Thursday, March 24, 2016

Chasing Atalanta (Chapter 4)

In the next morning, when I walked back and forth, carrying the cardboard boxes containing my books and clothes from Strummer to my room, Mom said, “Come with me to school.”

I was stupefied to hear what she just said.

“Huh?” I said.

Mom took her reading glasses off and stared at me with her piercing blue eyes that resembled mine, a sign that I was her son after all.

“Well, there are some files you need to read, this and that. Don’t worry about your teaching permit, though, because I’ve taken care of your emergency teaching permit. You can try to get the real thing next year, if you’re interested, but this emergency teaching permit will be sufficient as of now. And the whole school board can’t wait for you to teach. You know they all love you.”

I laughed mirthlessly. The school board wouldn’t mind me teaching, absolutely, because Mom could be persuasive to convince the other people if needed. And most of the school board members had known Mom longer than I did. Sometimes she just needed to wave her wand and everything would be done, just like magic.

 “It’s not like you have anything to do today.”

Way to go, Mom. She always had a reason to make me do everything she wanted, unable to reject anything she asked for.

“Yeah, whatever,” I mumbled, carrying my last box that contained my frivolous and unwanted plays that I had ever written, putting them in the attic, and letting dust and bookworm nibble them.

* * *

Rosefield High was less than 10-minute drive from my house, located in the eastern part of the town, near the border of Bursville, a township with a population of around 800. It didn’t only serve Rosefield and Bursville, but also three other townships around Rosefield, and there were 900 students attending the school, all with their tempestuous teenage hormones.

When I parked Mom’s car—she despised the idea of riding Strummer which, she said, smelled like a mixture of cigarette and alcohol. Sorry, Mom, I was never your golden boy—in faculty’s parking lot, I felt out of place. It wasn’t my first time being in faculty’s parking lot, actually. Back when I was in high school, Mom and Dad dropped Patricia and me in the same parking spot, looking exactly like an ideal American family. My mother had been a principal of the school as far as I could remember. She loved this school so much that she had delayed her retirement age over and over. And the faculty and school board members all had mutual feeling for her.

The school’s building was really uninspiring, to be honest. It was made of red bricks, really typical for an American high school building, which were arranged orderly until the second floor. Vines of ivies crawled to the roof. Its window trims and main entrance were painted white. Rose shrubs were planted around the building primeter, sometimes they grew really tall and reached the windows. The school’s front yard were a wide grassy area where school sign made of slate with ROSEFIELD HIGH SCHOOL—HOME OF THE WOLVES written on it. A pair of fir trees stood sturdily in the most front part of the yard, guarding the path leading to the main entrance, like two giant sentries. The spot beneath the trees was usually used as lunch spot for popular kids and their cliques back then. I used to spend my lunchtime there, another thing that I could rub in Phil’s face. The sports facilities, football field, and gym were all located in the behind of the students’ parking lot. For a school in small town like Rosefield, Rosefield High was actually kind of flashy.

I followed Mom, with her gray blazer and her high heels that made intimidating click-clacking sound, to her office in which I had already spent so much time, especially because I had to wait for her after school in my freshman year or because I had skipped Calculus class too often in my senior year.

A familiar face greeted me when I entered Mom’s office. Linda Johnson, our school’s secretary, a middle-aged black woman who had been Mom’s secretary long before I went to high school stood up, smiling from ear to ear, flashing her pearly white teeth. My mind flew back to James from Tim Hortons in Sylvania.

“Good morning, Mrs. Tucker,” said Mrs. Johnson. Mom replied in hum before disappearing to her room. “Patrick, it’s been a long time!”

She stepped out of her desk, approaching me. She tried hard to hug me, and I stooped so that she could reach and pat my shoulders.

“Hi, Mrs. J!” I grinned. She was my partner in crime when I must spend boring hours to wait for Mom after school, or when I must sneak in some girls from Twin Lake to Homecoming dance.

“Cut the crap, Patrick. You’re going to teach here, we’re in same level now. Just call me Linda. It’s really great to see you again here,” she said. Her face bloomed. “Look at you! Still as hot as ever.”

A sheepish grin escaped from my lips. Only Mrs. Johnson would only say ‘hot’ like teenagers. I guessed she had too much exposure to these juveniles.

