One year may not sound like enough time for a life to come apart at the seams, but a year in the life of a drug addict can be counted by drama, bullshit and tragedies in the same way rings can be counted on a tree. What? You’re still mad at me for overdosing on Christmas? That was like two overdoses and a car accident ago. It’s already Easter, man. Let shit go.
Three years removed from my Iranian stalker and still a year away from vacationing in the Tijuana jail, I found myself teaching US history and gov/econ for a high school in northern California while heavily reliant upon a very large dose of narcotics to get out of bed in the morning.
I realize that “drug addicted high school teacher” sounds scary, but trust me, if you saw my paycheck you’d know that they got exactly what they paid for.
For the more savory among you, a single Norco is the equivalent of two Vicodin, while Fentanyl is 20 times more potent than heroin and intended for use by terminal cancer patients. Before interviewing for the job I put four–100 microgram Fentanyl patches on my stomach (four times the prescribed amount) and washed down 16 or 17 Norco (eight times prescribed amount) with some blue Gatorade that looked like Windex.
They hired me. I beat out 3 other applicants, who I hope don’t read this story.
The school loved me. At first. My mentor teacher called me a natural, raving to administration about my abilities in the classroom. And he wasn’t wrong. Critical thinking and writing — these were essential skills to learn in each of my classes, in every assignment, a lesson carried over from my Wednesdays in Italy with Professor Firch. If you were good at memorizing names and dates, you were going to have a tough time in my class. You’d be better served finding a teacher who gave a shit about mindless busy work and points-based assignments.
Understand cause and effect, know how to write academically, form a global perspective, think objectively and question everything — sources, teachers, everything — these were the things I saw as my duty to teach.
I was a great teacher and loved my job.
I was also high the entire time.
I use the term “high” loosely here, because the drugs no longer made me feel what the average person would consider “high.” By no means was I stumbling into class and nodding out. I was putting enough opiates into my body to sedate farm animals, but I no longer felt their effects. By the time I began teaching, I’d been hooked on opiates and benzodiazepines for about eight years. In order to just feel normal — not sick — my body required an ever-increasing amount.
It was my little secret.
Judging by the distance of the thunder, the storm was right on top of us, crashing the windows of my portable-turned-classroom while I graded essays on my prep period with the Chili Peppers’ Californication turned up loud. Without notice, the door swung open.
“Mr. Smith,” asked a kid named Mike, “can I talk to you for a minute?”
Mike was a good kid, quiet, didn’t say much but was obviously intelligent.
“Yeah,” I said, turning down the haunting intro to “Otherside.”
“Come on in. What’s up?”
Sitting down, he paused, breathing deeply as if what he was about to say was so heavy it was physically hurting him. He looked me in the eyes, staring through me.
“You Ok?” I asked.
I was used to students coming in to chat. I had first period prep and taught seniors, who rarely had a first period. Kids would often come in just to kick it, listen to music while I graded, hang out, whatever. But this was different.
He tried to spit his words out, but his lips seemed unwilling to play their part. He choked on syllables while he leaned forward. Finally, he managed to blurt out: “I’m gay.”
More silence, but thicker this time.
I wasn’t sure what to say so I said nothing, mouth left slightly open. My brain raced through its various conditioned responses but was coming up blank as I tried my best to hide my confusion while maintaining eye contact.
“I’m gay,” he repeated, as if I possibly could have not heard him the first time.
“Yeah,” I said, immediately regretting it, since that would mean I’d have to keep talking. “Yes… yes… yes you are.”
“I’m not su-” I began when he abruptly cut me off, thankfully relieving me of the burden of verbal empathy.
“I want to come out in your class.” He paused, letting the thought linger before continuing. “Your class is safe. I feel safe doing it in your class and I wanted to ask you if that’d be ok.”
My immediate response was to worry for Michael. I taught in a school that sat squarely in the middle of a conservative pocket of northern California known as Placer County, where they hold rodeos and where high school football is a much bigger deal to grown ups than it should be.
