to be something else entirely. Our head of department was what Tom would call “Hawt”. Stunning legs, low-cut tops, and this domineering approach to things that I admit I found vaguely compelling. In her office she joked about my classes, and then out of nowhere, asked me out. I was prepared for something else, and the whole angle threw me. I said “No thanks.” like she was offering me a coffee. Her voice and face might have gone a bit a rigid, as if she seemed hurt.
I left the office feeling strangely guilty. At home I thought about her, Stephanie. I had her number, and decided to give her a call. Explained that I wasn’t quite looking for anything at the moment. I realised what I was getting at and quickly blurted out I’d like to just have a friend at the school- didn’t know any of the teachers that well. She said “call me Steph.” and we tried to be friends for awhile.