In high school I took an American History course from a Vietnam veteran.
He was a stern man with no patience for bullsh*t and a heart of gold. I loved his class. He presented history based on factual documentation and with as little bias as possible. He forced us to think critically and encouraged discussions regularly.
His tests were always fifty multiple choice, fifty true or false, and two timed essay questions. You always studied for those because the easiest part was the timed essay. There were no easy multiple choice questions.
For example, if it asked you the date of an event, unless you knew the correct answer exactly, all four answers made complete and total sense.
When the class did well, he baked us brownies. I’m not sure if they were delicious on their own merit or because we earned them, but goddamn they tasted like victory. To this day, I’ve never had a more challenging or rewarding class.
The only sign he kept around of his service was a small banner that read “Army Ranger” which he kept posted on his window. From time to time, he’d tell us silly stories about his unit, but he kept most of his time in the military secret.
Some kids did some snooping, and a rumor he had been tapped for Delta and was a sniper in Vietnam starting flying around school. Maybe it was true, maybe it just sounded plausible because he was such a bad*ss.
Aside from US History, he also taught Psychology as an elective. I signed up because I loved his classes (also brownies). That’s where this story takes place…
On the first day, he handed out syllabuses and gave a brief overview of the things we would be covering. When he finished, he asked if there were any questions we would like answered.
I think part of the reason I loved his history class was my classmates. We were all there because we wanted to be, and took our academic pursuits seriously. Psychology was not the same batch.
This moron kid (who I recently found out is currently incarcerated on multiple DUI counts as well as domestic abuse and possession with intent to distribute) raised his hand.
He asked how many men, women, or children he had killed in Vietnam and whether or not he had kept ears as trophies.
Immediately, everyone in the class knew how incredibly f*cked this kid was. There are some lines you don’t cross, especially when you’re talking to a guy who had a heart attack and a week later was out running ten miles (a light jog, as he put it).
The teacher handled it professionally and said he was only taking questions pertinent to the class. The kid followed up with: “So like twenty or what?”.
You know that moment when you drop a glass and realize there’s nothing you can do to save it? The only thing you can do is brace for the impact. Imagine that moment lasting longer than it takes for a glass to fall. Imagine it felt that way for a full minute. Two minutes. An hour. A lifetime.
That’s how it felt in that room. Everyone looked intently at their belly buttons while we waited for the hammer to drop. Well, everyone except for me. My eyes were squarely on my teacher…
He used to say that life is defined by the trying moments, the difficult ones; it’s easy to act morally and justly on a full belly. The mark of a man is how he handles himself under duress.
His jaw clenched and lips tightened as he placed his hands firmly on the podium he lectured from. He was a master of the slow blink and now employed it with devastatingly terrible connotations.
“Mr. [redacted]. Please collect your belongings and see yourself to the office. I will be along shortly.”
The classroom sat in silence. We knew how it felt when he was disappointed we didn’t do better on a quiz. We knew how it felt when someone asked a boneheaded question. But this, this feeling here, was new.
It was coals of anger restrained only by sheer force of will, it was rage incarnate.
“What?” The kid smiled and looked around at his silent classmates, “Did I say something wrong? Why do I have to go to the office?”
I wish I could say this kid had balls of steel, but all evidence points to the contrary; he had brains of mush.
“Mr. [redacted],” my teacher’s voice was even and controlled, but radiated power, “you will collect your belongs and see yourself to the office right now…” He repeated again slower and more clear, “…or I will assist you in doing so.”
And then it hit…
Like a tsunami wave crashing against the shore, he realized how much sh*t he really was in. He wasn’t being sent to the office because the teacher was angry, he was being sent to the office for his own well-being.
Finally breaking my sight line, I looked at the kid. His face was pale and mouth slightly open, signifying the epiphany currently washing over him. He quickly grabbed his things, not even bothering to put them in his bag, and left.
My teacher took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and then said, “Are there any OTHER questions regarding my class?”
What I should have said was nothing. What I actually said was: “We still get brownies for doing well on tests, right?”
He looked at me with the same cold eyes my classmate had earned. My boisterous confidence shriveled under the gaze. I had taken the anger from being asked if during a war he had butchered innocents and redirected it unto myself with a smartass question.
I would be joining my idiot counterpart soon. He gave me a slow blink and said, “Everybody but you, kid. Everybody but you.” He gave me a rare grin as the class sighed and chuckled.
“Please open your textbooks to page [some number] and begin reading. I have other, ahem, matters to attend to. I will return momentarily.”
The kid who had asked the question transferred classes that day. Three weeks later I received my first, last, and only personal pan of brownies for a perfect score on his test.
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