Your past will haunt you, they say.
Telling my mother that her sole reason for existence was to “foster my development into greatness” was obviously a swollen, teenage miscalculation. I see this now as I begrudgingly prepare for my own daughter’s emotionally overcharged pubescence. Recently, my mother announced, as my tween tyrant skirted off down the hall after being scolded for giving me one of her famous triple eye rolls, “I just wanted to live long enough to see this day.” Well, goody goody.
Of course, I didn’t reserve my Nero-esque moments during those years for Mom alone. There was the dress code nazi at my high school, too. (How dare she send me home for wearing a corset over my t-shirt! Sheesh.) And then there was that gym teacher who made us practice an aerobics routine to the Pointer Sisters’ “Jump” all semester. When she called Mom crying about how I staged a sit-down strike, my sinister, sixteen year-old soul smiled a great grin of vengeance. I was well on my way to becoming a more vegetarian version of Hannibal Lecter.
The worst example, however, was the way in which I treated poor Ms. Wyatt.
She was my Latin teacher — for nearly four years of my life. Whatever stereotype you may have about quirky Latin instructors is probably valid in Wyatt’s case, so I won’t waste much time describing what she was like. I will say this: We loved and hated each other. I could not wait to get to her class so she’d send me to the principal’s office. Daily.
Ms. Wyatt was misunderstood. I think I knew that back then, which is most likely what drew me to her and also why I was willing to go to such extreme measures to get her attention. For example, I remember taking a black marker to her podium at one point and very carefully writing “RAVISHING” divided into syllables down the front. It was as close as I could have come to writing “Fuck you, and I like you” without actually saying so. I believe the only reason she didn’t kill me was because I was useful and dependable when she needed a Dramatic Interpretation competitor for Latin competitions. This was the only event which doesn’t require the competing nerd to actually know anything about the subject. I can attest to this because after having taken all those years of Latin, I don’t remember much — largely attributed to the fact I spent most of my time in the principal’s office. However, I always took home a ribbon for the team. And for Ms. Wyatt.
And then I miraculously graduated, finding myself sans her craziness and her Latin and our love/hate.
A couple of weeks ago Isy<3 leaned over her bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese at Chili’s and revealed behind her one Ms. Wyatt, sitting alone two booths away. I immediately gathered a pen and ripped a sheet of paper from the Joe Ledbetter journal Russell gave me to carry around in my purse.
“It’s me…Kristan Busby? I was in your –”
“I know exactly who you are.”
Weird thing, this life, and I wanted to cry for some reason right there.
I sat down in the booth with her, leaving Russell and Isy<3 to fend for themselves. Ms. Wyatt continued, “I was thinking about you a while back. My boyfriend [her boyfriend? What? Teachers can’t…] went into the attic and found a box labeled ‘Latin’ and wanted to know what I wanted to do with it. Well, you wouldn’t believe it, but inside the box there was all of this fabric, all of these ribbons — a whole box of them — that we’d won all those years.”
“Yes, and I found yours.”
That’s when the waiter stopped by. Obviously familiar with the Chili’s staff, she bragged, “This is one of my old Latin students. She won the state competition in Dramatic Interp.”
She did remember.
“Oh, wow. What year was that?”
I wasn’t sure, but Ms. Wyatt answered for me, “Ooooh, I’d have to say 1989, something like that, don’t you think?”
Crap, I remembered practically none of this, but she was recalling details from two decades past with frightening clarity for someone her age. She went on, “I know you didn’t learn any of the speech you had to memorize until we got on that bus to go to State.”
“You’re right. I didn’t know a word.”
Looking back at the waiter, she added, “And she won. One of my best students.”
My whole life, I have desperately tried to prove my mother’s success in “fostering my development into greatness.” As I sat before Ms. Wyatt, I realized something which hadn’t occurred to me before: I have been great. Perhaps, my greatness hasn’t involved world domination or a Nobel Peace Prize, but I do have a ribbon with my name on it in a box Ms. Wyatt’s boyfriend pulled from her attic. It’s something.
I hugged her again before we left, and Russell took a few pictures of us with my camera. I told Ms. Wyatt she was my favorite teacher. Then, like so many years ago, I went my own way. This time, leaving her alone in the booth to enjoy her glass of white wine and the consolation of knowing I hadn’t turned out to be Hannibal Lecter after all.
Ms. Wyatt, if you find me here, for what it’s worth: We might be slightly off-kilter — you and I, but you’re still RAVISHING. Love, K