Getting in a Fight with Stephen, Somewhere in Kansas in Front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, While on a Cross-Country Road Trip

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I had been married to my X for almost twenty years and NEVER took him on a road trip.

Never.

The idea of bringing a man on a road trip seemed absolutely ridiculous to me.

My road trips were private matters.

I wanted to be completely alone.

If I wanted to listen to music… I did.

If I wanted it completely silent in the car for hours on end… it was.

This was my NO MAN’s land.

My best story ideas, song ideas, and big thoughts on life and spiritual matters came to me on my road trips.

Highway 10 from Long Beach to Santa Fe New Mexico… alone… silent… could solve a host of problems that couldn’t be solved by thinking about them at home.

And so… it was with great reluctance that I allowed Stephen to join me.

Stephen… summer of 2007… one year into our friendship.

And how… you must be wondering… did I allow myself to cave?

Well…he said, “I’ve never been on a road trip before.”

“Never?” I said. “Not even with your guy friends?”

“Nope,” and then his shoulders slumped and he made a little sad face. “Never.”

And since I cared for Stephen… and knew the value of a good road trip in a person’s life… my heart felt for him and so I invited  him to come along.

Of course, once I invited him… I immediately started saying things to get him to back out. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to let someone in… be close… give up my private experience.

“You know…” I told him. “I do what I want on the road. I don’t set a destination. I don’t go to any specific location. I drive as long as I want… I sleep in small motels in off beat towns. And I’ve NEVER taken a man with me before,” I paused here for emphasis. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He nodded his head… excited to be invited on a road trip and I knew this would be a turning point in our friendship… we would either survive this road trip together and be bonded for life, or we would burn out somewhere close to Albuquerque with Stephen shouting at me to “STOP THE CAR” before kicking the door shut, flipping me off, and hitching a ride to the closest airport where he would fly home, never to be seen again… Maybe even silently “wishing me the best” (the ultimate fuck you really) before boarding a plane and drinking as many cocktails allowed on the two and a half hour flight home to Los Angeles while praying that I would die in a fiery car crash somewhere outside of Nashville.

I sighed.

Weeks went by and Stephen excitedly planned for his big adventure. I saw him programming a GPS and I actually started to sweat. I NEVER used a GPS… that was cheating… I felt anxious… but I sucked it up each time I saw him pore over a map… his reading glasses high on his face… his eyes looming large… magnified through the glass as he fantasized about all of his future destinations and scribbled furiously… little notes and words in his mini notebook.

“What’s that?” I asked one day.

“I’m preparing,” he said with pure glee.

I looked at him as if he were a bad student in my class. “Don’t,” I said sternly, my face stone. “Just stop.”

He looked at me as if I was speaking some foreign language it almost seemed he was ignoring me…. before he went back to poring over his maps and scribbling furiously.

This is a mistake I thought. We’re going to be in a fight before we even get out of L.A. county.

But I held my tongue, shocking I know, but I did and when the day arrived for us to leave, Stephen was prepared.

It looked like I had the ultimate Boy Scout ready to set off with me… wait, strike that, let’s make him an Eagle Scout.

I have never seen anyone so organized for a trip. He even had his passport in case we decided to cross a border.

Jesus.

We left Long Beach at 4 am, stopped at a drive-thru Starbucks for coffee and were on the road and on our way to Maine.

California to Maine…. one of the best drives ever…

There is nothing like watching the sun come up from the highway. It is one of my all time favorite moments in life.

Me.

The car.

The road.

Complete silence as the skyline goes from jet black to a purple opaque with a hint of orange, before the sun bursts into bright yellow streaks and illuminates the blue sky.

Only… that’s not what happened.

What happened was TOOL was blasting from the speakers as Stephen bobbed his head to the music, tapped his foot against the dash, drank his coffee with gusto and I sat in silence, big headed baby, pouting… as I drove the car.

I was miffed. Distraught. But Stephen was so pleased to be on a road trip… I kept quiet.

I headed for highway 70… it is a beautiful path… not stark beauty like the 10… which is actually quite a lonely road… the 70 is America in all of it’s patch work glory.

Coming over the pass into Colorado… the river running along side it… boxed in by mountains… until you rise again and see the Great Plains laid out before you… it is a drive that makes the traveler a hopeless romantic.

And Stephen said, “I thought you were taking the 10?”

I tried not to make a face.

“I’ve programmed my GPS for the 10,” he said in a pitiful whine of a voice.

“Well,” I said. “Unprogram.”

I could see that he was bent.

Perturbed.

Annoyed.

And I thought… don’t you dare… don’t you dare…. who are you to be any of those things on my road trip?

We drove all the way to Vegas without a word… Stephen heavy metal thumping while I looked out the window and prayed for the audio system to fail.

By the time we hit the plateau above Grand Valley, Colorado… I wasn’t sure if we would make it through the next two weeks but then the road opened up, the view down was amazing, and Stephen turned off the music which left Colorado ahead of us, and a quiet car to take in the beauty.

The rest of the day was really uneventful… as was the next…. we discovered a common love of SIRIUS’s stand up comedy channel and laughed all the way to Kansas where things then took a turn for the worse.

We were tired from driving… hours and hours of travel… when we finally started looking for a hotel room around 10 o’clock at night.

This is when we heard two words that I never imagined could be so dreaded:

State Fair.

“What?” I asked.

Then there were three dreaded words:

Kansas State Fair.

Shit.

Every hotel within 100 miles of the Kansas State Fair was booked solid and Stephen and I were beyond exhausted.

It was the first time ever I felt myself falling asleep at the wheel. In fact, Stephen had already flopped over into the back seat and passed out. I was glad that he was quiet and resting but still totally annoyed that he was at that moment… no help.

I prayed that I would make it to a hotel before I nodded off and lost control of the car and thankfully, around mile 83, there was one room left available at a Best Western.

We pulled in, checked in, and passed out in a matter of minutes.

The next morning, I was “hungover” from such a long day of driving the day before, that I didn’t want to get up… but… Stephen wanted to get moving.

“Get up,” he said. “Come on get up.”

I was tired, angry that he was bossing me about, and pouting because I knew that if HE hadn’t been in the car with me… I would have found a hotel easily, I wouldn’t be getting up early right now, I would be following my OWN time frame and completely ALONE. I climbed out of the bed in a big baby fit threw on my clothes and shoes and reached to grab the keys and stomp to the car when Stephen reached out and grabbed them.

