Holding my breath. Willing myself not to speak. I have absolutely nothing to say to him. Breathe.
Don’t speak. He’s old. He thought he was teaching me a lesson. Breathe.
You can do this. Not a word. Ignore him. Don’t give him the satisfaction. Breathe.
You have nothing to prove to him. Don’t speak. Breathe.
Now what? I’m trapped with him. For God knows how long.
You know what? Fuck it. I’ve held it inside for two decades now. I needn’t hold it for even one minute more.
You know what? No. You don’t get to speak.
I was barely eighteen. You were well into your 50s.
I was a student, you were my senior English teacher.
I missed far too many classes, from equal parts boredom from your teaching, rebelliousness, disinterestedness, and illness. You were nearing retirement, likely reflecting back on your accomplishments, or lack thereof.
I saw your class as optional. You didn’t.
Three weeks before graduation, you informed me that you were failing me. My final grade by your subjective calculations? 68.8. I needed a 70 to pass.
It all came down to a single moment. A moment where you sat, pen in hand, and decided to fail me. To teach me something.
I took a correspondence class and earned an A+ and received my diploma on the same day my classmates did. But, I couldn’t march in my own graduation ceremony. I’ll bet you were satisfied.
I went on to attend college, making the Dean’s List every semester.
I succeeded because I am intelligent and curious. Driven and tenacious. I had a professor who believed in me, who cultivated my desire to be challenged, to be pushed beyond where I was at any given moment. He opened the world to me and told me it was mine for the taking.
I went on to graduate school and graduated summa cum laude.
Summa cum laude. Did you?
Both of my degrees are in English.
And neither had anything to do with you and the lesson you so smugly believed you were teaching me.
Your moment to shine would have been earlier on. Perhaps when you saw that I was bored out of my mind…maybe when I began disengaging?
I earned those degrees neither because of you, nor in spite of you.
And when I went on to become an English professor, I remained cognizant of the fact that the most important part of my job was to make a connection with my students and see how they learned, what they needed, and how I could help them to succeed. Their education wasn’t about me. I was merely a steward. I didn’t sit back, closed off and sanctimonious.
But you did.
Don’t forget to breathe.
This post is a response to the following prompt: “Think of a person you don’t like, and describe what you might say if you had to share an elevator ride together. Then describe what happens when the elevator breaks down. For six hours.”