I have presented in the last two posts some of the perils of being a teacher and having students that have not yet fully formed their mature human brains. There is a distinct danger that they are going to be a little confused about how they actually feel about you. There is that possibility that they will confuse liking you for the kind of teacher you are, and loving you because they think you are attractive as a member of the opposite sex. Their front-brains that help them make mature decisions and weigh the consequences of those decisions don’t reach fully-formed maturity until the age of twenty-two. So, these children are capable of of falling in love with you for the wrong reasons even though you have become a middle-aged man with a pot belly and scruffy author’s beard. Poor little birds with the half-formed brains, I weep for you. I warned you at the outset that these particular stories would make me regret and make me cry. But maybe I overlooked the fact that they also make me laugh and make me feel all warm inside. Puppy love does not have to plague an old dog’s heart.
Part Three; “You could marry me, Mr. B!”
The War on Ignorance, 1994 campaign, saw me trying hard to cope with burgeoning class sizes. Technically the Chapter Two entitlements law limited a teacher like me to classes of no more than 15 students. My sixth hour afternoon class was almost twice the legal limit. I would probably have died of exhaustion on the battlefield if they had given me the usual three or more hyperactive boys with attention deficit during that period. Thankfully, they gave me mostly girls. Extra-talkative, loud, and somewhat foul-mouthed girls certainly, but still girls. Oh, and only two ADHD boys.
I would’ve been doomed to die alone and depressed that year if not for the good girls of sixth hour. Abigail Littleton liked me before the 7th grade year ever started because her older brother Luke was one of my RPG players, and infected her with a serious love for my teaching style and charm. Sasha Garcia, who was even more critical to my success in that classroom, was a fatherless girl who knew me through her older cousin Lionel, a previous year’s star pupil. Both of those girls showed serious leadership capability that year. They showed the others how to take teacher directions and turn them into fun and learning. When Claudia the mouth-girl smarted off, or Lisa the nail-polisher wasted class time, one of the two classroom leaders would admonish them and bring them under control even before I could react to their misdeeds. Sasha apparently had fists of fury off campus, and they did not cross her. Whenever we did group activities, which tends to be the most effective way to teach a bunch of female socializers reading and writing skills, I could always count on Abby and Sasha to be effective group leaders. They also organized their own secret group activity from which I was destined to benefit, but knew absolutely nothing about.
There was a new Math teacher that year in the 7th grade, a single Filipino teacher who came to Texas as part of a special overseas recruitment program. Abby and Sasha conspired to play “Match-maker, match-maker, make me a match!” in my name. I don’t know what went on in the Math classroom, but I know they pressured her to get to know me almost as much as they worked on me about it. When I first took the risk of giving that new teacher a Valentine’s gift (actually Sasha’s idea rather than mine), it turned out that the secret plan worked. We began dating, and in a little over a year, we married.
Now, you would think that would be the happy ending to the fairy tale. But, it turned out that, even though Sasha was very mature for her age, her frontal lobe was still not fully formed. As the school year drew to a close, Sasha was busy getting all her friends to sign the faded old pair of blue jeans she wore on the last day of school. They all did it. What they didn’t all do was ask the teacher to sign it. Especially not the way Sasha wanted me to sign it.
“I want you to sign it right here on the crotch,” she said, indicating the flap that covered the blue jean’s zipper.
“I can’t sign it there,” I said.
“Why not? I want you to know that everything under there belongs to you.”
I am not sure what color my face was turning at that moment, because I was on the inside of it looking out. But I imagine it was either a bright shade of reddish-purple, or possibly pea-soup green… or both.
“That would not look right, Sasha. It might get both of us in trouble.”
“Okay, sign it on this space on the thigh then.”
She gave me that don’t-cross-me-old-man look that I had seen her control others with. “Okay, here on the leg part.” Thankfully she was pointing at a space down closer to her right shoe, so I dutifully signed it “Good luck, Mr. B”. I was actually wishing myself good luck, but I didn’t dare tell Sasha that.
So, that was awkward. And I had to have Sasha in my class again the next year. She was taller and more intimidating… and more beautiful then. And we got along well. It was a good year. My wife-to-be had not signed a contract for the second year in Cotulla, so I was making trips to Dallas to see her on many weekends. And Sasha found out about it because my wife-to-be was a Jehovah’s Witness and Sasha had a number of relatives who were in the Cotulla Congregation. You can’t keep secrets from people dedicated to the Truth of God’s Word the Bible.
“She’ a Jehovah’s Witness, you know… and you aren’t,” Sasha told me. “They don’t approve.”
“I can learn, can’t I?” I said.
“You don’t know what they are like,” she said. “They disapprove of everything.”
“I believe in God, and I love Ms. M.”
“But you love me, too, don’t you?”
“Yes, Sasha. You are like a daughter to me. I love you like a teacher loves a student.”
“You could marry me, Mr. B. You could forget about her and marry me.”
“I am old enough to be your father,” I said.
“That doesn’t matter if we’re in love.”
“It does, my girl. It is illegal for someone my age to marry someone as young as you.”
“Wait for me. Three more years and I will be eighteen.”
“In three more years you will find someone more your own age that you want to be with more than you want to be with some fat old guy.”
Sasha didn’t cry. She didn’t hate me. She continued in her quest to organize my life for me, and would later offer to babysit for my first-born son. But I had told my wife all about Sasha, and she didn’t want to risk it.
At the end of the eighth grade year, after graduation was over, Sasha came into my classroom to say goodbye. She walked up to me and laid her pretty head on my shoulder, draping an arm around my neck. “I’m going to miss you more than any other teacher I have ever had,” she said. I suspect there was at least one tear involved, but Sasha would never let me see that.
“I’m going to miss you too, girl. But neither of us is going anywhere for a while, so I’ll see you around.”
And I did, too. She visited me frequently in my classroom because high school classes were in a different building on the same campus. I probably owe her more and love her more than any other student I ever had. She was special. They were all special, in their way, but she was the special-est of them all. (That’s a word, isn’t it? It has to be.)
Now that I have finished this weird trilogy of impossible love stories, I have to confess. These were not the only times I could’ve crossed a line into darkness. Feelings like these can be dangerous to a teacher’s career. You see in the newspapers frequently what happens when a teacher, male or female, doesn’t have enough self control to handle things like this. I am grateful that I always found the strength to deal with things the right way. And I am not sorry these little love stories came to pass. But don’t worry about the girls I have talked about here. I have changed the names and fudged the timelines enough that if any of them read these stories, only they have enough of the private knowledge of this to recognize themselves. And they all eventually had their happy endings. When you reveal a person’s naked heart to the world, you have a responsibility to hurt no one in the telling. That’s as true of my naked heart as it is theirs. They may even have forgotten me long ago, and are now incapable of seeing themselves in these stories. But I will always remember. And I will always love them.