“I’m driving,” he said.

I gave him a look…. ready to kill him, but he just turned and walked out of the room and headed to the car… unwilling to give me my way.

I climbed into the passenger seat, slammed the door and sulked. We weren’t even out of the parking lot when I said, “Go through the KFC so at least we can get something to eat.”

Stephen rounded the corner for the drive-thru and thought for some reason that the lane he was in was not for the drive-up window.

“It is!” I shouted. “Trust me. Just go right there!” I pointed towards a loud speaker and watched as Stephen ignored me, passed the window and made a loop around the front of the KFC.

“No,” he said calmly. “I’m sure that was the wrong lane.”

I felt anger seething out of every pore… I set my jaw so firmly that it must have looked like it was wired shut and believe me… in just a matter of minutes… I was going to wish it had been wired shut…

Just as Stephen was making the turn to go back through the lane I originally told him to, a large white bus full of black Baptists rolled in front of us and I watched as the Minister ordered 15 buckets of chicken, obviously for his entire congregation, who I could see through the large rectangular glass bus windows… smiling and happy, seriously spiritually enlightened people, radiating  God’s joy as they waited patiently for their chicken and I actually went insane.

I don’t even remember what I said to Stephen, but it was every angry thing you say to someone when you “kick the cat”….

Why did I bring you?

What were you thinking?

Why couldn’t you listen to me?

Who the HELL do you think you are?

LOOK AT ALL OF THOSE GOD DAMN BAPTISTS EATING MY CHICKEN!

By the time we got to the window… I was spent… which often happens with us passionate HOT HEADS leaving our quiet introverted family, friends, and lovers, totally stunned by our outbursts and often feeling

MORTALLY wounded while we HOT HEADS just move on to the next big thing to be passionate and upset about…

Stephen however had, had enough.

He pulled up to the window to pay the KFC kid and wait for our chicken while I, now calm… said, “Could you please open the trunk so I can get something out of my bag?”

“Just wait,” he said… his tone one of intense loathing…

“Wait for what?” I snapped and popped out of the car and headed to the back of the trunk.

Stephen, by now, so TOTALLY pissed off at me took one look in the rear view mirror and floored the car. The wheels screeched as he took off and then laid a big skid and stopped about twenty feet from the window.

My mouth dropped open as I watched my door fly shut as he burned out… but the funniest moment was when I looked back at the drive-thru window and saw that the KFC kid had hung the food bag out for Stephen to grab right as he pulled away… so the teenager’s arm was just dangling out the window with a big bag of KFC floating in mid-air waiting for no one to take it.

I paused a moment… I really wanted to laugh but I was still just too angry.

I walked over and grabbed the bag from the kid, walked up to the car, opened the door and climbed inside where I threw the bag of chicken on the floor and shouted, “I’m not even hungry any more.”

Stephen could have given a shit. He burnt out and hit the Interstate at an alarming pace. Probably anxious to find the nearest airport and fulfill my earlier prophecy.

We both stewed in silent obstinance across the entire great state of Kansas before we finally just busted up laughing hysterically… barely able to breath… tears streaming down our faces, as we crossed the border into Ohio where I then picked up the bag, pulled a cold, hard biscuit from it, and handed it to Stephen as a peace offering.

It was the only fight we got in during the entire two weeks on the trip and I believe that it really was necessary for our bonding experience and that the event brought us closer together.

After that, we went on to see thousands of wild geese land on a secluded lake somewhere in Ohio, scare ourselves to death sleeping in Lizzie Borden’s house in Fall Rivers Massachusetts, nap on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s lawn in Salem, and drive through the Bad Lands of South Dakota on our return trip, a place Stephen had never been, and was so thankful to see… the desert at dusk, the look of the sand and the cliffs, so alien and mystical… really something everyone should experience in a lifetime.

I will never regret that fight at the KFC… or letting someone in, and sharing my road trip.

What I find as I grow older, is that staying and building relationships, even when at times you want to run away… desert all… find security and safety in yourself… believing that it will be easier… somehow protect you from hurt… or build a wall so that people can’t get in…

Only makes you the person who is UNWILLING to take the road trip… to see what lays before you… what discoveries are out there to find… what common interests, ideas, spiritual moments you can share, even if it is only a ridiculously stupid fight behind a bus load of black Baptists somewhere in Kansas….

The beauty.. is in the shared story… our shared story…

Peeing on Annika, Dylan and Stroosma While Riding the Matterhorn at Disneyland on Grad Night

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I don’t think people should be punished for having bladder issues.

But that is exactly what happened.

Annika, Dylan, Stroosma… all shaming me in the line of the Disneyland Matterhorn ride because I had to go pee super bad right before we were about to get in the bobsled.

“If you go now we’ll lose our place in line,” Dylan fussed.

“You’re tough,” Stroosma said. “You can hold it until the end.” Obviously… he was a teacher already exhausted from a long grad night… ready to hit this one last ride before cutting out, what was considered early, at 4 am.

“Ms. Wood,” Annika, my student, whined. “Come on! I don’t want to wait in line like two more hours again.”

“Alright,” I said… giving in… though my bladder was past the point of full… actually ready to balloon out as if I was hiding a boda bag of urine.

I stepped into the bobsled and sat in seat #4, considered the brake position in a real four-man sled, with Annika between my legs, Dylan, my son, in front of her, and Stroosma between his legs, in the first position as the “driver.”

“Don’t pee on me.” Annika laughed as she settled in, sure that her teacher would never do such a horribly nasty thing.

But she would live to regret those words.

I knew things were going to go terribly wrong when we hit the first stop in the track and I felt my whole body lurch forward and my bladder just about shake loose.

Oh my God… I thought to myself… I’m not going to be able to hold this pee. I’m seriously gonna lose it.

I felt my heart beat faster… and panic set in.

If I pee’d my pants and actually urinated on a student… I would NEVER be able to live the moment down.

I tried to wave to the ride operator, ready to beg for him to let me out of the sled, but it was too late.

We glided into the cavern of man-made rock and began our ascent up the track to the top of the Matterhorn and each click, click, click of the sled chugging up the rail… seemed like the sound of a time bomb ticking:

Go!… tick tick tick… Go! tick tick tick… Pee! tick tick tick…. Pee!… the track beckoning me to give in.

I worked to give myself a pep talk.

