Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Fiction in Two Parts; Pt. II

Part 2; the conclusion.

After school, I creep back into the classroom. Mr. Stowe disappeared around the corner in the direction of the principal’s office; I see him in there every afternoon. I should have just enough time to replace the book before he returns. That will be the easy part. The hard part will be facing him and my friends tomorrow. Now I know the teacher’s secret, but I haven’t been able to tell anyone. I don’t know what to make of it myself. The closet door closes with a hush and I turn.

“Thank you for putting Jesse back,” breathes Mr. Stowe, sitting on one of the desks; my lips feel like sandpaper.

“Jesse?” I finally utter stupidly. He nods in the direction of the closet and rises from the desk. He seems taller than usual, or maybe I just feel smaller. “I’m sorry.”

“I hope so. Maybe I can trust you again.” That voice; the solemn whisper seems so familiar, but at the same time I feel like a stranger in my own skin. He continues as though there has been no pause. “That notebook was Jesse’s. She was in my class five years ago.”

I glance back at the closed door of the cabinet though I don’t know why. Half of me wants it to go away, the other half wants to know more. Wanting to fill the silence, I say: “She was really smart.”

“All of my students are.” He smiles, but at the cabinet, not at me. He used to smile at me like that. Will he ever smile at me again? “Do you keep all their reflection journals?”

“Only if they let me. I ask.” His response makes my face burn; I swallow with difficulty.

“Why do you keep them?”

“Why do you think?”

I resist the urge to roll my eyes at his typical teacher response. Something tells me this is anything but. “They remind you of better times?” I ask.

“Not better...”

“Will you want mine?”

He smiles down at me at last. I feel about to burst. “We’ll discuss it tomorrow, after I read your reflection.”

“Which one?” I ask; though I think I know, and the notion fills me with hope.

“The one you’re writing about this afternoon.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Fiction in Two Parts; Pt. I

Back in school I wrote a short piece about a teacher I had in elementary school. Actually the teacher in the story is a mashup of two or three teachers I have especially respected. One day maybe I will be the inspiration for a student like they were for me. Thank you to all the teachers out there.

Part 1

           Earlier today, I thought I saw something. From the corner of my eye, some furtive movement while the class silently reflected on the math lesson. Then it happened again, just after literature circle. I couldn't believe my eyes! Our teacher, Mr. Stowe, is not what he seems. I think he may be magic: a wizard! I was finishing my writing journal and I looked up just in time to catch him. He was closing a closet behind his desk. I had never noticed that door before. I dropped my eyes to my journal just as he scanned the room to see if anyone was looking at him. I don’t think he saw me looking. But now I know. And I must find the truth.

           This morning was a perfect example of why I am suspicious. The back of my neck prickles as I recall the lost morning, I think back to other days. It always seemed something wasn't quite right. We come in everyday; breathing the smell of pennies and pine needles. There are always the complaints that we don’t want to be here. One morning, I told my best friend I had a headache. “I’ll ask Mr. Stowe if I can go to the nurse. She’ll call my mom and I’ll go home and sleep.” My friend nodded with a smirk; we both believed it would happen just that way.

And somewhere between Mr. Stowe’s: “Good Morning, Everyone!” (his booming, deep voice quiets the buzz in the room), and the first pieces of his lesson on the wallboard, (that all too familiar squeaky marker…) I no longer see the sunlight lancing warmly into the room. Instead I notice the posters lining the walls. “Living Charts,” Mr. Stowe calls them. We made them together as a class; they remind us of the things we are supposed to do--our rules of the room. We add to them now and again using colored pens: directed splashes of color.  Lunch is upon us before I remember my imagined headache. Where did the morning go? Did it go into that closet of his? Or did he pull something out that made us forget our own priorities? Every time I have seen him access that doorway, we have been at his mercy. Whatever is in there, I must discover it. At lunch I plan.

           Silent reading begins after lunch, and that’s when my friend distracts Mr. Stowe. I am standing near the sink when he moves away from the area behind his desk and grants me my opportunity. I glide noiselessly up to the darkly grained wood and grip its silvery handle, slipping the mysterious panel open as softly as I can. Just a crack is all I can manage before I feel premonitions of impending creaky hinges. I gaze in eagerly. SCREAK!!! Someone’s chair scrapes the floor! I shut the door, spin around, and drop behind the teacher desk as Mr. Stowe looms upward from among the student desks. I catch my breath and regain my desk just as he stops at the front of the room and surveys us predatorily. Pretending to search my own desk, I quickly stash my prize and wipe the back of my neck.

Notebooks! I almost lost my head at the sight: row upon row of spirals, folders, and black composition books. Not at all what I expected, but maybe they contain his secrets, scrawled in spidery runes from ages past. Fighting a chill of anxiety creeping up my spine and a furnace of guilt boiling in my belly, I crack open my teacher’s book, unprepared for what I would find…

To Be Continued.

Monday, March 2, 2015

What’s In A Name

Have you ever been accused of not knowing how to spell your own child’s name? Did you spell it uniquely because you wanted it to be as special as your child? Was the unique spelling meaningful in some way? Or do you have a name which represents something important to your parents or heritage. Does it hold the same value to you?

I wrote my first short story when I was 10. Titled: The Arena, it was one notebook page long--no paragraph breaks--and told the “story” of a fictional, futuristic coliseum where mutants fought for the amusement of a “brain-in-a-jar” emperor on a holiday called “dependence day.” Symbolism aside, it was special to me; the story represented a step towards my dream of being a writer. One of the characters--and the only one named, directly--was a mutant lizard man who went from being the underdog in the fight to the champion, and hero, at the end of the story.

The name stayed with me for years after. It was the name I used for a mutant lizardman with a poison stinger-tipped tail in a role-playing game called Gamma World. I briefly toyed with changing my own name to it, legally, while I was in middle school. In high school, I had the name engraved on my class ring.

Forward to 1991, my wife and I are expecting our first child. My amazing wife agrees to let me give the name to our firstborn son. My thoughts are: he will be as unique as his name and he will overcome obstacles like his namesake in that arena story. He was born one month early and spent his first week of life under an oxygen tent in NICU because his lungs weren’t fully developed. At the end of that week the doctor took the tent off, saying our son needed to breathe on his own, or he never would. After a tense and tearful couple of hours he did breathe and today I cannot remember the last time he was sick. He is as “healthy as a horse,” my Papaw would say. He did overcome his own titanic battle, and has become quite a man.

The name has presented it’s own challenges over the years. Many people pronounce it incorrectly and when we correct them, some get it and some don’t. A relative accused me of not knowing how to spell my own son’s name when she got the birth announcement (my wife and I still laugh about that one today, 24 years later.) Some teachers didn’t get it as well, and early on, I determined not to fight it if my son didn’t want to embrace the uniqueness of the name; the sentiment attached to it was mine, not his; although, I did give him my old class ring to keep (it had his name on it, after all). But he did embrace it in his own way and even he corrects people on the pronunciation.

Today, I see a lot of unique names around. And many parents naming their children with unusual spellings and pronunciations. Is it a form of rebellion against the naming conventions of the past, is it the beginnings of a change for the future? I wonder how many parents are trying to imprint a uniqueness on the child and how many have a story like mine, a name that came from a special source and they wish to pass it on through the family.

Every child is unique and special, ask any parent (or Shakespeare.) Its not the name; the name is just a brand, the being makes the difference. What the child is and what they become determine their uniqueness, not the hopes, dreams and wishes we lay on them when we write on their birth certificate.