Who doesn’t love their kids? No one, right? What’s not to love? And that’s true whether you have one or two, or in my case 25. Their beautiful smiling faces, their curiosity about the world, the feeling they give you when they stare at you with those big innocent eyes, there is nothing better.
I would argue that the only thing bad about having kids is that they come with parents. Well-meaning, and I’m sure otherwise lovely parents who will sometimes feed their kids dessert for breakfast and then drop them off at school. I get it, it makes the kids happy and it’s one less battle they have to fight with them.
And, isn’t that what teachers are paid for, to manage 25 sugar-infused angels who are all on their own scheduled sugar crashes? At 9 AM the classroom is that scene in a musical where everyone is happy and swinging from the chandelier while singing in chorus.
By 11 AM it’s that scene from a war movie where the war has been fought, there are bodies sprawled out across the battlefield and one person is slowly digging through the carnage looking for their missing arm. Sure, it’s the arm of their dolly, but you get my point.
Teaching kindergarten can be a life-affirming and rewarding profession. There is nothing else I would want to do with my life. And some parents will always feed their kids dessert for breakfast. It’s just what’s easiest. And that is why I have taken an extremely controversial position.
I’m going to tell you what it is and when you hear it, you’re going to think I’m crazy. Bear with me. Your instinct will be to make a noose out of the cords from your drapes and come find me, but hear me out.
I propose that kindergarten teachers be allowed to give their kids… naptime. I know, it’s radical. But, I swear to you, I’m not the devil incarnate like so many of my peers have claimed. I had naptime when I was in kindergarten and you might have as well. And we didn’t turn into homeless vagrants, right?
Studies have shown that kids retain 18% more information if they are given a naptime during class. And every day that kids aren’t allowed a naptime, kids remember less and less of what they’re taught.
When I put it like that, naptime is a no-brainer, right? You might think so, but apparently, naptime prevents the one thing that certain parents demand above everything else, more academic time. “While our kids sleep, Japanese kids are learning multidimensional astrophysics,” so they claim. And because every school board is more afraid of an angry parent than they are of a grenade-toting rabid dog, they give in.
I’m on the front lines, though. There are only so many times you can see ‘Saving Private Ryan’ reenacted by 5-year-olds before you stand up and say something. And in the mean streets of elementary school education, that’s made me a rebel.
Gandhi had the independence of a billion Indian people. I have naptime. I dare you to tell me which struggle is greater. Exactly! To the world I say, you’re welcome.
Haha! I’m joking, of course. Sort of. Naptime really is an incredibly controversial topic and a great number of schools have ended the practice. I have gotten on the bad side of a lot of my administrators because of this and more than once, names have been called. There are people who hate me over this. It’s nuts. It truly is a crazy time we’re napping in.
The way that I have dealt with it is by ignoring school policy and giving my kids naptime. What can they say about it? My kid’s test scores are through the roof. My class is 25% more likely to circle the flower instead of the tree and tricycle on tests. The other teachers are so envious that they could spit glass.
I don’t want to give the impression that naptime is a universal cure-all, though. I still have my problems with the students. For the most part, they are all very sweet. But at some point during their kindergarten year, one kid discovers the rush that comes from picking on one of the others and the practice sweeps through the class like an epidemic.
Anything becomes fair game with them. They’re like little insult comics with no limits, conscience, or sense of comedic timing. It can get bad.
There is a lot of it that I let go. Who am I to rob the world of the next Kevin Hart? And, as long as the jabs are kept above the belt, it will give the insulted kid a safe space to problem solve.
This is a situation that they will probably experience often throughout life. If they can develop the confidence that comes from defending themselves against accusations of sand eating, imagine how they will fair when staring down a vicious dictator as the president of the United States. To the world, again, you’re welcome.
Some topics are below the belt, however, and that’s when I step in. If you watch the kids as they interact, you can tell when that is. When the other kid is showing signs of being punch drunk, that’s when you have to separate them. You have to send the two fighters to their corners and issue a few warnings about unsportsmanlike conduct.
In fact, as I am patrolling the playground during their lunch break, I can see that happening right now. I recognize the three kids involved but none of them are in my class. The leader of the bullies is your typical playground marauder who comes to school spotless and goes home covered in three inches of dirt. I see a lot of Adderall in his future.
“What’s going on here?” I said stepping in and separating the group.
“Nothin’,” my pre-Adderall friend said.
It is never a good sign when a kid discovers the power of offering a complete denial at age 6.
“I know that’s not true. Now, can you tell me what’s going on?”
The kid who was being teased spoke up. That was unusual. It’s around age four that kids learn the foundational understandings of life, one of which is that snitches get stitches.
“They were teasing me because I have two fathers,” the shockingly well-spoken 7-year-old said.
I can’t tell you how many red flags that one sentence set off for me. That kid had the wherewithal to summarize the scenario and the confidence to communicate it to an authority figure. And did he really use “father” instead of “dad”? From a childhood development perspective that is showing a level of objective identification that’s far beyond his years. In other words, that kid is going to be teased a lot.
“Is this true? Were you two teasing him because he has two dads?” I asked while hoping that the future swirly recipient picked up on me using the word ‘dad’ instead of ‘father.’
