Katie Kraushaar and I are currently collaborating on an article for hopeful publication in an upcoming issue of Voices from the Middle. The article is about the benefits of English teachers writing alongside their students. In the spirit of the article, I thought I would post my most recent piece of classroom writing. It’s a draft of a narrative scene (a short, self-contained scene of fiction/literary non-fiction with a beginning, middle, and end). We chose to focus on scene-setting, dialogue, participial phrases, and different types of leads. As a wannabe essayist, I’ve never spent much time with fiction. Posting this scene reminds me of the trepidation of viewership and disclosure that many of my students feel when I ask them to “share out.”
“Attention all teachers. Due to the increased amount of substitutes in the building today, will any and all available teachers please report to the cafeteria to assist with lunch.”
Mr. Samuels ground the heels of his marker-stained palms into his eyes, an oddly pleasurable feeling considering the backs of his eyelids felt like sandpaper. Sighing, he turned his attention to the stacks of notebooks on top of his desk. The ones sitting right next to yesterday’s Lord of the Flies quizzes and behind a pile of random folders from last week’s evaluations. He was in no rush to complete the work. Now that he no longer had to pick up his wife after work, he had the entire afternoon and evening to get things done.
His mind wandered through his memories, stopping to examine the images of his wife he’d stored there. The two of them chatting about their day. Standing next to each other and chopping up vegetables for dinner. They’d walk the dog together, read together, and close their eyes together as they drifted off to sleep every night.
But that was before the heart attack. After his wife collapsed on the floor one night, she had to be rushed to the hospital. The doctors told Mr. Samuels that his wife had a previously unrecognized congenital heart condition and wouldn’t last long. After that, he’d enjoyed stopping by the hospital after work, surprising her with fresh roses and peanut M&Ms, her favorite candy. As the school year went on, however, it became harder for Mr. Samuels to get away. Meetings with administrators, sit-downs with parents, and endless paperwork kept him chained to his desk.
The day before her release, Mr. Samuels received a voicemail. “Mr. Samuels? Hi, yes, this is Dr. Aikan from First Baptist Hospital. Your wife has suffered another heart attack. Please come as soon as you can.” The worst part about all of this was that he didn’t get the voicemail until after her passing. He had been stuck in another meeting when it happened.
Ever since then, everything had changed. Mr. Samuels had started staying at school later and later, throwing himself into his work in order to keep away thoughts of his wife’s death. After a couple of months, he was spending every night in his classroom. Tonight, he realized surveying the paper explosion that was his desk, would be no different.
Later that evening, Mr. Samuels wrapped himself up in the sleeping bag his wife had purchased for him during their final Christmas together. In his dreams, he slowly drowned underneath an endless tide of notebooks, lessons, and a flatline.