“Well, you look hot as well, Mrs. J. You haven’t changed a bit,” I said.

She blushed then went back to her desk and I came in Mom’s room. Its decoration was still the same as the last time I went here in my senior. It had become my favorite hangout due to the amount of time I had spent here. Mrs. Hoffman, my Algebra and Calculus teacher, was my nemesis since freshman year because my gray matters wouldn’t work every time I faced nonsense numbers combined with words. She always compared me with Phil and said, “Phil always got a hundred percent in my class. I know you have the potential.” Feeling sick of the comparison, I decided not to care anymore and skipped most of her class during my senior. She didn’t hesitate to send me to Mom who gladly cut my allowance every time she saw my face in her office. By the time I finished high school, I only got ten bucks a week. She then lectured me about the importance of attending class and Calculus in real life. As if finding limit could help me find cure for AIDS. Luckily, Mrs. Hoffman was retired three years ago and she enjoyed her retirement with her husband in Bursville now. Mom told me this three Christmases ago and I remembered letting out a relief sigh.

Mom sat in her big swivel chair. Her blond hair—which she gave me to me, winning from Dad’s brown hair in gene pool—looked messy as her eyeballs moved frantically, looking for something from her drawers. She opened and closed the drawers, rummaging their contents, sometimes blurting out frustrated sigh.

I looked around Mom’s office. It was all in brown, including the carpet beneath my feet, except for a pot of schefflera in the corner of the room whose leaves were green. A wooden bookshelf stood on the opposite corner mostly containing dull books, such as school district’s rules or Michigan history. Plethora of framed certificates for Mom or this school were hung on the walls. Mom hung our family picture behind her back. It was taken ten years ago on my graduation day, when Dad was still as healthy as I could remember. It pierced my heart, though, to see she hung that picture as if she still believed that her husband was still fit and let other people who came to the office believe the same thing.

When Mom finally found what she had been searching, pile of paper towered in front of us and a briefcase lay on the table. Wearing her reading glasses, she read each paper briefly.

“This is this year’s handbook,” she said, handing me the briefcase and a thin book with gray wolf on its cover. I skimmed it and recalled my own handbook. There was no major change, except for the year. “This is the faculty and staff directory, and then this is state’s teaching guide and rule, Rosefield’s rule as well, and a copy of emergency teaching permit. There’s no name on it because it’s issued to the school, but in case you need it. This is the list of requirements to get provision certificate in Michigan if you want to teach permanently. Just ask if you need anything.”

I was overwhelmed with all these papers, trying to skim them one by one. Giving up, I slipped them hastily in the briefcase. She talked with so much fervor, as if I had decided to teach permanently here. To be honest I hadn’t given it a thought at all. I just knew I would teach for a year, to substitute Ms. Trayton who had to move to Florida. I had no idea what I was about to do beyond this year. If I didn’t want to do it, they probably would cancel Drama class. There was no Drama ten years ago until Ms. Trayton came five years ago.

“Jessica will give you her curriculum guide,” she said, resting her chin on her hands, her face beaming light, looking elated because her son finally had a stable job. “Want to look around with me?”

“Mom, I had lived in this school for four years. I don’t need your company,” I blurted, but she was as obstinate as ever. After closing and locking her drawers in, she stood up and pushed me out of her office. Mrs. Johnson winked at me.

Walking in the school hall where gray lockers stood on its either side gave me nostalgic feeling. Man, people said that high school was the best time of your life, and I wouldn’t deny it. Looking at the graduation banner that hadn’t been put down made my chest ache. I had such a great time in high school, spending all my success tokens, and now I ran out of them.

Few students who attended the summer school walked in the hall and looked at us amusingly. They probably wondered what an old man like me did in the school with the principal.

Mom took me to the faculty office which I had visited a few times. The air conditioner was set too cold, giving me chilling sensation. The TV was turned on, showing day-time soap opera. There were only four people in the room, all sat in the couch with red cup on their hands. They all gazed intently into the screen, including Mr. Bradbury.

A young woman whom I had never seen before finally took notice of us. She rose and came up to us. “Hi, Principal. Is it the famous Patrick?”

