Even the Plaster Raccoon is Smiling
As I drove by her house I didn't have the nerve to drop off the letter. There were no cars in the driveway, I could have totally gotten away with it clean, it never would've come back on me, but Rachel was right I just couldn't do it. I guess she'll never know how much I really hate her. You would never guess that the letter clutched in my hand is so full of vile and anger based on the plain white envelope. The envelope looks so pedestrian, so normal. You would look at it and think, “Oh have my insurance rates gone up again?” It would never occur to you to look at such a plain white case and think ‘Inside this envelope is proof that you ruined an entire year of life for two small children.” The letter said:
You probably don't even remember me. I was in your third grade class at Seabeck Elementary School. You nearly destroyed my life. You were the worst teacher in the world. You made me think I was a moron. You told my mother I probably have dyslexia or maybe even some form of mental retardation. You suggested that my parents have me diagnosed immediately by a doctor, you told them this right in front of me as if I would be too stupid to even understand the words so I couldn't possibly be hurt by them, it's not as if I'm a real human being or anything. I was a 60-pound eight-year-old and at that moment you destroyed me. My heart felt like it had stopped and in that moment in time I felt worthless. Of course my mother took me home and told me that it was ridiculous. She told me you didn't know what on earth you were talking about. She told me I was smart as a whip and that sometimes there's just people who have strong opinions based on nothing that you just need to learn how to get along with them. It would take me years to realize that you are not a bad teacher; you're just a bad person.
The letter goes on to mention ten specific events from that year. I reminded her of the voting incident in December where all the children in the classroom got to vote whether or not you earned your self-manager badge. The children were expected to stand in front of the classroom, and she would say something like “Children do you think Hunter has shown the qualifications to become a self manager? Is he polite? Does he get his work done on time?” Then all of the 8 to 10-year-olds in the classroom were tasked with voting, hands in the air, deciding the fate of one of their own. I was a shy awkward child with few friends so needless to say I did not get my self-manager badge. I remember clearly standing up in front of the classroom and staring at the children's faces, very few children were looking back, because almost nobody had their hand up. It was one of the most degrading experiences of my life. In the letter I wrote a couple of bad words asking who the F she thought she was to put an eight-year-old through that. I don't mention in the letter I have a twin brother in the same classroom because, unlike Bainbridge Island, Seabeck had very few sets of twins, and I was afraid she might figure out who I was. Pathetic isn't it? I'm 15 years old, and I'm still afraid of my third-grade teacher. As if she has any authority to get me in trouble somehow.
My friend was driving further down the road with both of her hands at ten o'clock two o'clock on the wheel. I am almost 14 months younger than Rachel, and I do not have my license yet. My brother and I were always the youngest people in every classroom. I often wondered if my parents sent us to kindergarten when we were four because they needed the daycare not because we were so smart.
Rachel started to turn around once we hit the end of the road in a cul-de-sac and head back towards Ms. Andrews’ house. We had only been driving for a few minutes since I was too wimpy to drop off the letter and yet somehow Mrs. Andrews and her husband have arrived home and were unloading Target bags from the hatchback of their little blue car. Rachel wanted to speed by, but I told her to stop in front of a large overgrown bush next to the neighbors house. I watched them unload the car, bag after bag, and I was shocked to see that this task seemed so normal. I don't know what I expected to witness that day. I've never been to her house before and looking at it now it seemed inviting and warm. There was a little garden gnome that look like a plaster raccoon that had a big smile. They were tasteful flowers in a big pot next to the front stairs and a little sign that said, “An old fisherman lives here with the catch of his life.” I can only assume the catch of his life would be Mrs. Andrews. Mrs. Andrews looked small, almost frail, not exactly the demon I remember. She had let her hair go completely gray, and she was wearing an adult version of the Catholic school uniform with a plaid skirt, a white shirt and a blue blazer. Looking at her now reminded me of the scene in Lord of the Flies where Simon came out of the woods. Everybody thought he was a monster because that is what they expected to see. Rachel was looking at me nervously.
She knew where Mrs. Andrews lived because they attended the same church. That fact hadn't resonated with me until this exact moment. Mrs. Andrews went to church with my best friend Rachel. Rachel and her family would never pick a church that was full of demons, would they? I went through the checklist in my mind of every horrible deed this hideous woman had done to me in third-grade. The ten I listed were only the worst offenses in the letter, there were plenty more. Ms. Andrews is old, she lives in a double wide trailer, she lives with the man who likes her enough to put up a sign declaring it and she goes to church. I started to assess this new information that driving to her house had provided me.While I sat there figuring out who this person was the last bags were brought inside the house and I heard the click of the car doors locking by remote. Rachel looked at me expectantly and I crushed the letter and my hand. She laughed and said, “Told you!” I bought Rachel frozen yogurt for the fools errand I sent us on that day and we never talked about it again. If I had to write a new letter it would start:
Dear Ms. Andrews,
Thank you for inspiring me to find my voice. Thank you for the unforgettable memory of the moment you gave up on me. Horrible though it was to hear those words, it empowers me to this day to stay strong in difficult times and reminds me to never give up.