How often do you look back on a past moment in your life and wonder if you missed what really happened?
I am very good at this.
The other day I was reading about some hubbub going on over a storyline on a television series. I don’t watch the series but the issue of writer responsibility caught my attention. In the show a teenage girl has an affair with her teacher. And instead of the usual this-is-very-bad point-of-view, the show seems to have a let’s-hope-they-get-away-with-it point-of-view.
This reminded me of a chemistry teacher in my high school.
I was terrible at chemistry. Half the time I couldn’t even tell if a questions needed a sentence or a formula for an answer.
My chemistry teacher suggested that if I wanted extra help and to take the most recent test over again, I could come to school on the upcoming student holiday—-the teacher work day—-and I could take as much time as I needed to redo the exam.
This wasn’t a class-wide announcement. He stopped me on my way out of class to suggest this. I assumed he stopped other failing students too, but I didn’t ask. I did show up. I was the only student there. But how many students want to go to school on their day off?
I took the test. He and I chatted. He was one of the younger teachers and it was his first year at our high school. Lots of girls thought he was reasonably cute. He was tall and funny.
I never thought teachers were cute. They were teachers. Girls who had crushes on teachers were inexplicable to me.
So as I was gathering my things, my chemistry teacher said that a few months before he’d found a bracelet in the room. No one had ever claimed it, and since it had been such a long time since he’d found it and he wanted to clear out his desk, perhaps I would like it.
Several things occurred to me in something of a muddled order. Things in lost-and-found aren’t supposed to be given up on until the end of the year. Teachers aren’t supposed to give students presents. It wasn’t really a present. It wasn’t like he bought it. Wow, my teacher trusts me enough to give me a present and not get him into trouble. Hmm, maybe I’m not supposed to take it. Well, I can’t say no to a teacher. I’m overthinking. It is just a lost bracelet after all.
I took the bracelet—-a thin gold chain with fake pearls.
I did feel slightly strange standing there with the bracelet in my hand, but I was also flattered. He was a popular teacher after all. But it seemed weird to stay any longer, so I thanked him for the bracelet and left.
Later when I wore the bracelet, he didn’t say anything about it. I didn’t exactly think it was wrong to have it, but at the same time I told only one friend that the teacher had given it to me. She was impressed. I told her it was only a forgotten bracelet about to be thrown away. Still, part of me wanted to hold my wrist up to others and say, “Mr. So-and-so gave me this.” But I didn’t.
I did get a much better score on my retaken exam. My grade went up to a B!
A few weeks passed and my teacher announced to the class that he was leaving. He’d gotten another job—-a better paying job and he needed to money. He wasn’t even able to stay until the end of the school year.
He stopped me after class to tell me that he thought the company he’d be working for was down the street from my house. Honestly, all these years later I can’t remember how he knew where I lived. I may have told him the day I came in to retake the test because I lived out of town away from everything. But there was indeed that one small company at the end of the road. He told me I could come by and see him there at work.
I thought about it. I passed by that company building a lot. It was in walking distance of my house after all. But I also thought, surely a grown man doesn’t really want to see some silly sixteen-year-old girl show up at his office. I never went.
I still think of him when I drive by that building.
Part of me wants to believe he was just a friendly, helpful teacher. My dramatic writer mind puts a different spin on it. Ah, that crazy writer mind.
My point isn’t whether or not my chemistry teacher was innocent and foolish in his thoughtfulness. My point is—-I don’t know. I rarely trust myself to know, for sure, what someone else is really up to. One little voice says, things are not what you think. Another little voice says, you’re over-thinking again, you just want there to be a story here. Stop imagining things.
But I’m always imagining things.
Anyway. When people tell me they like something I’ve written, at first I believe them. Then I don’t. Then I do. Then I can’t decide.
An agent has asked to see more pages of one manuscript. Said agent may or may not feel enthusiastic about me. I can’t tell. So far I could believe this agent has a particular type of personality and is very busy and I shouldn’t worry too much. Or I could believe that this agent is just being nice, making a little extra effort to be sure, and isn’t really that interested. That when it comes down to it, said agent will look at my work, pause, and say no.
And if said agent says no, I’ll spend a lot of time trying to figure out what I did wrong. I won’t be able to decide if it was me (my novel isn’t that good) or the agent (my novel just isn’t that individual’s thing).
I’m sure to keep the rejection letter though. After all, I’ve still got that bracelet.