Pre-Adderall and his future mid-level manager friend didn’t say a word. I was sure that they hadn’t encountered this scenario before. Pre-Adderall’s use of complete denial told me that his strategy had always worked before. Which brings up another reason why I love teaching kids. It’s because you get to be a part of them learning life lessons which will determine the trajectory of their lives.
I knelt in front of the two future Wall Street employees and looked at them eye to eye.
“Why would you tease him because he has two dads?”
“We didn’t,” Pre-Adderall claimed.
“I know that’s not true. And you should know that if someone knows that you’re not telling the truth and you continue to not tell the truth, you will end up getting in a lot more trouble than if you had just been honest,” I said preparing them for when they would have to testify against their Wall Street bosses.
“So, again, I ask you two, why would you tease him about having two dads?”
The mid-level manager shrugged. A confession. Now we were getting somewhere.
“Is it because you’ve never met someone with two dads before and you think it’s weird?”
The kid shrugged again.
“Okay, I can understand that. But you’re going to see a lot of things that you haven’t seen before as you go through life. It’s how you react to it that will matter. Remember that. If you tease everyone you meet who’s different than you, you are going to end up having an unhappy life.
“And more than that, when you say mean things to others, you don’t know how those mean things will come back to haunt you. For example, what if, like his two dads, I had a husband and I heard you teasing him. You wouldn’t have just hurt his feelings, you would have hurt mine as well. And do you think it’s a good idea to hurt the feelings of someone who can assign you a lot of homework if they want? Do you?”
“No,” mid-level manager said.
“What about you?”
“Good. You’re right. It’s not. That’s why instead of teasing people who are different, you get to know them a little. For example, what’s your name?” I said to the kid with two fathers.
“Blaze,” he said with the confidence that a child with stoner parents shouldn’t have.
“And what are your two names?”
“Drummond, but people call me Drum,” Pre-Adderall said.
“Tom,” the other said.
“Drum, Tom, this is Blaze. Now that you three know each other, how about I see you shake each other’s hands.”
They did. It was pretty cute.
“See, he’s not all that different, right?”
Drum and Tom shook their heads, no.
“And that’s how it always is when you meet someone a little different than you for the first time. Okay, why don’t the three of you figure out what else you have in common. Now, go play,” I told them ushering them off.
To Drum and Tom’s credit, they did what they were told. The three played together for the rest of lunch. Again, to the world I say, you’re welcome. But you know what would really help those kids to retain the lessons they learned today? That’s right, an after-lunch nap.
The rest of my day wasn’t nearly as exciting as my lunch had been. After my class’ post-lunch siesta, we tackled phonics. Today we dealt with “ph” versus “f”. It blew their minds.
As eventful as my day was, I was much more excited when the final bell rang and the day was done. Usually, I wouldn’t have much to look forward to. That wasn’t the case tonight. Tonight I had a date.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite a date. I had a meeting with Principal Ivy. But, the meeting was going to be at P. F. Chang’s. That’s right. If that didn’t scream that this was a date, I didn’t know what would. I mean, come on. It was P. F. Chang’s. And it was technically against the rules for a principal to date a teacher, but I asked her and she said yes. Clearly, she has a thing for bad boys.
We did have an actual reason for meeting, though. Every year the school did a grade 6 graduation trip. Usually, the grade 6 teachers would host it, but there was an incident last year where a child was temporarily lost at Disney World and all hell broke loose. After the parents sued the school, and the teachers were said to be at fault, the administration decided it would be better for them to limit liability exposure.
The thinking was that the graduating class wouldn’t have a graduation trip this year. But, again, the parents stepped in and forced the board to make it happen. Never underestimate a parent’s desire to dump their kids off on someone else for the summer. And when all of the parents involved signed legal paperwork completely waiving their rights to sue, the school agreed. This year we could lose the whole lot of them and the school would be fine.
Who could pass up the chance to organize a game of Russian roulette with fifteen 12-year-olds? Certainly not me. 12-year-olds have horrible aim. That was why I volunteered to host the trip. And since I was the only one who had, Principal Ivy stepped in to do it with me.
Was my desire to see a live adaptation of ‘Lord of the Flies’ my only reason for agreeing to host this? Definitely not. It came with a heavily discounted rate on the tour package for the host. I was a kindergarten teacher living in New York, one of the most expensive states in the US. A heavily discounted trip was the only type of trip I could afford.
Did it make the choice a ton easier when Principal Ivy agreed to join me? Obviously. She was a beautiful woman with a passion for education and the biggest pair of PhDs I’ve ever seen. I mean it, they were huge.
How many times a day must she have to say, “Hey, stop looking at my diplomas. My eyes are over here?” It must be maddening for her.
But, she wouldn’t have to worry about that tonight at P. F. Chang’s. Tonight the only thing I was after was her body. I wasn’t expecting to take her home or anything. But if we ended up making out and then debating Skinner’s theory on childhood education, I wasn’t going to fight it. After all, a man has his needs.
After doing my shift as the after school playground monitor, I headed home to shower and clean up. I was looking forward to my night out. Sadly, it had been a while since I had been on a date. It wasn’t that I didn’t get opportunities. It was more my lack of desire to go on them.
I guess I had a type. I loved strong women with a little more meat on their bones who were also powerful. And considering Ivy was my boss, well, yeah, in my world, you couldn’t get more powerful than that.