She had wavy brown hair and she wore a school-board-approved summer dress. She extended her hand, and I gave her a gentle handshake.

“Samantha Madison, but call me Sam. I’m teaching social studies. I’ve been teaching here for five years.”

“Patrick Tucker. Drama,” I replied, suddenly feeling so stupid.

“Hey, Tucker! Good to have you back here!” Mr. Bradbury shouted, lifting his red cup, as if he toasted to me. He glanced at Mom and said, “No, I’m not talking to you, Melissa.”

Mom smiled wryly and Mr. Bradbury stood up. He was a tall man, probably six-feet two, but now I had a good two inches on him. He had more wrinkles because he had read many stupid essays too often. He might be long in the tooth, but his enthusiasm was still there.

“What’s up, Mr. Bradbury?” I asked.

“I’m good, Tucker, very good,” he chuckled, nodding his head. “When Melissa said that you will teach here, I am really happy. Finally there’s someone who deserves to replace me.”

“Um, Sir, I only will teach Drama.”

“Yeah, that’s what you know,” he whispered.

Mrs. Tannous, my home economics teacher, also shook my hand. I had never taken her class before, but I’d seen her quite often. Mrs. Thomas, my Chemistry teacher, smiled at me. I’d never screwed up in her class, but I wasn’t someone who you called bright in Chemistry either, so each of us didn’t leave such an impression.

 “I thought Jessica would be here,” said Mom.

“Nah, I haven’t seen her all day. Have you tried her office?” replied Mr. Bradbury, filling his cup from water dispenser.

“Patrick and I just arrived,” Mom answered. “Edward, I need to talk to you. You know Jessica’s office, Pat? It’s in the auditorium’s back room.”

I almost said, “The room where people make out?”, but kept silent.

“Yeah, I know.” I shrugged then reached for the exit door, hearing Mr. Bradbury—who was also principal assistant—groaning as Mom told him something. “See you later, everyone.”

School auditorium was in the left wing of the building, near the English department, where medals and trophies were flaunted inside huge glass displays. Pictures of sports and choir teams from sixty years of this school’s age were hung in the auditorium’s wall like a necklace.

There was nobody when I stepped in the auditorium. The sound of my shoes hitting the varnished wooden floors echoed in the empty room, as if I had been the lone survivor of zombie apocalypse that took place outside there. I traced each pictures on the wall, trying to imagine how they felt when they won. Some were still in black and white. They looked ancient, but their smiles were timeless. I passed pictures from 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s until I reached my last three years of high school. I joined the varsity football team in my sophomore year, and Dad always stood among us in three pictures I had been on. In my senior year, wearing my jersey number twelve, I grinned widely and felt really proud. That’s when we were runner-up division in state championship. That was the best experience in my life, you know, standing in the middle of Ford Field, presumptuously feeling that nothing would get in my way, feeling I could conquer the world. Even if we just came in second place, that was our best placement since being champion in our division more than thirty years ago. Since then, we only played in state playoff—sometimes we even couldn’t get past local conference. Coming in second place was our best placement, and that’s why Dad looked so blithe on the picture, moreover when I was shortlisted as one of the best players in the division, hence I could get that sports scholarship. But, ten years had passed, my Friday night lights had been turned out, and life had moved on. Look at me now.

The room where people used to make out sneakily was located behind the stage, which was only used by choir team for their spring performance before Ms. Trayton came. I guessed the stage was now used to perform their drama as well.

There was no answer when I knocked the door. It looked empty.

Because I didn’t want to see Mom in her office, I decided to get out of auditorium and walked through the back door to football field. Training session usually began in August, so it was not surprising to see only three students running in the track encircling the field. I sat in the bleachers, gawking distantly at the green field, imagining Dad standing in the middle of the field, blowing his whistle, cursing each of us who drenched in sweat.

Ten years were such a long time, and no one knew what was going to happen in the next ten years. I mean if someone came up to me ten years ago and he said that Dad would spend most of his time in bed and would never be able to scream at us, I will tell him to fuck off.

A chime from my phone interrupted my woolgathering. It was from Mom who wanted me to take her to grocery store. Sighing, I rose up and walked to the parking lot. 

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