You can do it, I said. Just a few minutes and you can get off this ride and pee.

I even thought that this might be a good time to practice those Kegel exercises I’d been putting off for years, when suddenly, I came up with a brilliant master plan.

“QUICK Annika!” I shouted. “Let me put both my legs on one side of you.”

Annika turned around and looked at me as if I were a demented stranger. She couldn’t even imagine Ms. Wood EVER putting a child in peril during an amusement ride.

“Are you out of your mind?” She screeched. “Ms. Wood! You can’t do that in the middle of the ride. We could be hurt!  And you’re a teacher,” she snapped. “YOU should know bet…”

But she didn’t have a chance to finish her scolding and I didn’t have a chance to cross my legs and close them tight.

Stroosma and Dylan began to scream, Annika threw her arms up into the air and wailed wildly with joy, and I knew that in a matter of seconds I was going to decimate everyone in the entire bobsled with a long stream of urine.

I tried not to scream as we rocketed down the hill but as soon as the first abominable snowman popped out and scared me from his perch…I screamed bloody murder and the peeing began.

Annika was so engrossed in the moment that at first she had no idea that I was actually peeing all over her.

She screamed and squealed with glee until we hit a calm curve and catching her breath looked around before saying, “Wow. I really got wet.”

Stroosma grabbed the edges of the sled and turned back to look at me as if I were Judas. “You are NOT peeing on us are YOU?”

My face full of shame and betrayal… he knew immediately I was.

“It’s just water!” I lied. “I swear! Just water from the ride!”

“STOP IT!” He shouted. “STOP NOW!”

And then we hit the next big drop as we all screamed like mad.

My peeing escalated.

It was now a violent river rushing forward at an alarming rate.

“STOP PEEING MS. WOOD!” Annika shouted. “STOP!”

But I couldn’t.

We hit a drop and screamed again.

By this time… I was laughing so hard and screaming so loud… Stroosma’s yaking GUFFAW punctuating the moment as we barreled down the mountain… Dylan holding on for dear life screaming, “STOP MAMA! STOP!”  as my urine saturated my jeans, rushed out towards Annika, and flooded the bobsled floor.

I began to cry and curse my lot in life.

Why hadn’t I thought to wear an adult diaper?

Sure I was only 40-years-old but maybe the battle of old age was won by building reinforcements early.

I had a quiet epiphany:

If I had truly been smart… I could have been peeing and shitting myself comfortably right now in my adult diaper, while totally enjoying the ride.

“Noooooooooooooo!” Annika cried as we hit the last big turn… Stroosma still hysterical… Dylan disgusted by the entire episode.

And then the ride came to a stop.

“How could you do that?” Annika turned around and screamed at me. “How could you Ms. Wood!”

I sat in silence… my arms crossed… my brows knitted into an angry frown… pouting over the fact that they wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom…. furious at my idiocy for not thinking of wearing the adult diaper sooner… and distraught that I would have to walk the full mile to the exit with my pee-pee jeans rubbing and rashing my legs, while all of the grad students pointed and mocked me.

“Fuck you all,” I whispered. “If you would have just let me go to the bathroom, none of this would have ever happened.”

I climbed out of the sled, pulled my sweatshirt roughly over my head, wrapped it around my soaking butt, and stomped off towards Main Street: a dirty mess trapped in the Happiest Fucking Place on Earth.

Saving the Crack Baby

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crackbaby

I was 36 and back in school working on my Master’s degree. It had been a hard week. I was in the middle of a difficult divorce, teaching middle school during the day, taking classes at night, and resentful that Dylan my youngest, was left at home while I had to make a new life for my family due to my X’s departure.

I was in my classroom at school finishing up my final thesis essay, for my FINAL Master’s class, when I realized my printer was not working.  Frustrated… I typed the last few sentences in a rush, slapped my thesis onto a floppy disk (which makes me laugh now to think of it) and raced out of the building in hopes that I would make it to the class on time, which was next door to a teacher resource center, where I would be able to print out copies of my thesis, present it to my class, and argue my educational philosophy and hopefully, receive a stellar grade , an advanced degree, and finally, be back home again with my kids.

I arrived in a frantic state. My teacher, Dr. Isabel was an amazing teacher, a fantastic woman, but quite the stickler regarding class minutes. I rushed to the TRC with just moments to spare, flashed my district I.D. and ran towards an open computer and printer. I put my disk in the disk drive and watched in horror as the computer screen flashed, “DISK ERROR. DISK UNREADABLE”

I felt like I was going to vomit.

Dr. Isabel would never go for a Master’s candidate showing up to the final class, ill prepared.

This was disaster.

I had heard stories of students having to repeat entire classes after this type of incident.

I was terrified to walk into the classroom… but I steeled myself for the moment and marched in: the last one to arrive and the first one scheduled to present.

“You ready?” Dr. Isabel said with barely a glance up from her notepad, where I could only imagine she was planning to write, Deidre Wood: FAIL. Obviously some type of idiot who wandered into my class believing that “Master’s” means, show up to class unprepared with your head up your own ass.

I could barely breathe.

I told her what had happened with my disk.

“So, you didn’t have time to print out your papers for your classmates this week prior to our class time?”she asked.

What could I tell her?

My husband just left me?

I’m a total wreck?

I’m only doing this so that I can make more money and take care of my children?

“No, I didn’t have time,” I mumbled.

“Sit down Deidre,” she said as she scribbled fiercely on her tablet before asking another one of my classmates to begin the presentations.

I don’t remember much from that class other than that I felt full of despair, and that I just couldn’t catch a break. Despite what had happened between myself and my husband, I missed him. I missed my life with him, no matter how flawed, and at that moment… I just prayed that he would come back and we could start again.

Dr. Isabel asked me to give a brief presentation sans notes and print-outs at the end of class and then asked me to stay after.

This is it. I thought. This is where she tells me I’m going to have to repeat the class. My heart was pounding, I was ready to pass out.

“I’m sorry Deidre,” she said. “I understand that you are going through a hard time.”

Her kind words almost sent me over the edge and I fought not to cry in front of my college professor.

“I’ll give you one hour to go home and send this to me through email and then I will decide where we go from there.”

I nodded my head, afraid to even try to speak.

“I’m sorry,” she said again and then turned and walked out of the classroom.

I headed back to my car and tried not to freak out.