I wasn’t late, but when I arrived I found Principal Ivy already there. She was having a drink at the bar. God damn did she look good. Imagine a sexy librarian who did everything she could to hide the bad girl who was fighting to get out.
“Principal Ivy,” I said drawing her attention.
“Hart, you made it.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” I said sincerely.
“Me neither. How often do I get a chance to go to P. F. Chang’s?”
“We both live so close to here. How have we not done this before?”
“I don’t know,” she said with a smile.
I loved her smile. It made me think of sexy things.
“I reserved a table. Let’s tell them I’m here,” I told her showing her that I knew how to take charge.
Escorting her to the host’s stand, we were quickly redirected to a table in a quiet corner. It was the perfect place to talk.
“So, tell me, if you could travel to anywhere in the world, where would it be?” I asked her.
“Oh wow! We’re starting there?”
“We’re going to have to narrow down the destination for the graduation trip somehow. Why not start with our wish lists?”
“My favorite place considering we’ll have 15 kids with us?”
“No. Just your favorite place. Where is somewhere you’ve always dreamed about going?”
“Okay. Are we still on the clock?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, are you asking me as your boss?” she asked with a devilish smile.
“Well, if we’re still on the clock, we already have issues because you’re drinking on the job,” I joked pointing at her glass.
She laughed. “And how would that be different from every other day?”
“What?” I asked delightfully surprised.
“I’m kidding. I’m so kidding.”
“Boy, get a drink in you and the secrets come out. Waiter, two more of what she’s having,” I said genuinely ordering two more drinks.
“Okay. Now that we’ve established that we’re off the clock. Where would you go?” I asked her again.
“It’s not so much where I would go, it’s more where I would want to go.”
“And where’s that?”
“Have you ever heard of a place called… umm… Hedonism?”
I looked at her curiously.
“I mean, I know what hedonism is but are you talking about a place?”
“It’s in Jamaica,” she said with a blush.
“Say no more,” I said with a smile. “Actually, I take that back. Say a lot more. Hedonism, you say? Sell me on it.”
“Sell you on it?”
“Yeah, make me want to go there as much as you do,” I said going full flirt-mode.
“Okay. It’s an all-inclusive resort. And I’m told that when they pick you up at the airport, on the drive there, they ask you if there are any drugs you want for your stay.”
“What?” I asked shocked.
“And, drugs aren’t my thing. But this is the type of place it is.”
“And once you’re there, anything goes. Wait, I just realized how inappropriate this conversation is. I should stop.”
“Oh, you can’t stop now. You almost have me reeled in. Keep going.”
“So, it’s clothing-optional, public sex optional, and orgy optional.”
“So, it’s like Burning Man but in Jamaica?”
“Yes, exactly!” she said excitedly. “And with showers.”
“Okay, you got me. I’m sold. Let’s book the trip. The kids will love it.”
Ivy laughed. “What about you? Where would you most want to go?”
“Come on,” she said with a smile.
“No. I’m serious. I would have said Fiji. But clearly, I was aiming much, much too low.”
Ivy laughed. “You know, I think we’ve learned something here.”
“We both most want to go to a tropical island. Why don’t we choose one and take the kids there?” Ivy suggested.
“Are we allowed to take them out of the country?”
“I don’t see why not. I’m sure they would all have passports. Half of them probably winter in the Swiss Alps anyway. I can’t imagine it being that big of a deal if we take them somewhere close.”
“What’s close to New York?” I asked.
“Bahama? Come on pretty mama.”
“Kokomo? We could get there fast and take it slow.”
“I’m down for Kokomo,” I joked.
“But since that place doesn’t exist, how about the Bahamas?” She asked.
“Have you ever been?”
“No. Have you?”
“I haven’t. And it’s relatively close,” I pointed out.
“Let’s do it,” she said just as the waiter came over with our two drinks.
“Let’s do it,” I said clinking her glass.
I had to admit that the night was going better than I could have hoped for. So when she pulled out her phone, I was not expecting what would happen next.
“I’m sorry. I know this is rude. But this thing has buzzed about 10 times since I got here. I refused to look at it, but it doesn’t look like it’s gonna stop. Do you mind?”
“No, go ahead.”
It was interesting watching her face as she read her texts. What was more interesting was watching her eyes look up at me and then back at the screen, up at me, then back at the screen. When she did it for the third time, I had to ask.
“Is anything wrong?”
The playful mood she had been in was immediately gone. She looked confused. Very confused.
“Seriously, is something going on?” I asked getting concerned.
“I… have to go.”
“You have to go? Why?”
“I need to take care of something.”
“Okay. Is there something wrong?”
“Umm… maybe. But, I want you to know, whatever you hear, you won’t be fired.”
As the blood rushed out of my face, my skin burned hot. What had just happened?
“Did you just say, I won’t be fired?”
“That’s what I said. And you won’t be. Umm… I have to go.”
She said as she quickly collected her things and left the restaurant without even a look back. What the hell had just happened? Staring at Ivy as she left, I could barely breathe.
I feel humiliated! How did this happen? What was I thinking? How could I be such an idiot?
Okay. Calm down, Ivy. Just excuse yourself and calmly walk out. That’s it. Just tell him you have to go and then never speak to him again.