The religious folk in that community often gave money to the school for various projects, namely the new football stadium. In return, those donors expected a certain level of input. A certain level of influence.
The type of input that once got me called into admin for a sit-down when I made a joke about Rush Limbaugh in-between classes.
The type of influence that eventually bought a new football stadium despite the school district’s inability to pay new teachers a living wage.
“Alright,” I mustered, absorbing the situation with a nod, “OK, we can do this.” While we both looked on in anticipation of a plan that had yet to form, I looked him in the eyes to reassure him. “Hey — look at me,” I said, waiting until he made eye contact to continue. “You’re not alone. I’m here with you. We got this,” I said, knowing damn well I didn’t “got” anything, hoping my faux-confidence wasn’t as transparent as it felt. “You’re not alone. We can do this.”
He looked slightly relieved, followed by the anxiety I imagine came with the realization that this shit was actually going to happen. Like, for real happen.
“So should I just up and say it?” he asked, as if I had the faintest fucking clue how this was supposed to work.
“First thing you need to do is tell everyone who is close to you, because this is going to fly around the school fast,” I said, explaining the fucked up vision I had in my head of what this kid was about to go through. “Anyone who you feel like deserves to hear it directly from you and not through rumor — tell them first.”
He nodded along as I kept talking.
“On Friday we’re going to be discussing the California Proposition system, and its attempt at banning gay marriage in opposition to the legislatures. If you are feeling ready, I think that might be a good time if you’re still wanting to do it.”
Looking down, Mike placed his head into his hands, digging his palms into his eyes, and began to weep. The cries built up gradually, hitting their crescendo with him sobbing, “I’m so scared,” over and over and over again. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to comfort him or hold him, so I sat across from him and watched.
I was 26 years old. Nothing in my life had prepared me for this, and unless I was sick the day they taught teachers how to deal with this shit, academia had failed me as well. The strange thing about being a 26-year-old teaching 18-and 19-year-olds is you often see more of yourself in your students than you do fellow teachers. I could relate to Mike’s life of secrecy more than I could that cranky old bastard who teaches biology and bitches every staff meeting about the clock in his room still not working instead of just going to Target and buying a fucking clock.
As Mike left my room to embark upon the early stages of revealing a secret he’d kept from the world — a secret that was killing him inside — I couldn’t help but think of my own secret. Washing down eight or nine Norco for breakfast, re-upping around noon with 15–20 more, and then closing out the day with the same, all the while wearing four Fentanyl patches. I wasn’t chasing a high. I was running from a detox, the days of drugs “being fun” and “feeling good” long gone, life now reduced to the time between doses.
Every. Single. Day.
All. Day. Long.
Early the following morning, I got to school needing to catch up on the work I missed the day before.
“Hey Jason, are you going to the football game Friday?” asked Susan, a young, Spanish teacher who carried herself like someone who enjoyed the fact that every teenage boy in the school wanted to fuck her. “I guess a bunch of the teachers are getting together beforehand.”
That Friday we were playing our school’s rival, so it was a big deal to a lot of adults who should know better. As a former player, it was surprising how little I cared about football now. I rarely went to games and even more rarely made appearances at any staff get togethers.
“I’m not sure,” I replied, looking down.
Finding my way to my room, I sat down to grade an assignment I gave to my 11th graders on the chapter “Robber Barons and Rebels” from People’s History of the United States. I didn’t use a textbook in any of my classes. I preferred to piece together information from various texts and force the students to absorb information from multiple viewpoints. Pairing Zinn with a conservative historian like Walter Webb and then asking, “who’s right and why?”
Out the corner of my eye I saw Vanessa, a senior from my gov/econ class, walk up my ramp before throwing my door open with force. The rain from the day before had yet to subside, and the thunder sounded closer today.
“Mr. Smith,” she asked, walking inside, “can I talk to you?”
“Sure, but on the ramp,” I said, standing up. “Outside.”