I could get home and get this emailed to her within the hour. It was do-able. She had always admired my writing and so, I started to become a bit hopeful that my thesis, and the fact that I had never missed a class, always received straight A’s on her assignments, and never acted like a jack ass, would be enough to carry me through.

In fact, by the time I reached the stop light on Spring and Cherry, I was feeling almost happy again until I turned and looked at the driver in the car sitting next to me: my ex-husband.

He was in his old ’59” Ford. He looked cleaned up in a hot greaser way: fresh Tres Flores on his hair, black short sleeve shirt, tattoos, dark glasses, and blues blasting from his stereo. It was a horrible moment. One of those moments when you know that your X has moved on and you are still the broken idiot trying to remove the pain from your forever wounded heart.

He turned and looked at me and nodded and waved as if we were both just out on separate errands and would plan to meet up at home for a nice dinner later. His cavalier attitude towards me and his obvious lack of remorse, related to our almost twenty years together, infuriated me. I acted “as if” waved back and then waited for him to turn the corner before bursting into tears and sobbing in a way that I haven’t since I was a very small child.

Just then my cell phone rang. It was my good friend, Christy. I pulled over and answered the phone still blubbering. She offered to come meet me but I said I really just needed to be on my own for a bit and process everything.

“What about your paper?” she asked.

What about it, I thought but said, “I’m just going to go to the park for a bit and catch my breath and then I’ll head home and work on it.”

“You sure you don’t want me to meet you?” she asked.

I said I was sure and then hung up the cell and called my mom to let her know that I would be home a bit late.

I went to El Dorado Park and pulled my car up to the duck pond. It was a pretty day, but not a weekend, and so only a small group of people were taking advantage of the lovely weather. I climbed out of the car and sat up on the top of a picnic table, with my feet up on the bench.

I looked out over the pond and watched as a young couple walked the lake with their toddler and a stroller with what appeared to be a baby in it.

They were both reed thin and after all of my years of spending time around recovering drug addicts, I pegged them right away as a Crack couple. They were arguing with each other over everything, twitchy and a bit erratic. He was light-skinned black and she was a tow-headed white and even from my distance, I could see that her face had been picked and scratched a thousand times.

I watched as he held the stroller, shaking it back and forth, in a motion that would suggest he was trying to calm the baby but actually reflected his agitation with his wife. She made a face and rolled her eyes before grabbing their toddler’s hand and walking away from the pond towards the playground in the park.

And that was all it took.

One dirty look.

One harsh word.

One moment and everything changed.

He let go of the stroller and rushed after her to grab her arm and I watched as the stroller rolled into the duck pond, flipped, and the baby disappeared under the surface of the water.

His wife screamed.

He rushed forward and jumped in trying desperately to find the baby in the murky pond.

I felt like I was locked into a moment of time and unable to move.

It was a moment I would never want to repeat.

Then, he pulled the small, soaked, blue bundle from the pond and looked directly at me, locked his eyes directly on me… and screamed, “HELP!”

Suddenly, I  jumped forward, dialing 911 on my cell phone as I ran, rushing around the path of the pond, trying to get to the father and the little lump in his hands that still hadn’t moved in those few seconds.

I watched as he ran towards me from the other side of the pond,  then panicked… stopped for a moment… and sat the baby on a low tree branch limb and began to shake it as if the vigorous amount of energy… his extreme passion for his child… could magically revive him.

“Don’t shake the baby! ” I screamed praying that I would get to the father before he did something totally irrational. “Stop! Stop now!”

He looked at me and I saw that his face was now blank… already gone… already in the “bad place” the place that ever parent fears.

I heard, “911?” answer on my cell and as I reached him, he thrust the baby towards me as I forced him to take my phone, speak to 911, and hopefully distract him from what I was now holding in my hands: a drowned baby.

I registered so much in that moment, my motherly instincts, my animal rage at their carelessness, everything seemed to escalate inside of me.

He was so small, with beautiful black curly hair, his eyes closed… his perfect little lips, a cupid’s bow of a mouth, already turning a light shade of blue. I cradled him in the crook of my arm and rested his tiny head in the palm of my hand before I reached my finger into his mouth and cleared it before starting CPR. I put my mouth over his mouth engulfing his tiny little nose as well and released my warm breath twice into his tiny lungs.

He didn’t respond and so, I pressed my mouth to his once more. I felt fear wash over me… that moment when you know that someone’s life is in your hands and you hope that everything will work out as you planned that all of your competence, that everything you have ever believed you are, lays open in that moment.

I pressed my mouth to him again and prayed that he would come to and suddenly… he was there.

He spit up milk and dirty water and his awakening was both relieving and comical.

His tiny fists balled up tightly, his arms shook in what seemed to be anger, his eyes widened with astonishment and I swear I heard him say, “Holy Shit!!! Did you see what just happened to me? That guy tried to KILL me!”

There was a moment, when it seemed like I would forever know him, that somehow… he would forever be mine… and then his father snatched to grab him from me as I pushed him back, unwilling to give the baby up so soon. I cradled the baby gently to my chest, my ear pressed against his back, listening to his breathing become regular with a small rattle somewhere deep inside of his lungs. I held him so tightly, as if to wrap him in my heart and prayed that somehow my strength would find a way to guard him… or protect him… as he grew older in this world.

I told the father to find me a dry shirt or blanket for him as I gently removed the baby’s wet clothes and then swaddled him in an old worn out sweatshirt and gave him one last long look, before I handed him back to his father.

He held him as his wife and toddler cried next to the empty stroller now sitting on the grass.

The paramedics arrived and rushed towards them and I watched as the father presented the baby to them as if they had won a gift for showing up first to the party.

I didn’t stay… there wasn’t anything for me to say.

I took my cell phone, walked away, happy to be forgotten in the shuffle, and the first person I thought to call and tell this story to was my husband before realizing… that in the horrific excitement of the moment… I had forgotten that he wasn’t my husband anymore.

I looked at my phone, paused, and called anyways.

We talked for a few moments, my earlier anger now completely dissipated by the thought of how fast life can change, that making amends to the father of my children was more important than holding my resentment and destroying everyone with it.

“God put you there,” he said. And I thought, yes… he did.

I went home and emailed Dr. Isabel my paper. It was late, definitely past the extra hour she was kind enough to give me, and I had no idea if it would be accepted but I didn’t care. I told her about running into my husband, I told her about saving the baby, I told her if I hadn’t been distraught over what had happened in class that the baby might have never survived and I accepted my fate.

