If you were to come to Long Beach, California. And… if you were to meet the many students I have taught… you would find that they have all been trained to remember two things:
1. That Ms. Wood wants to die in a way that is as entertaining as she lived and…
2. That they… my students… are to steal my body after my death, bring it to the top of the football bleachers (Which I have always been deathly afraid of falling down) and kick my body down the steps, roll it onto the football field, light it on fire, and shout “Valhalla!” dancing with glee, before they must run away… prior to the cops arrival at the scene. I have reiterated many times, that I prefer they wear political masks: George Bush, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher… although Dick Cheney would be nice… but whatever they all agree on… is fine by me.
I swear that I am NOT exaggerating.
They will say, my little educational minions, that, “Ms. Wood wants to be as entertaining when she dies as she lived and I’m to throw her down the football bleachers.” They may or may not say the word “Valhalla” correctly, but… someone from AP or Honor’s English will have written down the directions word-for-word in one of their highly organized little notebooks and saved it for years, just so the plan should go off, I imagine, without a hitch.
A+ for everyone!
Mortality is something I often like to remind them of… it’s just my way of keeping life in perspective. Just a couple of nights ago in fact, at graduation, they were all talking about how much they were going to miss me after they left school. “No you won’t,” I said. “Oh you say that now, but you will all go off into the world, begin to live your lives, and I’m the one that’s left behind. And then one day… you’ll think to yourself, I wonder what happened to Ms. Wood? and you’ll Google my name and find out that I’m dead.
“Nooooooooooo!” They all cried in horror, their shock at my statement palpable as I laughed hard and made jokes about how by the time I was ready to die, the genetic engineers of the world would have created some type of scientific wonder that would just surgically transplant my brain into a new younger version of my body. They sighed and giggled and seemed relieved to believe that I would live forever… but that’s just not the way the system works. You may think I’m being cruel teasing them… but honestly… I want them to keep the idea of “infinite” time in perspective.
So, it was no surprise that one day during Period Five, God decided to give me a taste of my own medicine.
We had been talking about civil rights beginning in the 1800’s with Thoreau… moving to the early 1900’s with Gandhi… and ending with MLK and Cesar Chavez’s civil rights work.
I had decided that it was imperative that they watched the film Gandhi and to my surprise, my students were actually into it.
They were all focused intently on the large movie screen… watching… silent… as I quietly sat in the back corner behind my desk enjoying an afternoon snack of salted almonds. I was mid-bite during a scene that showed Gandhi wasting away on one of his many well-known hunger strikes, when I choked and while sucking in a big breath of air to recover, actually lodged a salted almond in my windpipe. There was a moment of silent panic when I realized I really was choking and I was going to have to be Heimlich’d.
Now, something you must know about young adult education: any and all words or thoughts that resemble anything close to bathroom humor are remembered forever. So though we all appreciate the idea of the “Heimlich” maneuver in high school… “the hind lick” is of course, it’s comic counterpart.
Now, add that to the fact that Ms. Wood is in the corner, choking to death on “nuts” and you can see how this situation is becoming comically tragic. Even in my desperate moment of complete panic, I felt the world stop. Suddenly… my mind imagined a gigantic Jesus, shining in all of his glory, looking down at me with a wry smile on his face saying, “You wanted to be as entertaining in your death as you were in your life remember? Well, how do you like this scenario now, Sinner?”
My panic intensified.
Jesus was right.
Now I was going to be remembered as the teacher who “choked on nuts because the hind lick didn’t work.”
I rose quietly and quickly from my seat, as to not disturb my class, and rushed through the back of the room and slipped silently out the classroom door.
My room, a bungalow with a ramp and a rail leading up to it, led me to believe that if I could just get to the railing, I could Heimlich myself without disturbing my class and everything would be fine.
I readied myself as I held my fist tightly against my abdomen and jabbed upward several times sharply while slamming myself full force against the railing. After several seriously painful blows, the almond flew out onto the asphalt and I vomited the rest of my snack while hanging over the rail, drool dripping in long strings as I spit and worked to catch my breath.
When I looked up, I saw that there was a student standing out on the ramp of the bungalow across from mine, totally calm, not even disturbed by what he had just witnessed, texting rapidly to, I have no idea who but, being forever the teacher, afraid that I had just scarred a pupil for life, composed myself as I wiped my mouth and said, “Sorry about that. Are you okay?”
His head didn’t even come up from his task, “I’ve seen worse he mumbled.”
I shrugged my shoulders to myself thinking, Yeah… me too as we both stood there in silence for several moments… me recovering my composure and the student, intent on his work.
After a bit, I righted myself and moved towards the door.
“Hey,” the student shouted out. “What did you choke on?”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I could have ignored him. I could have said any number of foods. But… I felt that I needed my suspicions confirmed and so… I answered honestly.
“Nuts,” I said.
He raised his head up from the text, trying to keep his amused expression from breaking before he laughed… which can only be described as a “Beavis and Butthead” guffaw, and said, “Nuts? I’m sorry Ms. Wood, but that’s fucking funny.”
I rolled my eyes and went back into my classroom where thankfully, Gandhi’s hunger strike was coming to an end, my students were totally engaged in the action on the big screen and still had no idea that I had exited the room, let alone almost just died, on the bungalow ramp.
And to be honest, if they had known, they would have been quite angry with me because I have made a deal with them. Yes… a deal. Basically, an amendment to the Ms. Wood Death Clause.
The amendment states: that if I die in the classroom, during class time, they are allowed to roll my dead body under the large table in the back of the room, hiding it, so that they can have a party “sans adults” until they have to report my death to the office at the end of the school day.
I think that’s fair.
I mean really… they should be allowed to unwind a bit if a teacher actually up-and-dies mid-class.
I walked back to my desk and thought… How beautifully ironic: Me, choking on nuts as Gandhi’s hunger strike comes to an end.
Could the story have been any better?
So at the end of the period, I broke down and knew that I had to share it. I told Period Five the truth and as I predicted they were totally in shock that all of this had happened during their class time and that they had missed it.
Of course… they also made me call Nurse Erlandson to make sure that I really was okay. She suggested that I might want to see the doctor after school to have my windpipe checked, which, I actually did.
And now, today, I wonder… is the moral of this story, “Be careful what you wish for?” or… “Stop eating so much, get a fucking clue, look at Gandhi?”or… “Be prepared… know the “Hind Lick?”
I’m not really sure… in the grand scheme of things maybe it really wasn’t a big deal: I’m just glad that today… I’m still here.
And what about the student who witnessed my near demise? Well, I spent the remainder of that year running into him in various odd locations of the campus; as if God was putting him in front of me purposely to remind me of my little prank.
Each time I would see him, he would wave, smile, as if we were the best of friends and then… just when he was whisper close he would say, “Nuts” and then giggle like an idiot as he shook his head and walked away.
I loved him for it: I truly did.
Totally loved him.