That was my plan. After getting the text from Myles and reading what he wrote, that was all I could do. Seriously, though, how could I have missed something so fundamental? I had wanted to peek into Hart’s records but I hadn’t. It would have been an invasion of his privacy. And, isn’t that the point of going on dates? So that you can get to know someone?
Hopping in my car and speeding away from P. F. Chang’s, I realized something that wasn’t good. I was feeling that drink. I had only had one drink, so I was definitely still legal to drive, but I wasn’t completely sober.
Was that a good thing considering I was now headed to an emergency meeting with the head of the school’s board? God, I hope so. That man was the hardest person ever to deal with. He definitely made me reach for a drink after meeting with him. I guess I was going to see the effects of having the drink before.
Luckily or unluckily, Myles lived thirty minutes away in Hicksville. It gave me a lot of time to think about what had just happened. I had told Hart that the place I most wanted to go to was Hedonism. Why had I done that? Yeah, it was the truth, but he didn’t need to know that. He’ll probably never be able to look at me the same again.
He’s a gay kindergarten teacher. The last thing he needed to hear about was the sad stories of his fat, sexually deprived, principal. Wait, did I say the word ‘orgy’ in front of him? I think I did. Oh god! I’ll never be able to look him in the eyes again.
How did I not know Hart was gay? Wait, I know how. It’s because he didn’t look, sound or act gay. And hadn’t he been flirting with me? Wait, had he been flirting with me in that campy ‘I think of you as my fat, sexless, gal pal, so I can say anything I want in front of you’ sort of way? He had to be. I just wanted to sink into the seat of my Mazda Miata and disappear.
Arriving at Myles’, I parked in front of his house and took a breath. I had to decide on how I was going to handle this. It might have been the alcohol talking, but what I decided was that I was going to tackle this head-on. I wasn’t going to back down from this. Myles had to know that I was the principal and I wasn’t going to cave in to every whim that his chicken shit ass had. Umm, did I just refer to Myles as a chicken shit? Huh, that was new.
Looking into the mirror and straightening myself up, I readjusted my dark curls, threw back my shoulders, and headed up the walkway towards the front door. Myles’ house was a two-story beige traditional with all lawn and no trees. Basically, it was a light-colored barn with windows. Nothing could fit Myles better than a home where the architecture took no chances.
“Come in,” Myles said already in a panic.
I wasn’t going to let him infect me with his negativity. Not this time.
“We can go back to my office.”
From my other visits here I knew that Myles was married with two kids. I only knew it because I saw the pictures. There was never anyone there when I got there, and there was no sign that anyone else was living there. Seriously, how was there never a single toy on the living room floor? I was starting to question if his kids existed.
Taking a seat across from his insanely orderly desk, I stared at the slightly older, but very tightly wound man in front of me. The poor thing looked like he needed to poop.
“Is this conversation off the record?” he asked me.
“Myles, I’m not a reporter,” I told him.
“I know. But I feel like we have to have an honest conversation and I need to know that it isn’t going anywhere.”
“Fine, it’s off the record.”
“We have to fire Hart.”
“You said that in your text. You can’t fire someone for being gay. It’s against the law.”
“I know that. And, we’re not firing him because he’s gay. We’re firing him because he has a husband.”
That was it. There was the source of my deep humiliation. I had thought that I was on a date when in actuality, he was a married gay guy. How stupid was I? I mean, I had never been great at picking guys, but this was a new low for me.
“Yeah, that’s what you said. How do you know he has a husband?”
“Because a parent called and told me. Apparently, Hart had told their child this.”
“You’re saying that he just, out of nowhere, volunteered this information?”
“Apparently,” Myles said showing his distress.
“I’m sorry, that doesn’t sound like him.”
“The parent said Hart told the boy in front of two other kids.”
“No. I know Hart. He wouldn’t share something like that so whimsically.” And I knew that because we were on a date and he hadn’t shared it with me.
“And yet he did. Maybe you don’t know Hart at all.”
“Oh, I think I do.”
“Did you know he was gay? Or married? Did you know any of that?”
I paused for a second. “Yeah. Of course, I did. I told you, I know him. And he wouldn’t share information like that without a very good reason.”
“Wait, so you knew he was married?”
“Of course I did,” I confirmed with more confidence than I had any right to have considering how big of a lie it was.
“Did you know this when you hired him?”
“It is illegal to ask such questions during a job interview, but he didn’t hide it,” I said leaving out the fact that he didn’t wear a wedding ring.
“So, you knew?”
“And you chose to hire him anyway?” he asked confused.
“Of course I did. Because he was the best person for the job.”
“Are you aware of who chooses to enroll their children at our school?”
“Of course I am.”
“We educate the children of a lot of very wealthy families. Families that come from countries that don’t share America’s liberal views. We market ourselves as a safe haven of traditional values. That is how we sell ourselves.”
“And Hart is married. There you go, an example of traditional values.”
“You know that it isn’t.”
“Why, because he’s gay?”
“No, because he’s married to a man. I couldn’t care less if he were gay.”
“He just can’t act gay, or do anything that a gay person would do?”
Myles stiffened his back getting prickly from my line of questioning.
“He can do whatever he pleases, but none of it can happen on school property or around the kids.”
“But you’re okay when any of the other teachers talk about their family and kids in front of their students.”