Three weeks later, when my grades arrived in the mail. I had a solid “A” and a Master’s degree. I was proud of that degree… and I still am… though it will always seem a consolation prize compared to saving a human life.

And now, I often think about where that baby is and if he might one day end up in my classroom as my student, or cross paths with me somewhere again…  and I wonder why God put him in my way… and what God has planned for me further down the road.

Saturday July 13th through Saturday July 27th: Ms Wood will be on SUMMER VACATION!

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Enjoy one of your favorite posts from the past until I return to entertain you!

And thank you for your loyal following.

D.D. Wood

Yearbook Class creates a Special Show Flyer for Steve Soto and Manic Hispanic resulting in the Children being Visually Scarred for Life and Ms. Wood Rethinking her Postion on Internet Filters

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BEST QUALITY

This is Yearbook.

The class I am in charge of at Millikan High School.

They are a wild, spirited group and I love them dearly.

One day, excited by the fact that the school had finally turned off the internet filters and had left the viewing discretion up to the teachers, I offered the kids a chance to create a Photoshop flyer for my friend Steve Soto and his band Manic Hispanic, believing that I was giving my students a life experience that would be considered valuable.

Now, being that this is high school, it wasn’t as if everyone jumped up and down and raised their hands to participate but… they did however… begin googling the name Steve Soto and Manic Hispanic happy to finally be unfettered from their technological bonds.

“This is so bad ass, Ms. Wood,” one of my senior editors said. “We can go on Facebook. We can go on Google images. Now we can really get some great Yearbook work done.”

I had my doubts about this statement but they were so excited, so punch-drunk with their new found freedom, that I felt I was in no position to bring them down: that would be like waking up on Christmas morning and finding out that you had received zero presents and Santa had also shit in your stocking.

“Oh,” one of the kids said after looking Manic Hispanic up online, “They do some type of Mexican gangster thing right?”

Everyone looked at me waiting to see if it was okay for us to like a “Mexican gangster” thing in the classroom.

“Well, yeah..” I said. “But it’s like a parody. Can anyone tell me what a parody is?”

Ten hands jumped up.

If we were going to bend the rules a bit… I figured I better find a way to keep the California Content Standards firmly in place while we did it and cover my ass in case someone found our Yearbook curriculum to be lacking.

I listened as they all babbled on about parodies and then I told them what they were supposed to do.

“Steve told me he wants something like Blood In Blood Out for the flyer. Do you guys know what that is?”

But before I had a verbal answer to assure me that they knew exactly what Blood In Blood Out was, a Latino cult classic crime-drama film, I saw twenty little teenage hands hit the keyboards hard and type in the words: Blood In Blood Out and two seconds later, there was a deafening moment of complete and total silence before loud screeches began to echo across the tops of computer stations and fill the classroom.

“What?” I screamed from my desk. “What are you freaking out about?”

I stood up to look at the computer screens and found that each and everyone of them was inundated by photos, photos once highly banned at our school site, now prominently displayed, in full-color glory, on our classroom monitors.

“OH MY GOD!” I shouted as I rushed towards the computer stations.

It was horrific I tell you.

A teacher’s worst nightmare.

A total lack of control.

A total educational malfunction.

Who would have known that the words: Blood In and Blood Out would bring a flood of cancerous anal polyps up on each and every screen?

My students were screaming.

My students were gasping.

Some of them just sat there, so stunned by the visual assault on their senses, that they just stared, mouths agape, at what they were viewing and all I could think was Jesus Christ how the fuck am I going to explain this one?

I knew what I had to do.

I stood tall and put on my teacher voice and said firmly, “Stop what you are doing and take your hands away from the computers.”

Everyone pulled their hands back as we continued to stare… mesmerized by the anal polyps… unable to look away.

“That is so weird,” one of the editors finally said followed by, “Can we Instagram them to someone Ms. Wood?”

Oh my God… NO… I thought to myself but out loud, I knew that if I didn’t act cool about this, they were going to pull out their iphones and start clicking because… that is exactly what teenagers do… when they smell fear in their teacher.

So I pulled out my iphone, snapped a photo of the anal polyps and made a big deal about how funny it was going to be for all of us to send it to my friend Sharla Bafia who was a “real goody two-shoes” and would totally freak out.

They all loved being in on the joke so they sat giggling softly, as if she could hear us, as we waited for Sharla’s response, which of course was almost instantaneous and read:  “WHAT THE FUCK DUDE?”

We all had a good chuckle as we shut the images of anal polyps down and tried to strike them permanently from our memory.

I kept my game face on but inside… I was beyond relieved that I got out of that situation without it turning into a total clusterfuck.

“Okay,” I said calmly. “Let’s try this again. But this time, please type in the words: Movie Blood In and Blood Out.”

Everyone did as I asked, with only a sly devious smile or giggle here or there, which I shut down immediately with my most vicious teacher stare.

How’s it going? Steve texted right then.

I didn’t want him concerned about the anal polyp incident, he needed this flyer posted within the next hour, so I just replied: Great!… and went back to watching the students.

And for about twenty minutes, everything was totally calm as they pulled film images off the internet, and all vied to created the best band flyer for my friend until someone shouted out, “What should we use for a background?”

I was typing away on my own computer, not really paying attention to what they were up to once things calmed down, and so I shouted out absentmindedly, “I don’t know… black and gold sounds good right?”

And I heard once again twenty little hands go to type words… this time… black and gold… into the computer… and once again there was a moment of complete silence followed by a series of sharp screams, which this time, was punctuated by a few solidly loud, OH MY GODS!

I jumped, startled, and saw on each screen a large black man, walking two naked white women who were chained and completely covered in gold dust.

“OH JESUS FUCK!” I screeched without thinking.

Each head turned.

Each mouth dropped.

Suddenly, the focus was directly on me.

“You said fuck,” one of the editors whispered.. shocked by the unfiltered internet but stunned by Ms. Wood loosing her cool.

“You said Jesus and fuck in the same sentence,” someone else said in a mocking tone.

“God damn it,” I shouted. “Everyone shut down Google image RIGHT NOW!”

They didn’t move.

“I said RIGHT NOW!” I screamed as I pointed my finger at them and stomped my little feet.

Not one student disobeyed.

Everyone shut off Google image and sat quietly.

Really… what was there to say after what we had all witnessed in the last thirty minutes of class?

