Mrs. Huffman paced methodically from one side of our sixth grade class room to the other as she enunciated each spelling word for our assignment. Every eye focused ahead; hands moving to copy the words on the blackboard to paper on desk. Every eye except for two that is. Those two eyes gazed longingly out the windows toward children playing dodge ball and submarine tag.
I cringed. My full name always foreshadowed impending doom. Visions of the principal’s office or even worse, a call home to my parents thundered through my brain like apocalyptic horsemen. Man hadn’t even landed on the moon yet but my computer brain searched its database for any possible combination of actions that might have produced my name being called in that fashion. No hits.
“Yes, Mrs. Huffman.” I ventured in my best, “Gee, what did I do wrong” voice.
“Would you please tell the class what so interests you outside those windows that it has convinced you to ignore your lesson.”
There was no use in stalling now. I stood. We always stood back then when addressing the teacher. My palms were sweating so I could barely grip the edge of my desk without it squirting away from me. I held my breath, awaiting what was about to befall me.
“Well!” Mrs. Huffman took a step toward my row as she spoke. The other children sat like statues praying they wouldn’t suffer any fall out from the bomb about to drop on me.
“I … I was just kinda watching my friends playing dodge ball out there. Sorry mam.”
“I see.” Mrs. Huffman turned and walked back toward the blackboard. Without turning she spoke clearly for all the class to hear. “Timothy, you will remain after class so we can discuss your … friends. And, your fascination with them.”
As class dismissed, the other students filed out quietly. A few glanced my way and then quickly away like there were seeing me for the last time before my execution. And then I sat alone. My mind whirred with thoughts of what was about to transpire. Why had she had me stay behind? Why didn’t she slap my hand with a ruler like she often did others? Why didn’t she send me to Mr. Whatley’s office? A fate worse than death.
Mrs. Huffman walked over to my desk and then did a most incredible thing. She pulled a desk over to face mine and sat down. What horrible thing was about to transpire? Was she engaging in psychological warfare? Who can know the mind of grownups when one is eleven years old?
That was good. Confusing but good. No Timothy this time.
“Tim … there will be a time in your life years from now when you will finally understand something. When you are my age, you will be able to count the number of true friends you have on one hand. “
She had finally snapped. How could my lack of attention have cause invincible Mrs. Huffman to make such a foolish statement. I had dozens, no, hundreds of friends. What was this gibberish she was spouting?
Before I could respond, Mrs. Huffman turned and walked toward the door. “Your dismissed Tim. See you tomorrow.”
What! No spanking? No writing lines on the board? No note to take home to my parents? She just left me there twisting in the wind. As I left the room I realized I felt sorry for Mrs. Huffman. So few friends that in her loneliness she truly believed everyone shared her sad isolation.
Thirty seven years later I sat by myself in a room once again. I wasn’t headed to an execution but I was more alone that I had ever been in my life. Circumstances, foolishness, and emotional breakdown had deposited me in a foreign world, locked away from all I knew and loved.
I sat on a cold concrete stool staring through safety glass. There were no multitudes of friends playing dodge ball or submarine tag. No green fields or tall pine trees for climbing. But there was one true friend. One who had remained faithful even when I had not. And as she sat down on the other side of that glass I could swear Mrs. Huffman, my sixth grade teacher, sat down beside her.
She smiled through the years and whispered. “You are blessed to have at least one true friend. Cherish it … Class dismissed.”
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