Reaching the door she stopped short of the exit, standing in the doorway while tiny drops of rain ricocheted off the ramp and smacked me in the face. “Mr. Smith…” she said, unable to finish the sentence. Placing her face into her hands, she cried, deep cries, not 20 feet from where Mike had cried the day before. Loud. Louder than my music, songs about lonely views in the background.
As she cried she leaned to her left, placing all of her weight against the side of the doorway. I didn’t hug her because any contact with a female student, even one who was bawling her eyes out, scared the hell out of me. Keeping my distance physically would also keep a safe distance emotionally from whatever I was about to hear. At least, that’s what I told myself.
“Vanessa,” I said, trying to look at her from underneath her hands, “Vanessa — what’s wrong? What happened?”
She tried to tell me but couldn’t stop crying long enough to form words. Placing myself in the doorway on the left side, I leaned back and waited.
“Vanessa, it’s ok. Hey, it’s ok,” I said, expecting her to tell me some sob story about how her boyfriend fucked so-and-so at a party, and he was the love of her life, and her life is ruined, and what will she do now, and, “I WAS RAPED.”
That’s what came out of her mouth. “I was raped,” she repeated softly before breaking eye contact and looking down. The three words lingered in the doorway, sitting there, at eye-level, impatiently awaiting acknowledgement.
My immediate response was to want to get high. If you’ve never felt it, there’s no sense in explaining it.
Since getting high was out of the question with Vanessa around, I was left to deal with a young girl’s rape.
“Ohh… shit, ok,” I said, language transforming from professional educator to real person, since this was real life shit that transcended verbal propriety. “Ok, when did this happen?” I asked her.
“Yesterday morning,” she explained, listing off the names of two football players. “I had a party Saturday night and they spent the night,” she continued, “and in the morning I woke up to them forcing…” her voice trailed off.
“Ok Vanessa, I need to get you to a female counselor, like, right away,” I said. “I have to get you to a female counselor. I’ll talk to administration, you talk to…” and then my voice cut off. I didn’t know any of the female counselors, but I assumed they’d be more equiped to deal with this than I was. “Kathy. We’ll talk to Kathy.”
All I knew about Kathy was that she was a counselor who I’d seen at a few staff meetings. But surely she knew how to handle this better than I did.
“No,” begged Vanessa, “I don’t want to tell them. I don’t trust them. I don’t trust Kathy. That’s why I wanted to talk to you.”
“Look Vanessa, we have to,” I explained. “I have to. Like by law, I have to. I’m a mandated reporter. I don’t have a choice. And you need to talk to a female counselor or teacher.”
“No. Please! Why?” she yelled before I snapped back, “Because I don’t know what the fuck to say to make this better.”
Uncomfortable silence followed while we looked each other in the eyes, totally vulnerable, the two of us exposing parts of ourselves we wished we could keep hidden.
“Come on,” I said, waving her to walk with me. “Let’s go to talk to someone.” She grabbed my hand and held it as we walked down the ramp. Once we got to the bottom, I pulled my hand away because that was as close as I was going to get to this.
Leading Vanessa to Kathy’s office, I knocked on the door. “Hi Jason,” said Kathy with a giant smile, opening the door. “Are you going to the game this Friday?”
“What? I — n — I don’t know. Look, do you have a moment?” I asked, annoyed by her question. Grabbing Vanessa’s hand, I led her into the office where she began sobbing. My hand on Vanessa’s back, I explained what Vanessa had told me and then walked out the door. Two doors down, I knocked on the vice principal’s door. He waved me in.
“Hey Jason, how’s it going?” he asked, big smile. “You going to the game Friday? We’re all getting together beforehand and you’re welcome to come.”
“Umm… I’m not sure. Hey, listen, I just had a student come to me and tell me she was raped,” I said, sucking the air out of the room. “I walked her to Kathy’s office next door. I’m not sure how this works, but I need something somewhere to show that I reported this.”
He stood there, still smiling, nodding along as if I was telling him about what I did last weekend.
Listing off the names of the football players Vanessa told me had raped her, he just listened.
