Crap, y’all… this is a pathetic story. Not in the typical Sherry had to be carried home from the bar or fell in love with her Starbuck’s barista kind of way. Its pathetic in a truly sad and loser kind of way. To set this up correctly, I have to offer a fairly lengthy back story. So here goes.
My junior year of high school, we were reading “A Light in August” by William Faulkner. It was January and we’d been back to school about 3 weeks when all this went down. My English teacher my junior year was Mr. B. (since I don’t actually have his permission to use his name, we’ll just call him Mr. B.) He was and remains my favorite teacher of all time. His wife taught me 6th grade math and she didn’t get that title. I mean, hell, my mother was my teacher and she didn’t get that title… but Mr. Bill B. still holds the title. For this particular unit they combined two classes. Mr. B taught one group that selected to read “The Invisible Man” and another teacher, who shall remain nameless was teaching “A Light in August.”
Right now, you might be saying to yourself: “Self, this is one of the most boring blogs ever.” But I promise… stick with me… I’ll get to the point. You’ll soon understand why I am a big ol jackwagon.
Back to the backstory – It’s late January and I am reading Faulkner. There is a strict rule in our little Honors English class about absences… even if you are out … you still take the test when you return because you can be sick and read. Logical, right?
Here’s where the story gets trickier. One Saturday morning in January my father died suddenly. I missed the next week of school. I can assure you that at no point during my week away from school did picking up a textbook much less picking up an effing Faulkner book ever enter my mind.
So we wade through the funeral, the calls, the weird looks, the Meemaw that loses her mind and the slew of other awkward interactions with people we barely knew that were grief-stricken too. One week later, I return to the hallowed halls of Plano Senior High School. I had English 2nd period. I don’t remember what I had first period… but I remember still feeling numb to the people staring at me in the halls. I remember wishing that I could just ignore school and go home to emotionally eat the freezer full of casseroles that awaited me. I remember how awkward teenagers were even more awkward around me now… they wanted to be kind but had no idea how. I had a group of friends that had been at the funeral and with me for parts of the week. So there was a group of a few people who had gotten over the weirdness of my situation. It helped that they just kind of pushed me from class to class and my friend Jordan went behind me to my teachers and got my assignments and when things were due.
Anyway, so 2nd period English begins. The teacher who shall remain nameless starts our class by preparing to distribute our tests for “A Light in August”. This I remember pretty clearly. I stood at the front of the room next to her desk, waiting for her to acknowledge me, so she could tell me when I needed to take the make up test. She, like most teachers ignored me until she was good and ready. Which was when everyone had their tests on their desks and were quietly starting them. She finally addressed me in the silence of the classroom.
She asked, in that special teacher voice “What can I do for you Miss Woodard, shouldn’t you be starting your exam – its quite long and you’ll need the full hour to complete it.” I just stared at her. Didn’t she know who I was? Didn’t she know where I had been? Hadn’t she noticed that I wasn’t in class for a full week? I simply replied “Well, I was out last week.”
Now, its important to understand that as confident as I might seem to you now; the idea of standing in front of a room full of kids my age and having to announce that I was now really different from everyone else in the room and had this weird thing happen to me was absolutely appalling.
I also didn’t know what I was supposed to do or how I was supposed to act. The funeral home peeps – oh, they walk you through the whole funeral… you know down to the minute what is going to happen. They walk you through everything. Hell, they even rearrange everything and escort you through special doors and hallways because you don’t want to see your father. Everyone else will see him, and they’ll make a room of hundreds wait, while they close his coffin. Escort you through a different area – just to avoid a remotely uncomfortable experience for you. Then the minister walks you through the faith part and delivers a eulogy filled with your stories and memories of your father. Then your mom gets you a therapist to help you with the rest and prescribe you some pills. But no one walked me through how to tell people or teachers at school about it. No one explains what is acceptable “make up work policies” for being out for a week and then numb and partly brain-dead for the next 6 months. No one tells you how to point out that a big giant part of your head is somewhere else and that you really don’t give a shit about physics. There are other people who will figure out why a ball drops at the same speed as a penny.
I mean, shit, didn’t they all know already. My mother had been a teacher in the district for 25 years. I was a pretty popular kid. Hadn’t some kind of memo gone out or maybe they announced it after the pledge and lunch menu.
“Today, we will be having square pizza, corn and wacky cake. And please don’t stare at Sherry Woodard – she is still the same person. It was her FATHER that died. Not her. Please feel free to grab her homework for her and do it cause she is gonna be staring at blank pieces of paper for about the next 4 years of her life. Also, tickets are on sale in the cafeteria for tonight girls’ volleyball game against Lewisville. So, come on out and support your Lady Wildcats.” I really don’t think that would have been too much to ask. Anyway, I digress.
Before I can really respond, the teacher who shall remain nameless pretty much lit into me by explaining the rule about reading even when you are absent and that I would still have to take the test. I had no idea how to respond. So I simply walked back to my desk… I figured I would just take it and fail. I mean my dad had always been the one that was insane about grades. I was sure my mother would understand that I would have to repeat my junior year of English. It might sting her pride a little bit, you know her being an English teacher and all… but she’d get it over it. She had bigger fish to fry right now… like how to pay a mortgage and college tuition for my sister. The extra year to save up for my college might actually be appreciated.
However, the story is about to take a dramatic turn. Because in that class, was one of those friends that had been at the funeral. She was a little more than an acquaintance then but we ran in the same circles. Last year, I was a bridesmaid in her wedding and she remains to this day one of my most beloved friends. Our close friendship started at this very moment because back then, Kathy Williams had a mean temper and she was some kind of pissed off on my behalf. No one got to be mean to me in front of people just 5 days after I buried my father. It was glorious. She stomped up to the front of the room, with my test paper in hand and advised the teacher that shall remain nameless that I should not take the test and that she really should talk to Mr. B, immediately. She then escorted that teacher to the office to see my normal English teacher, Mr. B.
I don’t know what Kathy said inside the office and I don’t even think she knows. All I know is a very red-faced teacher that shall remain nameless, Mr. B. and Kathy quickly exited. Mr. B asked me to come into his office. Everyone in the room was riveted. Everyone was staring at me. There were awkward apologies from the evil teacher that shall remain nameless. At least I think there were, I can’t be sure as I was still thinking about how maybe they could make that announcement that I needed at the girls volleyball game that night…
But this is what Mr. B. said to me that day… he bestowed on me a simple act of kindness that no other teacher gave me upon my return. Compassion. He simply looked at me and said,
“Sherry, Faulkner is hard enough to read without the challenges you currently face. I am going to calculate your grade without this test . I hope someday you’ll finish “A Light in August” as it truly is a wonderful book.”
Its part of why he still holds the title.
With of all that background, there is a bit more perspective I need to give before I can actually make my point. This year my mother retires from teaching after 38 years. I think 27 of them were in Plano… at the same school with Mr. B.’s wife. Tomorrow night, along with my sister and my mother’s husband I am hosting a retirement party for my mother.
Mr. B. has RSVPed yes.
In the 17 years since he bestowed that kindness on me… I have never once even cracked the spine on “A Light in August” much less any other stream of consciousness bullshit from Faulkner. So I am in a panic now. I am a big giant a-hole.
Do you think I could listen to the audio version by the party tomorrow at 4 pm? Do they still make Cliff’s Notes?
I am seventeen years late repaying a genuine act of kindness. Perhaps this is the karma that’s been biting me in the ass for all these years…