“That’s because all of our teachers have fine, respectable families. They are an example of what our students should strive for.”
“How do you know that? And, what makes you think that Hart’s husband isn’t respectable.”
“Have you met Hart’s husband?”
“Of course I’ve met him.”
Why do I keep lying like this?
“You’ve met him?”
“And he’s respectable?”
“More than respectable. Do you really think that Hart would be married to someone who wasn’t? Hart is a kind, thoughtful, nurturing man. Do you really think that he would marry a man who wasn’t as good of a person as he was?”
“Oh, I guess I hadn’t considered that.”
“No, you didn’t. You haven’t thought about a lot of things. Did you really think I would let you fire one of my teachers because he was married to a man? You would have to fire me first.”
“Ivy, I think you fail to realize how conservative some of the families that attend our school are.”
“But they chose to educate their children in the United States. If they wanted to educate their children in a place where women can’t drive and bigotry is allowed, they would have chosen to educate their kids somewhere else. In America, they’ll learn American values. And one of those values is that we judge others on the content of their character.
“Hart is a man with character. His husband is a man with character. Those are the values of the school at which I am a principal. And, if you were looking for something else, then I suggest that you find a new principal.”
I gotta say, I was feeling good.
“Ivy, are you drunk?”
“No, I’m not drunk. How could you dare suggest that I was drunk?”
“It’s just that you seem more… umm… passionate than usual.”
“That’s because this topic matters to me.” And because I was drunk. “And I want to make sure that I squash any thought you have of terminating one of my teachers because of who they love. I’m not gonna let you do it, Myles. There’s no way.”
Myles stared at me a moment longer and then looked down and thought. The time stretched out for what felt like forever. It gave me time to think about all of the things that I had blurted out. I had really said a lot.
“Okay, fine,” Myles conceded. “If you vouch for him, then I’ll trust you. But I have to meet him.”
“I’ve met Hart. I have to meet his husband.”
“Oh, his husband.”
“Yeah. You said you’ve met him. I would like to meet him too. I’m going to have to go back and explain to the parents why we hired a married gay man as our kindergarten teacher. I want to be able to give them an explanation.”
“You don’t have to explain anything to them,” I told Myles hoping he would let this go.
“No. I do. Parents have choices of where they can educate their kids and all of them are less expensive than ours. If we are going to make this moral stand about standing behind American values, then I need to know who I’m risking my job for. You had that opportunity. I would like the same.”
“You do? Okay. I guess I can talk to Hart about it.”
“Please do. And, honestly, if Hart’s husband isn’t the man you say that he is, not only will I be terminating Hart’s contract with the school, but I will be expecting your resignation as well,” he said firmly.
“And if you don’t think he is every bit of the person I have described him as, I will happily give it to you,” I said confidently.
“Then, set up the meeting, I expect to be introduced to him by the end of the weekend.”
“Myles, today is Wednesday. Hart’s husband could be busy or out of town.”
“Ivy, I don’t care how you do it, just make it happen. I will have to talk to the parent about this and there is only so long I can put it off.”
“I’m sure that will be too soon.”
“Then, when can you make it happen? Remember, I’m under a deadline here.”
I thought for a moment. What I realized was that Myles had been right. I was drunk. My mind was moving a lot slower than usual. And the only thing that was coming to mind was,
“How about at the next PTA meeting?”
“The PTA meeting? Yeah, that would be perfect.”
Wait, why did he agree to that so quickly?
“So, next Tuesday it is,” he reminded me.
“Next Tuesday it is,” I said confidently.
“Then, thank you for coming in. I’ll escort you out,” he said getting up.
I was in a daze as I got up and followed him to the front door.
“I look forward to meeting Hart’s husband on Tuesday. And I truly hope he is everything you said he is.”
“Oh, he will be, and so much more.”
“Excellent. Have a good night.”
“You too,” I told him before heading back to my car.
When I was safely in and had driven far enough way, I gripped the steering wheel and yelled, “SHIT!!!”
What had I done? I had never met Hart’s husband. Until Myles told me, I didn’t even know he was married. I didn’t even know he was gay.
But, what I had said had to be true, right? Hart was the most kind-hearted man I had ever met. If he was married, it could only be to a man who shared his values. Hart would never choose to spend the rest of his life with anyone else.
And, now that I thought about it, of course Hart was gay. He was a gentle, thoughtful, kind, loving man. How could he be any gayer?
I was such a fool to believe that I had a shot with him. I don’t completely blame myself. After all, what was with him not ever mentioning he had a husband? We were planning a trip together. In all of our meetings, how didn’t it come up at least once?
Anyway, as my grandmother would always say, there’s no use crying over spilled wine. My grandmother had a bit of a drinking problem.
I just needed to talk to Hart and admit to him that I put him in this awkward spot. I didn’t doubt that Hart would help me out of it. That was the type of guy he was.
The question was whether his husband could make it to Tuesday’s PTA meeting. Because, if he couldn’t, both Hart and I were screwed.
Fired? Did she just tell me that no matter what I hear, I won’t be fired? I can’t believe it. Though, I should have known this was a possibility. Naptime is a very controversial topic.
Was Ivy going to allow me to defend my position on it? From the sound of it, she was going to. If she did, I was ready. I have been gathering studies on it for months. Add that to the internal data comparing my class’ test scores to the others at our school, and my argument was ironclad.
