“An Object Lesson”
Originally appeared in Bloom, Issue 9
The place, then: small high school, rural town. More cows than students, more barns than families. More endless- ness. From any point in town, you could look out and see for miles—-fields, pastures, the lines of tall maples and oaks dividing property, stuck into the ground like slim pins in a road map. The thousand variants of green—emerald, Kelly, chartreuse, hunter, clover, avocado, olive, pine, sea foam, shamrock—and the visual textures of the fields-—burlap before planting, corduroy during tilling, velvet before harvest. Things were planted to be sowed, grown to be discarded. It was here I met Mr. Nash and wrecked his life, wrecked my own.
I could smell Mr. Nash minutes after he’d walked through the hallway, the cafeteria, near the offce. Like encountering a ghost. Thee smell went directly to my head. My knees bent involuntarily and I’d make as though I were steadying myself from a stumble, which was true.
My job, now: same as his. Educator of young minds. Mr. Nash taught physical education, but I train the brain–really, the heart. I train the eye to see images in words, identify themes, pull out symbols and tropes and clichés. I read to my students the way Rick never would have. But he shaped our bodies as carefully as a sculptor. His tools, not awls, were drills and games. With me, his hands.
I was sixteen. Old enough to know better and young enough not to care. The impulsiveness of youth: feel now, think later. Suffer later. Regret later. Putting off until tomorrow what I should have considered up front. I was unpopular, alone in high school. I had very little to lose. And I was as full of want as an empty wallet. I had the potential to hold something of value.
Mr. Nash looked at me—it was the rst time anybody had really looked at me—and said, Call me Rick.
Mr. McDaniel, my student Andrew says, his hand touching my waist without enough hesitation or uncertainty. His hand moving backwards, following my belt.
I wasn’t there for Rick’s last day. The administration, the principal, encouraged me to stay home as the other “children,” he said, would be full of talk, most of it what I didn’t need to hear. I stayed home a week. I ignored the phone, making my parents take the calls from teachers, other parents, even the obscene calls of my classmates, where all they’d hear was breathing, a dirty word, an accusation against me. I gave them a punishment equal to my own, my own rediscovered solitude.
Andrew’s breath at my ear. What he whispers when we are alone.
The shape of Rick’s shirtless chest in the locker room, changing after his morning workout in our weight room. I saw him blurred through the cloudy fiberglass windows of his small office. The scent of his cologne drifted out into the room where I pulled on my gym shorts, unlaced and laced my shoes with pointed precision. Lost in his scent. Like being held close to his body.
Andrew’s eager hand shooting into the air like a warning shot, ready to answer the question I’ve posed before I’ve fully posed the question. In the dim half-light of the rainy afternoon, his skin veils over with a light blue tinge, his lips purpling, his eyes like an owl’s–wide, dark, knowing.