“Ok,” he said. “Got it.” Still smiling. Still nodding, as if to say “…anything else?”
“So… do we need to call the police?”
“We got it,” he said, sternly.
“So… that’s it?” I asked.
“Jason,” he said, this time more forcefully, wearing what looked to be a giant, plastic smile. “We’ll take care of it.”
He began walking directly toward me, forcing me to walk toward the door to avoid being crushed. Reaching his hand out, still wearing a giant smile, he asked once again, “see you at the game on Friday?”
“The game?” I asked, incredulous at the topic of a fucking football game.
As I asked the question the door closed, he on one side, me on the other. I walked past Kathy’s office where Vanessa sat crying and Kathy looked completely detached and uninterested, making me realize why Vanessa didn’t want to come to her with the information.
Finally with a second to myself, I dipped into the staff bathroom in the office after nodding a polite hello to the secretary who was always on my ass for forgetting to take roll in my classes. Reaching into my back left pocket, I pulled out a handful of yellow Norco that I usually kept on me for times like this. Every once in a while I’d be stricken with a surge of anger. Or maybe it was fear. Or anxiety. To tell the truth, I’m not exactly sure what it was I needed to numb. I just knew I needed to numb it. It hurt, not so much the feeling itself, but the degree to which I felt it.
Once again, if you’ve never felt it, there’s probably little sense in trying to explain it.
Cupping water from the sink with my right hand, I washed down 10 or 11 pills, knowing that amount wouldn’t get me high, but might, if I were lucky, make a dent in whatever the hell I was feeling. Staring into the mirror, I looked at my pupils. They were tiny, but unnoticable to a population fixated on a football game that was three days away. The vice principal’s reaction bothered me. Kathy’s demeanor bothered me. The secretary who I was certain would make a comment about taking fucking roll when I exited the bathroom bothered me. All I wanted to do was get high and disappear, something my brain would no longer allow.
I’d crossed that line, that point of no return, between wanting the drug and needing the drug. There was no going back now, not without revealing my problem and getting help. It was all of the downside of addiction — inevitable withdrawal, constantly needing more and more to not be sick — without any of the upside of feeling good.
I was fucked.
Drying my hands, I opened the door and walked through the office, trying to avoid the secretary.
“Don’t forget to take roll today,” she said, smiling.
“I’ll do my best,” I countered. “No promises.”
“You going to the game on Friday?” she asked.
I smiled and shrugged my shoulders, worried at what might come out of my mouth if I spoke.
Outside I could hear the clouds piling atop one another. The rain had momentarily ceased but the clouds were becoming darker as I exited the office and headed toward my room. The Norco did nothing but form a comfy psychological buffer, making me feel better having at least taken something.
“Mr. Smith,” I heard someone yell out behind me. “Mr. Smith — can I talk to you? You got a sec?”
Looking back, I was being chased. It was Tyler, a senior who had been in my US History class the year before. Tyler was a good kid, funny, got into trouble in everyone’s class but mine. He excelled in my class because he had an intelligence that other teachers were too lazy to find.
“Hey man, yeah, today’s a really bad day,” I explained. I was emotionally overwhelmed, having dealt with Mike and Vanessa on back-to-back days. “You want to come by tomorrow morning?”
“I can’t, dude. We need to talk. It’s about Kyle.”
Kyle was Tyler’s best friend, an introverted, quiet, very intelligent but never-say-a-word type of kid. I didn’t know Kyle that well, despite him having been in the same US History class as Tyler. It was rare for me not to get my students to open up, but Kyle was one of those kids I never seemed to be able to crack.
“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?” I snapped.
Walking briskly after me, Tyler continued. “Hey, Mr. Smith, we need to talk.”
“Not today Tyler. It’s a really bad day,” I said, continuing my march toward the sanctuary of my classroom and my music.
Tyler looked around to make sure nobody was listening before proceeding. “Dude — Kyle’s hooked on heroin,” he said in a half-whisper. “He’s hooked on heroin and I don’t know who else to tell.” He paused. “He needs help.”