My naptime controversy didn’t completely explain why Ivy looked at me the way she did before she left, though. Was it me or did she look hurt? Why would anything she read on a text about my naptime practices make her feel hurt?
I mean, I was allowing my class to have naptime after she and the board made clear that they didn’t want it. I guess she found out I was doing it anyway. Damn it, I didn’t mean for her to find out this way. I was going to tell her. I just wanted a full year of results before I did.
Didn’t everyone understand that I was doing this for the betterment of the kids? Removing naptime is a short-sighted solution to a different problem. But, I guess that it was what it was. Tomorrow I was going to go in to work with all of the data I had on the subject and I was going to present it to Ivy and hope it was enough.
I liked Ivy. I liked her a lot. I kind of thought of her as “the one”. Had I ruined everything? I think I might have.
I wasn’t going to let everything end like this, though. I was going to fight for her. First thing tomorrow morning, I was going to march into her office and lay it all on the table. I was going to present my data on naptime, let her know how I felt about her, and let the chips fall where they may.
“Are you going to need some more time for the lady to return?” my waiter asked.
“No. I’ll order,” I said choosing to stay.
What else was I going to do? I was at P. F. Chang’s. You don’t just get up and leave a place like this. Who knows when you’ll get the chance to eat there again?
For dinner, I had the crispy honey shrimp over white rice. It was spectacular as usual. I didn’t have the heart for dessert. So, heading out with a full belly and a clear idea of what I needed to do next, I went home and prepared my material for tomorrow.
The next morning as I rode the train into work, I gave a lot more thought to how much I had betrayed Ivy’s trust. I had blatantly defied the will of the school board and by doing so, her authority.
Why had I done it? I would like to say that it was for the kids, but I had to admit that there was more to it than that. I had a rebellious streak in me. I had always had one.
My parents had had a clear path for me. I was supposed to go to Harvard and then Oxford and then take a seat on the board of my family’s company. I was supposed to inherit everything, and there was a lot. My family is one of the 1000 wealthiest in New York. But, why would I want to do that?
Let me tell you a secret in case you weren’t already aware. Money destroys your soul. I’m not talking about a little bit of money. A little is fine. But 50 million? A hundred million? 200 million? Forget about it.
All of my friends growing up had trust funds larger than the gross national product of most third world nations. Thinking back on it, it was disgusting. We’re talking about the biggest group of wastrels you’ve ever seen in your life.
All any of them do now is circle the globe looking for their next high. I’m not just talking about drugs, and believe me, there are a lot of drugs. I’m talking about anything that makes them feel alive. None of their lives have any purpose. Nothing gives them pleasure. And because they never learned how to make human connections with others, they’re all just dogs growling at ghosts.
I’m not sure how I had managed to avoid all of that. What I do know is that in elementary school I had a teacher who shaped my life. He was so different from everyone else I knew. Most of the boys had crushes on the young teachers with big breasts. I had a crush on him.
I mean, not really. I didn’t actually have a crush on him. I’m just using that word because I can’t think of what else I would call it.
At the time I would follow him around the playground during lunch, make up excuses to hang out in his classroom after school, and I may or may not have fantasized about him bathing me. That had only happened once, though… okay, maybe twice. But it wasn’t like I wanted him to do the things that my friends talked about with the female teachers. For 10-year-olds, those guys got graphic.
So, yeah, the influence he had over me might have been enough to make me reconsider becoming my parents or my friends. Instead, I followed his path. I became an elementary school teacher.
My parents were furious when they found out. They said that I had embarrassed them beyond belief. It didn’t take them long to cut me off and to disinherit me. Initially, it was a shock to my system, but eventually, I recovered. Landing my first teaching position helped. And once I learned how to do the basics for myself, pay the electric bill, boil an egg, I started to love it.
There were a lot of wonderful things that my wealth had sheltered me from. P. F. Chang’s for example. I’d been to China. P. F. Chang’s is not Chinese food. But after surviving on ramen noodles right after I was cut off, I’ve discovered that P. F. Chang’s is something more. Something wonderfully more.
Getting off of the Long Island train at Penn Station, I transferred to the C Train. In twenty minutes I was there. I had deliberately come to work early. I knew that Ivy came in an hour early every day. I needed enough time to apologize to her and to make my presentation. I had been practicing all night. I wanted to get it out while it was fresh.
Entering the school’s aged halls, I made a beeline to the principal’s office. Ruby, her assistant, was never in before she needed to be. So I knew I would be able to knock on her door without a gatekeeper getting in the way.
I knocked and listened for a response. There was a longer than expected pause. I was just about to leave her office in search of her when I heard a faint,
As courageous as I had been up until that point, it all faded as I reached for the knob. This was a mistake. I should never have come here. I should have waited for her to call me. She had told me that I wouldn’t be fired, hadn’t she? I should have left it at that.
Or, maybe it was the part in my presentation when I told her I liked her which was giving me second thoughts. It seemed crazy that that could be what was behind my loss of courage but, I guess it was possible.
“Come in,” Ivy said louder.
It was too late. I couldn’t pretend like I hadn’t heard her. I had to go in. Feeling my face flush, I started to sweat. What was I doing? I was definitely making a mistake.