I wasn’t even sure how to proceed with the entire situation.

I was firmly in the camp of open internet filters in our high school community but obviously… I hadn’t thought it entirely through.

“Liz,” I said to one of my senior editors. “Make the flyer for Steve. Everyone else. Go on Facebook and just relax for a few minutes.”

Facebook: the crack cocaine of the high school world.

Suddenly, caught up in their social networking addiction, the incidents of the class faded into the background.

I went back to my desk knowing that Liz, responsible and capable, would knock that flyer out in minutes and if once again assaulted with anal polyps or black men with naked gold women, would just shut it out of her mind and continue to get her work done: There was a reason she was the number one editor and had a A+ in Yearbook.

She was an educational bad ass.

Once again I settled down… I prayed to St. Jude, Patron Saint of Lost Causes, and hoped that I wouldn’t have twenty parent phone calls by the end of the day.

And that was when my computer was taken over remotely… by our staff computer administrator: Mr. Rios… who had obviously been trolling for “inappropriate content” the first day of our unfiltered technology school existence.

Having fun with those unfiltered computers in there Ms. Wood? The message read.

I leaned my elbows on my desk and covered my face with my hands.

I had no response.

The jig was up.

He had witnessed everything from his secret post.

I wanted to type back: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Or just the numbers: 1984.

But instead, I just sat there… eyes covered… mentally taxed… and listened to the happy click of my students fingers in the background as they blissfully went on with their Facebook instant messaging… until I heard another beep to let me know he had messaged me again:

Okay, it said. Being that I’m Latino I get the whole Blood In Blood Out mishap and obviously… they are enjoying the whole Facebook freedom right now but…  how did you guys end up with the black man and the naked chained women covered in gold dust?

And right then my phone went off.

It was Steve of course asking about the flyer: Is it done yet? he asked innocently but already worked up from the entire event, caused by my need to please my friend, make my kids feel like big shots by having them create a hip band flyer, and show how totally cool Ms. Wood was in her “alter band world” I so wanted to respond from my flawed shadow self and text in all caps: SHUT THE FUCK UP STEVE SOTO! YOU’LL GET YOUR GOD DAMN FLYER WHEN YOU GET IT!”

But instead… I wrote… Almost done… and covered my eyes again with my hands… hoping that it would all just go away.

There was another “beep” signaling once again a new message from my computer administrator.

Well Ms. Wood? It said.

I had to concede.

And I hated to concede but in this case…. I had to admit that I might be wrong.

I’m rethinking my whole opposition to the internet filters, I typed.

You bet your @ss you are!  He wrote back and then unlocked my screen and let me get back to work.

“Done,” Liz said from her station and I walked over to find that she had made a fantastic flyer for my friend.

“That looks great,” I said.

Manic Hispanic Yearbook Flyer

“You sure you wouldn’t like me to add an anal polyp or a black man with chained naked women covered in gold dust?” she asked.

I gave her the evil eye.

“Obviously not,” she said sarcastically. “So who am I sending this to?”

Five minutes later, Steve had his flyer and was posting it on Facebook, the bell rang and the kids left, and it seemed that maybe they were not permanently scarred after all… And I sat down for a moment to calm my mind and let go of the atrocities of the last hour, praying to God that I would never see an anal polyp, a black man with naked chained white women covered in gold dust, or a message from my computer administrator, in my classroom, ever, EVER again.

The Bad Teacher: or How I Locked Seigi in my Classroom and Left for the Weekend without a Second Thought for his Well-being

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It was a Friday.

A long Friday.

We were all worn.

Who knows what had been going on in high school that week but obviously it had been one drama too many for all of us:

A broken heart.

A poor score on the SATs.

A confiscated phone.

A confiscated blunt.

Whatever it was, 6th period was spent and so… I did what any experienced teacher would do when the entire class arrives, flops into empty chairs, and each head drops into cradled arms where they lie listless and limpsy:

I put on the Simpsons and let them watch cartoons until the end of the period.

You cannot imagine the joy I find in watching my sixteen and seventeen-year-old students revert back into grade-school babies.

They giggle at the screen.

They drool on their arms as they smile sleepily and watch Bart and Homer and Lisa and Marge.

They parrot the dialogue.

They snack on goldfish crackers and jelly bellies, as they glance at each other with conspiratory glee, pleased in knowing that our class is having a secret afternoon nap break.

I always feel like Patton in these moments… bonding with my troops… knowing that because I have given them this delicious moment of relief from the war that is high school, they will trust in my future leadership, accept my push towards greatness as we study Whitman and Dickinson and will be my loyal educational soldiers forever.

I sat behind my desk, happy in the cool calm of the dark classroom, drinking my ice tea, grading essays by the computer light, the soundtrack of the Simpsons punctuating the quiet of the room, my babes soothed and content: I tell you… it was lovely.

Seigi, my senior classroom aide, had scored the prime spot on the back couch: the back couch which was coveted by many of my students.

It was the cool place to hang… the best place to sleep if you had a sport’s meet in the afternoon and needed a bit of a break before you were required to swim a 50-meter fly, or a grueling scrimmage on the field or in the pool, or before a 5-mile roundtrip run through El Dorado park and back.

It was against the far wall, hidden by a row of old covered wooden desks, but if you laid out flat on it, and looked underneath the desktops, you had the perfect, comfortable, vantage point, for viewing the large movie screen where my LCD projected.

Nobody questioned Seigi’s dibs on the couch that day. Being that he had senority, top man of the class, no one fussed, the caste system of high school finite… the pecking order… unchallenged… and so, Seigi sauntered over, stretched out, face down on the black sofa cushions, and settled in to watch the show as he faded in-and-out of consciousness.

The ninety-minute class period seemed but a moment and when the bell rang, there was hardly a child that made a move towards the door. Happy, tired and content, they preferred to stay put as the cartoons continued to run until I said quietly, “Time to go people,” unwilling really to send them out into the world but knowing I must do so.

After a moment or two of hushed fussing and shuffling, they grabbed their gear, quietly headed out the door without even turning on a light, barely a “Bye Ms. Wood have a good weekend” before leaving me alone in the dark.

I sat for a moment longer before I forced myself to rise, shutting down my computer, making my way through the dim light towards the door, where I locked it, gave the handle a quick security shake, before walking slowly to my car and going home.

I was so glad it was the weekend.

