Confusion is scary, in the same way that darkness is scary, and I’m not sure if anyone knows why.
“Zac, Zac, get up,” I quickly open my eyes to see John, staring at me. I look up toward the front of the room, and see a practice equation being written on the board with what I can only assume is the substitute teacher’s name beside it, Mrs. Henzy. Three times twelve. I hastily reach into my backpack and get my notebook. I feel my chest get tight, and surely enough, I cough. Everyone is staring at me now, including the sub, or at least it feels that way. I open my notebook slowly, and flip through to the nearest blank page. I calculate the equation in my head. Three groups of two is six and three groups of ten is thirty. Thirty plus six is thirty six. I write down the answer way after everyone else does.
Mrs. Henzy starts, “Three times twelve is thirty six.” Her voice makes me think about death. I’m not sure why, because by no means is she old. Involuntarily, I cough. She turns to me, slowly, and in a calm, yet aggressive tone she states, “If you were running from Nazis, you wouldn’t be coughing that loudly.” I’m stunned. It was as if she practiced that line in a mirror. No hesitation. No stutter.
In a weird way, I’m impressed.
I slowly turn behind me to see everyone actually staring at me. I feel my cheeks getting red and as hot as lava, I feel water pooling by the side of my eyes. I reassure myself: don’t cry Zac, don’t cry Zac, it’s fine, you’re fine. I think about running out of the room and to the office right then and there, but then I decide against it. It takes all of my might to push down my tears and confusion. I can’t control it, cold, and chilly temperatures trigger my asthma more than anything.
She goes on, “Four times ten is forty.” For the rest of the class, I am stunned, did that actually just happen or am I imagining things? I realize it definitely happened when I looked around and everyone looks about as confused as me. When I lay my eyes on Mrs. Henzy, however, she looks as content as ever, as if she got possessed and remembers nothing about what just happened.
“Beeeeep,” the bell goes. I get up, faster than I ever have, nearly forgetting my bag behind me. I get out of the room before Mrs. Henzy can say goodbye. I run to Ms. Calhoun’s classroom. Once I get there, I walk to my cubby and throw my bag inside. I try to think about anything and everything else, why are they called cubbys? What’s for lunch today? Is Ms. Calhoun married? I rush out the back of the classroom to take my seat. Before the rest of the kids can flood in, I get out of my seat and very carefully, walk over to Ms. Calhoun’s desk where she is sitting, bent over her desk. I’ve always disliked her, for many reasons, but the one thing that always stood out to me is how she was a very “no questions asked” individual. In many situations, this was more of a character flaw than anything else, but in this one situation it was a god send.
I ask, “can I go to the office?”
“Sure, come back for dismissal,” she responds without even looking up at me, which says a lot more about her than you would think. On my way out of the room I ran into some of the people that were also in Mrs. Henzy’s class. They tried to stop me to ask me where I was going, but I was afraid if I told them I would start bawling. So I continued through like a careless driver on a road full of crossing turkeys. On my way through the halls, I tried to think about what just happened but I couldn’t unpack it in my head. I decided to take the open stairwell to the office instead of the closed off stairwell in the back of the fourth grade hallway. Thinking back on it now, I’m not sure that the closed off stairwell actually exists. I might have fabricated them in one of my many nightmares that took place at that school, some filled with only an oversized white tee, and others with endless stairwells that lead nowhere.
When I finally got to the office after what felt like an eternity, I saw Mrs. Dona sitting at the front desk. Her husband owns King’s Bagels which is right down the street from my house, on occasion my parents would take me down the street to get a bagel on the weekend. Whenever this happened, which was not often, I would always see her manning the register. The bagels were never the best in the world, but there was something about the friendly chatter that always made up for it.
“Can I please speak to Ms.Foxantora,” I asked in a polite tone, despite my mood.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“There was a substitute and she was mean.” As I spoke, I teared up. “And, and she made a,” my throat got tighter and tighter as I spoke, “questionable comment about asthma and Nazis’ ‘. By the time I was done talking, tears were streaming down my face and snot was running down my nose.
“I’ll see if she has some time.” She was visibly confused and looked a little bit worried. I walked over to the row of black plastic chairs and took a seat. It took about fifteen minutes for Ms. Foxantora to find the time to talk to the crying kid in the lobby. I wondered what was so important?
As Ms. Foxantora emerged from the hallway next to the big desk she said, “go down the hall, first door to the left.” I obliged, expecting her to follow behind me, but instead, when I started down the hall, she stayed and started a conversation with Mrs. Dona. I nearly got lost walking down the hall. I don’t know if that says something about me, or the layout of the school. I finally found her office and walked in. There were two desk chairs and pictures of her kids on her desk.
I sat in the desk chair closest to the door for nearly fifteen minutes before Ms. Foxantora walked in the room and took a seat. “What’s wrong?” she asked as she sat down. By this time, my tears had slowed and my snot had hardened.
“Do you mind?” I said as I gestured toward the tissues
She responded with a disgruntled, “not at all.” In response, embarrassed, I reached over her desk, grabbed a tissue and pulled the hardened snot off my nose.
“I was in class, and we had Mrs.Henry as a substitute, and, and I coughed because it is cold outside, and I have asthma, and when I coughed, she snapped and she said, ‘If Nazis were chasing you would you cough that loudly?’” By the time I was done speaking, I was completely out of breath, and I could see Ms. Foxantora slowly realize that I wasn’t there for no reason.
“Was there any other reason why she said this?” she asked, confused.
I said, “Not that I know of. And honestly, I’m still confused about it.”
“Before tomorrow, I will talk to Mrs. Henzy and get her side of the story,” she responded.
On my way out the door, I waved goodbye and heard the end of day bell ring. I quickly ran to Ms. Calhoun’s classroom to grab my bag. I nearly missed the bus. On my way home from school, I usually would talk to a couple of the kids on said bus about smashy roads, a game all about evading the cops and collecting cars out of gashapon machines.
Except, today was different, almost conveniently Isak and Mathew decided not to take the bus home which left me alone. As I realized this, while the bus was driving off away from the school, I took out my half-broken apple headphones, and a blue 2nd generation I-Pod nano filled to the brim with country music, which I will always remember because right before I got onto the bus that morning, me and my brother got into a fight about if the blue one was his or mine. I knew he got the blue one and I got the green, but as all younger siblings did, I insisted the blue one was mine.
As I put my headphones in my ear and hit shuffle, I began to unpack what happened. I coughed then, I got yelled at, and then I almost got a teacher fired.
To this day, I am still confused about how these events unraveled. I don’t think anyone in the world quite understands how much of a mystery that day still is to me.