“Hart?” Ivy said looking very uncomfortable. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to talk to you about what happened last night,” I told her as my legs began to shake. What the hell was happening to me? I wasn’t even this nervous when I told my parents that I was becoming a teacher. Why did I feel like I was falling apart now?
“Last night? Right. Last night. Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that, too.”
“You did. Okay, but me first,” I told her.
“No. I have to go first,” Ivy insisted. “I’m your boss and I think it would be better if I went first.”
As nervous as I was entering her office, now I was just startled. Did she just remind me that she was my boss? That was going to make it hard to transition to saying ‘I like you and want to date.’
“Umm, okay,” I told her not liking where this was going.
“Can you have a seat?”
Yeah, considering how much I suddenly had to pee, that was probably a good idea. I pulled out the wide chair in front of her desk and sat down.
“If you can, I would appreciate it if you allowed me to get this all out,” she said looking unnervingly distressed. “I thought I was going to have a little more time to work on what I was going to say, but oh well. Here goes.
“Hart, I would like to apologize for last night.”
“It’s me who should…”
“No, please, this is hard enough. Please let me finish,” she said looking more vulnerable than I had ever seen her look. She was usually so strong. It almost brought tears to my eyes.
“As I was saying, I apologize for last night. I acted unprofessionally and I’m sorry. I guess I thought something was going on between us when clearly there wasn’t. It would have helped if you ever wore a ring, but that’s your choice. And it isn’t my place to assume.”
Wait, what? Why would I wear a ring?
“Anyway, I’m sorry and believe me, it will never happen again. I hadn’t eaten since lunch so I guess the drink I had hit me harder than I expected.
“But, here’s the thing, I now accept that you’re married and I will never make that mistake again.”
“No. Let me finish.”
I was too shocked by what she had said to fight her so she continued.
“I also didn’t know that you were gay. Of course, now that I think back on it, you’re obviously gay. How could I have not picked up on you being gay? So obvious, right? Duh!” She said with a forced chuckle.
“Anyway, the thing is that when you mentioned to that student that you had a husband, it set off a bit of a firestorm.”
“Now parents are unhappy, the school board is involved, and my job is kind of on the line. I want you to know that as your principal I will defend your right to love and marry anyone you choose. That is not anyone’s business but your own.
However, it would mean so, so much to me if you would invite your husband to next week’s PTA meeting and introduce him to a few of the board members and parents. I kind of already told them that he would be there, so if he isn’t, it could get kind of ugly.
“Again, your private life is your own. And as your boss, I will defend whatever decision you make. But, I’m requesting that, if at all possible, please have your husband join us at PTA.
“Okay. There, I’ve said. Again, I’m so sorry for putting you in this position. I have no right to do this. And, I wouldn’t have even asked if this job didn’t mean so much to me.”
As she said it, Ivy began to cry.
“I’m sorry,” she said wiping the tears from her eyes. “Great! Real professional, Ivy. Great job.”
My heart broke watching Ivy tear up in front of me. I had to get her to stop. I would have done anything.
“Of course,” I told her trying to hold it together myself.
“Of course, what?”
“Of course he’ll be there.”
“You’ll invite him?” Ivy said with hope in her eyes.
“Absolutely. He’ll be happy to come. I’ll have to check his schedule, but I’m pretty sure he’ll be there.”
“That’s amazing! And, I’m so sorry for putting you in this position. You haven’t exactly brought him up before, so I imagine that it isn’t something you feel comfortable talking to me about.”
“No, that’s not it. I would absolutely feel comfortable talking to you about him. I would feel comfortable talking to you about anything.”
Wait, was I flirting with her by telling her how comfortable I would be talking to her about me being gay?
“You would? Then why didn’t you ever mention him?”
“I don’t know. Why didn’t I ever mention him before?” I asked her hoping she would come up with an answer.
“Maybe because you’re weren’t out yet,” she suggested.
“That’s it. I never mentioned him because I’m not out. Or, I guess I’m out now. Hey, I’m out!”
“Wow, this must be a big deal for you, coming out to me like this?”
“Right, a big deal. Of course, because coming out is a big deal,” I remembered.
“Oh my god, did I force you out of the closet?” She asked distressed.
“No, no. I was coming out anyway.”
“Is that what you were going to tell me before I cut you off?”
“Yes! Yes, that’s exactly what I was going to tell you. I was going to tell you that I’m a homosexual man with a husband and not that I was a straight man who had feelings for you.”
“What?” She asked confused.
“Nothing. No, just talking. You know us gays. We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it, right?”
“Right,” Ivy said increasingly baffled by what I was saying.
“Anyway, I guess I’ll go. And I’ll invite my husband to next week’s PTA meeting. Gotta check his schedule but I’m sure it’ll be fine. And, just to confirm, none of this has to do with me giving my students naptime, right?”
“You give your kids naptime?”
“You didn’t know? Oh. I… do, but I can’t talk about it now. I have to get on my phone and give… hubby a call. I’ll let you know when I have one… I mean confirm him.”
“Thanks. And again, I’m sorry to put you in this position.”
“What position? There’s no position. It’s nothing,” I said finally slipping out the door and closing it behind me.
What the fu…
What had just happened? As far as I could tell, I just came out to the woman I liked and had agreed to bring a husband I don’t have to next week’s PTA meeting. What had I done?
