This week, the new Avengers blockbuster came out swinging. Everybody who could get to Hollywood for the premiere showed up. And, the mesmerizing voice of Ultron, in his live-streamed interview on the Big Red Rug, gave Marvel credit for “creating anticipation” like nobody else.
In my solitude, I marveled.
* * * *
The year was 1991. I’d just completed six months in the high school music classroom of a colleague who’d decided, at the last moment of the waning summer, to go live on his boat in Florida. For the year. He’d left some 185 students in full-on revolt, and the District had gone through six long-term subs in four months before deciding to rock the chessboard.
The call had come in from Personnel four days before my scheduled return from an unpaid graduate leave. The Personnel Director made it clear that this call was a favor to me, that she was giving me an extra two days to get everything which belonged to me out of the east side high school music room. Out of necessity, the District had chosen to move me out of the site where they’d placed me, at the start of my teaching career nearly three years earlier, and into the one across town because of this “emergency.”
I was livid.
Down to my last fifty bucks, I had no choice. And, the kids and I had built their competitive marching band from less than scratch! Their choir had received an Excellent rating from the Sandusky adjudicators! The high risk expellates from the four corners of the county, when they weren’t putting tacks on my chair, were writing essays in music appreciation class using complete sentences! There were only 80 in total across the entire department, but they were my students and, you are correct; I had no intention of leaving them.
But, the District played on my ignorance of the Union’s protections. I had no idea that what they were doing was a flat out violation of Section Whatever of the Teachers’ Master Contract. A 30 day grievance period had just commenced, within which I could have taken this maneuver to the courts, but I was clueless – and, they knew it. They wagered that they’d be able to make this play, and clearly won.
Hot tears flying from my face, I tore over to my classroom and dumped stacks of music, arrangements, and props into plastic bags, rage erupting from my lexicon. Seventy two hours hence: the first day of the semester.
Edward James Olmos had nothing on me. I wore a skirt. I put my hair up. And, standing at the head of 85 strange, chattering choir students, I waited. For a full ten minutes, I stood.
They chatted. They looked at me, then at each other. They laughed, braided each others’ hair, poked each other from behind, and carried it all to a full crescendo. Still, I stood. Finally, the talking diminished to an occasional mutter until there was, at last, complete and total silence. Then, I spoke.
“I’m. not. leaving.”
Five beats later, they were told who I was, where I’d come from, and why I was there. Then, we began our vocal warm ups.
The six months weren’t all that. Easily the most talented drummer tried to steal the trapset, one nut, bolt, and cymbal stand at a time, until he was caught by a classmate. Another graffiti’ed some choice erotica on the music cabinet with what looked like a wood burning tool. Yet another stole a car, making a sorely needed hit with the ladies.
However, there were several encouraging aspects. The choir classroom was at the end of the main front hallway, not marooned in a parking lot annex. The faculty couldn’t have been nicer, more warmly accepting of me, more genuinely happy to have me join them. I felt like one of the staff from day one. And, in spite of everything the students had been through, even though I didn’t give them the band trip to the Disney World parade they’d been promised by their absconded seafarer, they did produce a fully staged spring concert that brought down the house. By the end of the school year, the students and I were deeply satisfied and looking forward to remaining together in my new found home.
But, the Lord of the Public Schools had other plans. Quick to dismiss my rights as a third year teacher, they hastened to declare my position encumbered by, you guessed it, the Florida boatman, and I was told I’d be returned to the east side high school.
Now, mind you, in six months time, the woman they’d slid into my job had returned to the District after a pregnancy leave of approximately nineteen years, and everybody on the faculty over there loved her. She’d dismantled the entire marching program, and was rumored to be giving six students lessons on their instruments after school so they could sit in the stands and play as a Pep Band. The degree of Pep they likely generated boggled my imagination. Only one visit to my old classroom told the tale; there were computer-generated pixilian signs posted on the walls, like some feeble facsimile of Superhero dialogue balloons. But, instead of “Kapow!” and “Bam”, they bleated: “Enthusiasm!” and “Energy!”. Clearly, there was none of the above to be had anywhere in my former, newly adulterated classroom, and perforated computer paper wasn’t about to birth any.
The art teacher at my new site tipped me off. Apparently, there was a spot open for bid in the elementary system and, he said, nobody among the music faculty was likely to want a step “down” from any one of their coveted high school positions. He encouraged me to take it.
Surprisingly, the thought stirred me. I’d reached the middle of my third decade, and the nesting hormones tugged at my belly. Little children. The old woman who lived in the shoe. Colors, shapes. Joyful, silly songs. Wonder. Puking.
I took the bid.
The last day of school that semester was a hot one already, even on the main floor facing away from the late afternoon sun. The six boys in my music appreciation class had just an hour or so left to get their research papers in on time, and I sat at my desk, stacking the last of the materials that didn’t belong to me. Soon, here came Eric, the most committed of them all; his paper was the best one, naturally, and he’d spend every last minute making sure of it. We had a nice, momentary chat, and I wished him well; he was one of the seniors, and would be enlisting in the military.
And, then it was time. I sat, staring across the choir tiers at the large, paned windows facing the street. This would be my last hour at a desk in a high school classroom. The past four years had been exhausting – intense, sometimes crushing, endless/year round, and I would not know until some two decades hence how much those kids would mean to me, or, more surprisingly, what I would come to mean to many of them.
I thought about how it had felt the day I had been hired to become a teacher, reading the letter of acceptance on my bed in the old, upstairs apartment, feeling my identity as a family restaurant waitress fading with the news. I wondered what would happen in this classroom, when my vacated position was refilled by the likely very tanned and legitimately encumbered Mr. G.
Quietly, I smoothed the formica laminate surface of the now empty desk with the palms of my hands. Then, I opened a drawer and removed a black felt marker. A lone stack of scrap paper in the corner caught my eye. After selecting one of the larger sheets, in my favorite calligraphic style I printed out a message, and tore the borders of the paper around it to form a casual, irregular shape. Then, I placed it on the empty desk top, and left the room.
The message was simple:
(Hand to God)
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 4/16/15 all rights reserved. [BAM.]