Stopping dead in my tracks, I put my head in my hands. Pushing my palms hard into my eyes, I ran my hands out to my temples and down my cheeks, where I held them and tried to think, staring off into the distance and wondering what in the hell I’d done wrong to deserve all of this. Or maybe what I’d done right. I wasn’t sure.
“Heroin, huh?” I asked, but not really.
“Yeah dude, fucking heroin,” he explained, speaking quickly. “I don’t know what happened. I mean, we used to fuck with oxies and shit at parties, but I didn’t know he was fucking with that shit.”
“Come on,” I said, “watch your mouth. We’re at school. If another teacher hears you talking like that around me…”
“Sorry, I’m just really scared. He fu- he can’t stop. He says he can’t stop.”
This presented problems for me on multiple levels, not the least of which was the fact that Kyle was the son of the assistant superintendent of my school district. My boss’s boss’s boss, in the grand scheme of things — his son had a secret.
“Where is he now?” I asked.
“He’s waiting to talk to you.”
“To me?” I asked, frustrated. “Why the fu-… what is going on?”
Walking toward my classroom, Tyler sent Kyle a text, asking to meet in my room. As rain began to fall, I walked up the ramp and into my classroom where it was warm and the music had been left on, “This Velvet Glove” playing while I felt like a fraud and wanted nothing more than to tell someone all about it.
I hoped the Norco I took at the office would hit, bringing a warm blanket of euphoria with it, but deep down I knew it wouldn’t. I was stuck dealing with yet another secret while not quite high, not quite clean. I was in narcotic purgatory and I hated it.
Hearing footsteps coming up the ramp, I assumed it was Kyle and began thinking about what to say. To my surprise it was a teacher named Sam, the head of the Social Science department. He didn’t look happy.
“Hey, Jason, did you forget something?” he barked at me.
I looked over at Tyler who sat and watched, as if to say to Sam, why in the fuck are you talking to me like that in front of a student?
“I’m sorry?” I asked.
“The pep-rally. You forgot. You were supposed to help at the doors.”
Given the weight of the shit I’d been dealing with over the previous 24 hours, I sincerely gave no fucks about a pep-rally. I was at the end of my sanity, hanging on by a thread, holding onto kids whose thread had broken, being lectured about missing a goddamn pep-rally.
But I couldn’t tell Sam why I missed the pep-rally, because these things needed to be kept secret. So I took the fall.
And all this could be yours for $33,000 a year!
“My bad,” I said softly, shaking my head, just wanting to end the conversation. “I must have gotten wrapped up in grading and it just slipped my mind.”
But Sam wasn’t going to let that happen.
“Look, Jason, I don’t know who you think you are, but you’re not special. If you commit to something, you need to follow through with it. These kids need to see examples of leadership, and that’s something you’re lacking.”
I looked on and said nothing. Sam perked up a bit after my scolding, as if it made him feel better about himself.
“It won’t happen again,” was all I could muster, under my breath but loud enough for him to hear.
Looking over at Tyler he gave a nod, as if to say “how did you like that?” and left the room, descending the ramp at the exact moment Kyle was walking up.
“You want me to fuck him up?” asked Tyler, cutting the awkward silence in half and making both of us laugh.
When Kyle walked in he looked bad. Pale, skinny, head down, hair covering his eyes. He’d lost some life since the last time I saw him.
The three of us sat down and talked. Kyle told me about how he got started, messing with pills at a party. He told me about a friend who’d overdosed on heroin because it was cut with Fentanyl, and that scared him. While he told me this, I was wearing four times my prescribed amount of Fentanyl on my stomach.
Kyle cried. He was scared, and I didn’t blame him.
“I can’t tell my dad,” he begged. “I can’t.”
“Dude,” I told him, “you’re going to have to.”
“I can’t, no, fuck no, I can’t do that.” And then he paused for what seemed like forever, because deep down I knew what was coming next.
