In first grade, my teacher for half a day was Mrs. Matthews. I didn’t like her very much, and I don’t think she liked me, either. I was one of those kids that couldn’t stay seated for more than a few minutes at a time, and then I wanted to get up and talk. It didn’t matter to whom. I would have talked to a sign post had it been available. Possibly it was the beginning of a long school career afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder. Perhaps it was just that I was seven. At this point, I’ll never know. As for Mrs. Matthews, she was very overweight and had no patience for running after seven year olds, regardless of how much attention he or she was able to pay.
Which is probably why it’s such a blessing that for the other half of the day, I had Mrs. Grant… Mrs. Grant was everything that Mrs. Matthews was not. She was tall and slim and usually wore a bright-colored smock so that if the class wanted to play with finger paints at a moment’s notice, she was ready. In Mrs. Grant’s class, I don’t believe I was any more well-behaved than I was for Mrs. Matthews… with one slight exception. In Mrs. Grant’s class, every time I got out of my seat, I wanted to talk to HER.
And thus began my sordid tale of first grade Fatal Attraction.
It started out innocently enough. During one of our five minute conversations, Mrs. Grant let it slip that she had a daughter. “A daughter?” I thought, a little restless at the idea. As a first grader, it had never occurred to me that teachers had actual lives outside of school, or that they had other people to love besides their students. The thought nagged at me. “Mrs. Grant has a daughter that’s not me at her house? Mrs. Grant has a house? I thought she lived here, like Mrs. Matthews. Why would Mrs. Grant want to have a daughter at home when she has me here at school. I am a good reader and everything.” Surely it couldn’t be true, but there was only one way to find out. I would go to Mrs. Grant’s house and see this alleged daughter.
The thought of going to Mrs. Grant’s house stayed with me for the next few months as I became increasingly more curious about the lives that teachers lead when they’re not in front of the classroom. It just didn’t make any sense. Every day, when my mom dropped me off in the morning, Mrs. Matthews greeted us like she was just refreshed from a good night’s sleep, so it made sense to me that the teachers probably napped on our cots when we weren’t using them. In the afternoon, Mrs. Grant always looked glad to see us… as if she’d been waiting all this time just for us to show up.
You’ll have to forgive me, as this part of the story has grown very fuzzy with time, but the little bit I do remember is that somehow I was asked to raise money for something, and I asked Mrs. Grant if she wanted to buy whatever it was I was selling. She said yes, and I gave her the form which required her name, phone number, and ADDRESS.
When she gave me my paperwork, I glanced at her teacher-ish handwriting. It wasn’t at all squiggly or slanted like my mom and dad’s. I was able to read the address perfectly. 3728 Pine Street. PINE STREET? Mrs. Grant had lived on my street all this time and I didn’t even know it! Since I lived at 3102 Pine Street, I could probably walk there all by myself!
I waited for the day when Mrs. Grant’s goods would arrive with baited breath. It would only be a little while longer before the mystery was solved. I would get to see where Mrs. Grant lived. I would get to see the daughter that wasn’t me. And if I was really, really good, maybe I could even convince Mrs. Grant that I was a better daughter than her daughter and she could just throw that one out.
When the day arrived, I was so excited that I couldn’t even wait for a measly little thing like my parents to wake up so I could tell them where I was going. I packed Mrs. Grant’s goods, whatever they were, into the little basket on the front of my bike. I put my red London Fog coat on over my jeans and striped rugby shirt. I got on my bike, and rode down the driveway.
I got to the end of our block and stopped, checking both ways for cars like my dad had said. Once I knew the coast was clear, I rode across. All I had to do was follow the numbers. 3303, 3305, 3307… Gosh, it was a lot longer ride to Mrs. Grant’s house than I thought. Now the houses all looked unfamiliar and there was a dog barking at me and I felt afraid. But I couldn’t turn back. I needed to know where Mrs. Grant lived and I wasn’t going to stop until I found it.
Six blocks was entirely too far to ride on seven year old legs. By the time I reached Mrs. Grant’s driveway, I was huffing and puffing so hard I thought I might blow her house down. But inside, it was a small victory. I had ridden ALL THAT WAY by myself. And I was going to see where Mrs. Grant lived. I would be able to tell all my friends about it in first grade, and they probably wouldn’t even believe me anyway. Everybody knows that Mrs. Grant and Mrs. Matthews live at Parker Elementary, even the janitor. He told me himself.
Well. When I rang the doorbell, I was SHOCKED AND APPALLED. Mrs. Grant did not have on her smock. She did not have on one of her teacher dresses with the apples and the school buses. She was wearing HER PAJAMAS! And they WEREN’T EVEN NICE PAJAMAS, EITHER!
For the first time in my life, I felt shy. I didn’t know what to say, and frankly, I don’t think she did, either. I stood there kind of dumbly for a minute until she noticed that I had her stuff in the basket of my bike.
“Is that stuff for me?” she enquired.
“Well… come on in. I’ll have to write you a check.”
I had this strange feeling that even though I’d waited for this moment a long time, it was going to end with the contents of my breakfast on the floor. In order to keep my cool, I started looking around the room. Her husband was sitting in a lounge chair in the living room, staring at one of those enormous projection screen television sets that if you’re really close up you only see big red, green, and blue lights. The carpet was orange shag and looked like there were dogs in the family. My eyes lit on a number of (I thought, with my seven year old taste) tacky tchotchkes strewn about the mantle. And, sitting in the corner, was a girl slightly older than me.
I went and tugged on Mrs. Grant’s pajama sleeve and pointed at the girl.
“Who is that?” I asked.
“Oh, she replied. That’s Jennifer, my daughter.”
“Does she live here, too?”
“Of course! Why wouldn’t she?”
I didn’t have an answer. Well, I did, but for some reason it just didn’t seem appropriate to say that she didn’t need any more kids if she was teaching all of us.
I left in a fog. The six blocks back to my house passed slowly, and I felt let down, like a Macy’s float after the parade.
There’s a familiar, throbbing pain in the middle of my stomach as I read the e-mail before me: “I do not want contact with you, including e-mail or phone. If there is ever a point that this changes, I will be the one to initiate it.” I’d gotten this e-mail based on a mistake I’d made, rooted in that deflated balloon feeling of wondering whether there was enough love to go around and not waiting for the safety and security of knowing for sure. I wonder sometimes if that’s where all of life’s mistakes are made- finding yourself in a space where you’re not sure if there’s enough love, and not having enough strength to just wait and see. Because for the most part, there always is.