I showered.

Put on my pajamas.

And laid down on my bed to watch mindless TV and flip through magazines until bedtime.

I was completely oblivious to my mistake.

I was completely confident that I had done everything right in my classroom that day.

However, I believe Seigi would beg to differ.

About seven that evening, Seigi woke up.

No… not from a nap at home… not from the comfort of his own bed… but from his nap in my classroom.

He woke up to a pitch black room… in fact the bungalow so dark at night that the darkness is palpable… suffocatingly close to your face.

Now imagine that just a few weeks prior to this event. Ms. Wood had taught you about the horrors of Poe… had shared the film El Orfanato with you… had scared you to death with the Poe-esque elements in this foreign film where a haunted Victorian orphanage holds mysteries of the past, and creepy little orphan ghost children run about from room-to-darkened-room scaring you repeatedly through each cinematic moment.

I tell you… it terrifies even me and this… was Seigi’s nightmare.

From what I gathered over the course of several weeks and numerous renditions of his guilt-inducing retellings to each and every child who would stop and listen… it was beyond horrific.

Seigi had woken, become completely disoriented, sat up screaming then tried to run out of the room, sure that a creepy little ghost orphan was about to grab him, but was physically assaulted by first, the old wooden block of desks, then… a row of metal and formica desks that stood strong behind the front line that held him back.

He tried to move forward but imagined tiny little creepy hands grabbing at him from every direction.

He lost his mind.

He panicked.

Screamed.

Tried to jump over the desks and somehow hurl himself to safety but caught his foot on a metal leg, fell to the floor, wreathing in mental and physical pain, where he then crawled across the back of the classroom, hands pressed firmly down on the dirty linoleum, until he bumped into the far wall, reached up for the door handle, pulled the metal latch down and rolled out onto the landing and laid panting heavily on the dirty anti-slip covering, shell-shocked and crying… stunned and out of breath.

My phone rang at exactly 7:03 pm.

I didn’t even look at it.

I ignored the call to duty believing that I had lead all of my soldiers to safety and had not lost a man that day.

I was wrong.

So very wrong.

At 7:45 my curiosity got the better of me and so, as I stood looking in the bathroom mirror, slathering my face with my favorite Vitamin C cream, my phone laying next to me. I reached down, pressed the hands-free setting and waited to hear the message that I had missed.

At first, there was a loud commotion, as if someone had dropped their phone and was rushing to pick it up. I had no idea that it was Seigi rolling around on my bungalow landing. What followed was almost an incoherent babble before a rough, bark of a harsh whisper reached out and electronically slapped me with a verbal assault across my face:

“Fuck you Ms. Wood,” the voice snapped at me. “Do you hear me?” It repeated. “I said FUCK YOU.”

There was a loud thump and then a sudden click.

“DOH!” I shouted out.

A bright flash as if a camera click illuminated my brain: the couch, the dark, the SEIGI!

OH JESUS!

I looked around as if I could somehow do something right now to immediately lead my Seigi to safety.

Of course… I couldn’t.

I had failed at my command.

I had left a man behind.

I’d like to say that I called Seigi right away but I didn’t.

I knew what I was up against.

I knew what I would hear.

I knew what I would see when I returned to my room and this is what it was:

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Yes…  the thousand yard stare.

And not just the unfocused gaze of my battle-weary soldier but behind that gaze a look of complete disgust for his commanding officer.

I knew that I would have to bear Seigi’s wrath for weeks to come but to be honest, it was hard to look remorseful each time he told the story when really the image of  him running blindly through my room, his imagination a battlefield of blockades and creepy orphans, amused me terribly with each retelling.

And today, Seigi and I share a camaraderie over this story, a joy in the shared brotherhood of our bond. Forever locked together in time… even though as a commander I failed miserably and left my man behind.

Stapling my Thumb Clean Through with an Industrial Strength Stapler: Or.. How I Terrified Two Young and Idealistic Student Teachers and Almost Lost my Bad-Ass Reputation Forever

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I’m a tough broad but… even now, as an experienced teacher… there are two tools I seriously hate: the industrial paper cutter and the industrial electric stapler.

Both can cause a chill of terror in even the most seasoned educator’s soul and we have, in our profession, become accustom to wearing our battle scars from each of these work weapons, as a right of passage: If you haven’t lost a thumb or almost lost a thumb in a paper cutter or a stapler accident… then you basically don’t know jack shit about teaching.

Now as a “scrub” in the first few years of my career, I had almost lost my thumb several times:

Of course… the paper cutter incident…

The X-acto knife fiasco…

The uncovered razor on the helium balloon tank episode.

Yeah… those were good times.

But they gave me a sort of notoriety… an O.G. quality with the more experienced teachers.

It was as if I had been jumped into a gang very early on…

You see that teacher over there?

They seemed to whisper in the staff lounge.

That’s Wood. She’s already lost that thumb almost three times. She’s got what it takes.

It was hard not to cross my arms, throw up my fingers and sign an M and a W for Ms. Wood, tip my chin up in a “What’s up?” manner and swagger my way out the door.

I had proven I was tough.

Yeah… tough.

Now, it was an unwritten code that even if you were deathly afraid of the cutter or the stapler… you acted “cool” about it… yes “cool” if you had an incident.

That even when you told the story as a cautionary tale, or a fun anecdote over a tuna sandwich in the staff lounge, you made yourself look like you knew what you were doing all along.. that it was some simple malfunction or someone else’s fuck up that caused you to be maimed: You never let on that you lost your shit:

You locked that shit down.

And why?

Because it was very important to convey your mysterious authoritative exterior to the younger, newer baby teachers so that they would always be in awe of you and therefore, your little minions for years to come.

And so the years passed… many other incidents followed… until my reputation grew into one of legendary proportions and even the newest baby teachers would whisper:

See that teacher over there? That’s Wood. I heard she almost lost a whole hand in a paper cutter. Oh… and chased down and captured those two armed robbers who ripped off the credit union, by cornering them in the alley with her mini-van. I wouldn’t even try to talk to her until you have like five years under your belt.

Yeah.

It was beautiful until the industrial stapler incident: the day I almost lost my solid reputation as a bad-ass forever.

I was feeling good that day.

The state had given us money for a workroom and we had converted a bungalow into a staff area with the best of the new teacher technology:

The poster size paper cutter that dwarfed our standard sized one: where a thumb, index, and middle finger had all been hacked off simultaneously in a violent lunch time assault.