“Can you tell him for me?”
“Please, Mr. Smith, can you tell him for me?”
“Jason, have a seat,” said Robert, who seemed genuinely happy to see me. I’d only met him two or three times before, at staff in-service days, so we weren’t chummy by any means, but it was obvious that he liked me as a teacher. I hated coming here to the district office. Everything inside was new, its staff well-paid, its computers the ones we teachers would one day inherit once a new generation of electronics presented itself for bureaucratic consumption.
“Hey Robert, thanks for seeing me on such short notice.”
“Not a problem. You’re not leaving us, are you?” he said facetiously.
“No, I don’t think so. Look, Robert, I needed to talk to you about Kyle,” I said, adjusting myself uncomfortably in my seat. Sitting down Robert flashed a look of concern.
“Is everything ok?”
“I’m not sure the right way to say this, because I’m not sure there is a right way to say this, so I’m just going to say it: Robert, your son is hooked on heroin.”
He looked at me, his face not giving the slightest clue as to what he was thinking.
“He hasn’t started shooting it yet,” I continued, “which is a good thing.”
“Uhh… injecting it. Intravenously. With a needle. And a spoon. Right now he’s just smoking it, which means we may have got this in time, because it won’t be nearly as hard to kick,” I explained, unwittingly demonstrating way too much knowledge about the subject.
Robert looked off into the distance in deep thought, while I wanted to be anywhere in the world but in that seat at that moment.
Finally, Robert spoke up. “Ok… that’s bad… that’s bad, right?”
While my face communicated “did you seriously just ask me that fucking question” my mouth, thankfully, did not.
“Yesss,” I said as though I were talking to a small child. “Yes, Robert, that’s bad. Heroin is bad,” I said, half-confused, half-authoritatively, but unintentionally condescending.
The irony was, I had to get high prior to telling him that his son had a drug problem.
“So what should we do?” he asked.
“You’re asking me that question?” I shot back.
“Yes. Yes,” he said, starting to get angry, “yes I’m asking you this question. What should we do?”
“Look, Robert, I don’t have children so I’m not going to even entertain the thought that I’m qualified to give parenting advice. But in my experience, Kyle probably needs to get professional help.”
“Can you talk to his mom?” he asked, point blank.
“Wha-huh? Me? You want me to talk to his mom?”
“Yes. Yes, I’m going to have his mother call you tonight,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to do. She’s going to call you. Please make sure your phone is turned on.” And with that, his demeanor changed and he began organizing his desk, completely ignoring me. He shuffled papers that didn’t need shuffling, picked up pens that didn’t need picking up. Then he looked up, nodding, as if to suggest “that will be all. You’re dismissed.”
Standing up from my uncomfortable office chair, I walked toward the door.
“Jason,” said his secretary, smiling, just as I walked through the door, “are you going to the football game on Friday?”
I was speechless.
Without saying a word I walked out of the office, got into my car, and drove straight home with a sick feeling in my stomach.
Judging by the roar of the crowd, my school’s football team had just won the game. I didn’t attend. The week had left me emotionally drained and completely backed up on grading, so I sat on a Friday night in my classroom with my music on and a pile of papers to read.
The two boys played in the football game that night.
Mike came out of the closet that afternoon in my class. Some students giggled at the news, a classical response to an uncomfortable situation, which I was able to shut down with a simple glance in their direction. For the most part I was genuinely surprised by how respectful the kids were toward him. They were far more tolerant than their parents, with whom I was forced to sit down twice a year for Open House. The students’ reactions gave me an inkling of hope for our future.
Kyle’s parents called that week, but I’d turned my phone off. I wanted to leave an outgoing voicemail recording that said “I DON’T FUCKING KNOW WHAT YOU SHOULD DO WITH YOUR SON,” but I thought better of it. Robert and his wife eventually decided that the best course of action would be to handle it within the family. Of course, the odd man out in that situation was me. Whenever I saw Robert at staff meetings after that he was kind of cold and stand-offish, like he didn’t want much to do with the one person who knew his family secret. Fortunately for him, keeping secrets was something I was very good at.
