I’d always wanted to teach high school English. But to teach you needed a degree, and I’d dropped out of college years ago. To work. Then came the restaurant. Marriage. But I never stopped wondering…
Now at thirty-seven, my wife urged me to go for it. She actually stood behind this crazy dream of mine. So began the journey. I sold the restaurant, broke even, got a loan and a night job. Then I went back to school.
My launch for the stars began at community college. College Composition–it may as well have been daycare. These kids. Babies. With neon clothes and comback fashion from the early nineties. I took a seat near the back, thankful that at least half my load was online.
I gawked, Kowalski style, at this kid wearing headphones big enough to work an airport runway. Others were stuck to phones, scrolling like bots, mindless and dead. The professor hardly seemed to notice.
The next class was more of the same. I’m about to walk. They communicated through a string of heavy sighs and facial expressions? Emoticons? How could I teach them? English.
In the parking lot, I trudged, head down, crushed by the apathy in the classroom. The entitlement. The lack of discussion. Everyone was consumed with themselves. Beside my truck, a young Hispanic girl was leaning against a Honda, the obligatory phone to her ear, talking with her hands. Her front tire was flat—surely an apocalyptic scenario for any member of this helpless generation. I tossed my books in my truck and approached.
It killed me how these kids jumped when you spoke to them, human contact being such an antiquated notion. I plodded on.
“Do you need help with your tire?”
She set those brown puddle eyes on me. Like I was dense. She whispered into the phone. The overwhelming distrust in her stare was enough to send me packing. Fine, I was done. I was only trying to help.
“I don’t have a jack.”
I turned. She had a slight accent, with an edge. A closer look and I noticed a baby seat in the back. Books in the front. I took a breath. Dismounted my high horse.
She popped the trunk. Stroller, clothes, aprons, laundry in bags. Waitressing shoes worn to the soles. I immediately recognized the smell of a kitchen. Underneath, a spare tire. But no jack.
I used mine, ratcheting up the small, dented car while she made all sorts of calls. She was late…yes the car was running…no the tire…as soon as she could…yes…someone was helping…she’d be there soon…take her to work…yes…she was late for her shift too…give Lucas a kiss…
I got the spare on and things tightened up. I stood, rolled the donut to the trunk with my deflated superiority. It wasn’t distrust I’d seen but surprise. From the sound of things she had no help at all.
She gushed. Asked if I was a professor. I chuckled, said I was a student and she her smile brightned. Then she was gone, rushing off to get people places. To squeeze what she could from the day.
I had a lot to learn before I could teach.