The laminating machine: a third degree burn always waiting to happen.

The 3635MPX Xerox machine… Oh yeah… class sets of collated documents in a matter of seconds but don’t catch your tie in that feed.

And of course: the new electric industrial strength stapler, with the heavy duty Stanley staples thick one-inch length, that could handle a 200-page packet and drive that staple in so hard it would never come out.

Nice.

So I rolled on into the new workroom, to pick-up my class set of reading packets that Judy Hogan, our supply purchaser, had kindly xeroxed for me and at the break table, I saw two brand-new student teachers sitting there meekly eating their lunch and I wondered what the hell they were doing.

“Too scared to brave the staff lounge,” Judy whispered as she handed me my packets. “I took pity on them.”

I shook my head in disgust.

“These still need to be stapled,” she said before getting back to her own paperwork.

I carried the stack over to the counter and began to run the packets through the industrial stapler.

I fell into a steady rhythm: the electric staple hitting a hard THWACK each time a packet was completed.

I was moving fast… really flying.

The beat was so steady and so quick that I was actually singing “Baby Love” by the Supremes.

I was just about on my last packet, totally in the zone, happy that I would still have time for lunch, when I heard a, “What the heck is she singing” from one of the newbies at the table behind me.

I turned around to give her a snarky lecture on her lack of musical knowledge and what songs work best to keep a beat with the xerox machine and the electric stapler, so that you don’t lose your mind in monotony, when… there was a loud sickening SMACK, the stapler jammed, and my body was rocked by an excruciating pain.

Judy stopped, startled, and looked towards me.

“Oh my God,” I heard her whisper.

I was afraid to turn around.

I looked back slowly to find that I had just stapled my thumb all the way through the nail, out the other side, and that the staple: the thick one-inch industrial staple, had folded neatly on the fleshy side of my thumb and stapled it clean.

I held it up and stared at it in horror as the intense pain registered throughout my entire body.

“MOTHER FUCKER!” I screamed.

The newbies were beyond alarmed… terrified to move… they stared at me in horror.

MOTHER FUCKING SHIT! I screamed again.

Judy’s eyes grew large. She looked at the newbies: One now with her head folded down into her hands… her soup and crustless peanut butter sandwich left bare to the world. The other… her hands over her ears, her eyes focused on Judy, begging her silently to, Make that woman stop! As she winced at my use of profanity.

This infuriated me.

“FUCK!” I screamed right in her face, “FUCK!” I shrieked as I ran about the room.

Judy ran to her desk, always ready for a workroom emergency, and grabbed something from her drawer.

I stopped, looked at her with suspicion, and like a rabid animal, began to back into the corner.

“D.D.” she whispered. “Give me your hand.”

“BACK THE FUCK AWAY JUDY!” I snarled and hissed.

“D.D.” she whispered again as she crept quietly towards me. “Give me your God damn hand now.”

“No!” I shouted.

I heard one of the newbies whine.

“Shut the fuck up!” I screeched.

Judy’s mouth made a small shocked “Oooooh.”

I was breaking the cardinal rule of teaching: DON’T LOSE YOUR SHIT IN FRONT OF THE NEWBIES.

I looked at my thumb again.

I thought I was gonna be sick.

I felt the room swimming and my thumb throbbing.

“D.D.” she said sternly. “Now.”‘

I moaned as I laid my hand gingerly in Judy’s palm.

“This is gonna hurt,” she said as she held up a pair of pliers, and snatched my wrist tightly as she pried the ends of the staple to a straight up position before I had time to react.

My eyes welled up in tears.

“Judas!” I cried and then the pain registered and I howled loudly.

“Knock it off,” she said before putting the pliers back in her drawer.

I calmed down for a moment… gathered myself together… and looked at the staple with interest:

It now looked like my thumb had fangs.

I looked up again and saw Judy with a black staple remover in her hand.

She was chomping it at me… trying to be funny… like a mom trying to coerce her kid into trusting a doctor with a needle: It didn’t work.

NO! I shrieked again. “No JUDY! NO!”

I ran across the room, Judy laughing now, chasing me about with the staple remover clicking until she grew tired of the game and stopped.

“God damn it D.D.” she shouted. “Get it over with. Pull that fucker out.”

I gave her a dirty look, grabbed the staple remover from her hand, and dug it into the top of my nail fast, pushed it down, and pulled that staple out with a hard tug.

The pain was right up there with childbirth and divorce: physically excruciating while emotionally… I was ready to kill someone.

I screamed again: a guttural scream of anger, as I threw the staple remover and the offending staple hard against the counter, before picking up the electric industrial stapler, ripping it’s cord from the wall, and chucking it as hard as I could against the large purple recycling bin.

We all looked at it: lying on the ground broken and mute.

“Fucker,” I said to my electronic enemy. The newbies gasped behind me.

Judy and I both turned around and as I came to my senses, I realized I had just lost my cool points in front of these teaching neophytes.

I felt like a failure.

I felt like my O.G. status was about to be removed in a unanimous vote in the staff lounge later that afternoon.

It sucked.

But right them, Mr. Ferguson, my own junior high school teacher, now over forty years of experience in the business, walked into the room, saw all of us locked in pose, immediately assessed the situation after a glimpse of my bloody stump of a thumb, the expressions on the babies faces and the stapler lying broken on the floor.

“Jesus!” He screeched. He pointed at my thumb. “Is that from the stapler?”

“Yeah,” I said quietly.

“I knew something was wrong with that thing the other day. I knew it wasn’t working right.”

I looked at him in pleased shock. Even in my pain it was hard not to smile at his gift of camaraderie.

“Man,” He shook his head. “That must of hurt like hell. I wouldn’t have been able to lock that shit down. No way.”

He gave me a head nod of respect before turning to the newbies and saying, “You best not use that stapler. If that took Ms. Wood down, you’d never be able to handle the pain. That woman is tough.”

Judy put the tools back in her drawer and slammed it shut, went back to her paperwork and went back to ignoring the newbies.

Mr. Ferguson went about making his math packets for his Algebra class…

and I gave the student teachers a look like, That’s right… even Mr. F with forty-years in the system would have lost it to” before I grabbed my packets, in one arm, bloody stump of a thumb raised up in the air, and kicked the door open with my foot, reputation, Thank God, still intact.

My thumb?

Not so much.