As for Vanessa, she changed her story after talking to Kathy and the rest of the school’s administration. I don’t know what was said, how it was said, who said it — all I know is the vice principal with the plastic smile came into my room, proud of himself for something known only to him, to tell me that the whole thing was made up and the two boys were exonerated. Police were called, interviews taken, and everything, to their satisfaction, checked out. Everything was somehow supposed to just go back to the way it was before.
The two boys played in the football game that night.
And finally, of course, there was me. The whole week left me sick. Physically, I was sick to my stomach, waking up every morning and vomiting like I was pregnant. I suppose in a way, I was. I had these secrets cohabitating with my own, sitting in the pit of my stomach, festering, growing, gnawing at my psyche, invading thoughts that had nothing to do with the fiasco.
According to society, I was the crazy one for wanting to numb this feeling out. I was the one with the problem. I was the one who needed help. It was I who needed professional care, I who acted in direct opposition to socially accepted morality and ethics, I who was fucked up.
Truth is, I put a lot of drugs into my body because I didn’t want to be sick and I didn’t know how to deal with a society whose secrets were somehow more acceptable than my own.
They were the sane ones. I was the crazy one.
I was so crazy the kids chose me to come to their problems with. As I reflected on the day that would be the tipping point in my decision to stop teaching high school, and the first day of a 2-year disappearance into depression and deeper addiction, I realized something. Broken recognizes broken. Two broken souls will find each other and hang on for dear life. I wasn’t sure if it was they who clung to me, or vica versa, but we found each other. It may have been divine fate, or simply bad luck. But we found each other.
Just as I started grading another essay on Machiavelli’s “Circle of Governments,” I heard two people walking up my ramp. When the door opened I saw the face of Sam, the teacher who’d scolded me earlier that week. Behind him was my principal, Stephen, an imposing figure, standing 6’6″ with a dominant presence who I rarely saw, since he delegated most of the dirty work to the vice principals.
“Hey Jason, you have a minute?” Stephen asked. Realizing I didn’t have much of a choice, I motioned for them to sit down in two of the student desks. Stephen looked comical trying to fit into such a small desk, but he managed.
“Jason, we noticed you didn’t come to the game. Is everything ok?” said Stephen, Al looking on.
“Yeah, I’m just super backed up and had to get some work done,” I explained.
“I hear you had a busy week,” said Stephen, heavy eye-contact.
“Yeah, it was kind of nuts.”
“Well,” Sam said, breaking into the conversation, “that’s the life of a teacher.”
I flashed Sam a condescending smile that said “yeah, got it” and “go fuck yourself” at the same time. Lips together, my eyes darted back and forth between their glances, leaving a tension in the air that didn’t belong in a classroom. Finally, Stephen killed the elephant in the room with a head-shot.
“We’re not going to have any problems with any of this, are we?” he asked, “this” undefined, I imagine, to maintain plausible deniability.
A secret about keeping secrets.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I responded, slightly intimidated, slightly annoyed. I genuinely wanted to dive back into Machiavelli, something less sinister.
“Look, guys, I just want to teach. That’s it.”
Stephen smiled and glanced over at Sam, who nodded approvingly.
Standing up, both began walking toward the exit. Looking back, Stephen said, “You missed a good game.”
I nodded and raised my eyebrows, trapped inside a different kind of game. “Yeah,” I said, swallowing the word. “Sounded like it.”
“You know, Jason,” Stephen said, his back turned toward me, standing in the same exact spot where Vanessa was crying about being raped. “You really should attend the games.”
“It’s important,” he explained, “that the students know you’re on their side.”
And with that, the two of them walked off into the night, crowd still lively from the just-finished football game, leaving me, at long last, alone with my music and my drugs.
Jason Smith is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, whose work has been published extensively in both online and print media. His eclectic style ranges from personal essays to investigative reporting, drawing on his own personal travels and experiences.