Well, there was no time to think about it now. I had to get to class and prepare for the day’s lessons. There were a few oversized letters that needed to be stapled onto the bulletin board. I had spent the weekend creating them. It had taken forever to find glue that didn’t smell like gummy bears. What were the Elmer’s Glue manufacturers thinking?
Although the rest of my day was jam-packed with wrangling kids, once I put them down for a nap, I had a chance to think. Who the hell could I ask to pretend to be my husband? Most of my friends were teachers who Ivy knew. I had to find someone who would not only be new to Ivy but would be new to the board and the parents.
I had remained in contact with a few of the guys from University but they were all in other states. Who did I know who lived in New York and had nothing to lose by doing this for me? Frankly, the list was short, or non-existent. There was no one I was going to be able to find. And the only person I knew who would even consider it was someone who I shouldn’t consider.
Growing up there was a group of us who hung out together. None of us said it aloud, but we were the trust fund babies. By 16 the lives of almost everyone in the group had spiraled out of control. I mean, how many times did you have to wake up in a stranger’s trunk before you got the message?
But there were two of us who managed to keep things somewhat under control, me and my best friend Vandal. Vandal had not escaped the trust fund curse. The guy had made some bad decisions. However, somehow he never lost his humanity.
We were all supposed to be best friends but it was pretty obvious by the backstabbing that the rest of them didn’t care about each other. Vandal was different. I remembered him asking me how I was doing when things would go wrong and caring about the answer.
His empathy never extended past the people he knew personally. But in our group, that made him one miracle short of sainthood. Was there already a patron saint of raves and rolling on molly? If not, I had a nomination.
And even after childhood, he had managed to hold his life together. Since becoming a teacher I had lost contact with my old life, but the last thing I heard was that he was making a few high profile investments. I think he was part owner of an NFL team or something. And past that, he was a generous donor at museums and stuff.
The trust fund life was genuinely hard to navigate, but for the most part, Vandal was getting it right. Believe me, it’s hard to see others as human if you never have to get close enough to learn their story. And with more money than god, it was easy to avoid every inconvenience. It is those inconveniences that inspire our humanity, though. And if it wasn’t for a teacher who decided to hold me accountable for my actions, who knows where I would be now.
The problem with Vandal, however, was that I hadn’t spoken to Vandal in seven years. Even then it was only briefly. I was at a school fundraiser and he was there. Back then I wasn’t as secure in my decision to live a life of relative poverty as I am now, so I spent most of the night avoiding him.
He did see me, though. And as soon as he did, he came over to talk. He seemed delighted to see me and made me promise to stay in touch. He has even reached out a handful of times after the event, but I’ve never responded.
The best way to not give in to temptation was to remove yourself from the things that tempted you. And he was tempting for more than one reason. Seven years ago I wasn’t ready to handle any of it.
I couldn’t handle it then, but what about now? Could I handle being surrounded by that lifestyle? There was a lot of it I didn’t miss at all like the superficial relationships and the rampant self-centeredness. But there were other parts that anyone would miss.
For example, I remember before I considered P. F. Chang’s aspirational. There were times when my friends and I would drop $1000 on dinner. And most of the time we would go in high. Not on drugs which would make the food taste better, but on ones that dulled the experience. What a waste. Even then the food would be amazing. But surprisingly, no matter how expensive, it never made me feel better than a night at P. F. Chang’s did now.
The other thing that made me hesitant about reentering that world was that we were a bit of an incestuous crew. Everyone in the group had dated everyone else at one time or another. I’m not talking about the guys dating the guys or anything. But, there were a few times when mixing ecstasy and alcohol led to some interesting situations.
Did I miss that? Honestly, I kind of did. And I’ve thought a lot about what would happen back then, with Vandal in particular. Having thought about it, I’ve decided that it was nothing more than a desperate need to connect with someone.
Our parents didn’t care about us. Our friends didn’t care about us. And the people we dated were just as self-involved and disconnected as everyone else in our lives. So, when we were rolling and every touch felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold night, things could go too far.
I didn’t miss the hangovers or the feeling of disorientation with my humanity which would linger for days afterward, but the connection I felt in the moment still plays on my mind. And, more than anyone, I had those feelings with Vandal. If it was up to Vandal, I’m sure those times wouldn’t have stopped. I needed more out of life, however. And, although I had considerably less of everything now than I did back then, I’m happier.
Would I have even considered reaching out to Vandal if I wasn’t in this bind? Definitely not. Did that mean that I was trying to use him? Probably. Was that impulse one of the things that I had wanted to escape when I abandoned my old life? It was. Would I have to consider reaching out to Vandal to be a backslide? Yes, I would.
As the kids woke up from their nap, I decided that I wouldn’t reach out to Vandal. Nothing good could come out of it. I was simply going to have to find another way. Maybe I would tell Ivy that I tried but my husband wouldn’t be able to make it. Or, maybe I would just tell her the truth. Sure, she had put her job on the line to defend me and she needed me to come through for her, but what did that matter?
Who was I kidding? It mattered a lot. I knew that producing a husband would mean that she and I would never be together, but I wanted to do this for her. I wanted to be her knight in shining armor. Ivy was a strong woman who could take care of herself. She never struck me as the type to ask for help. But, she was asking me for help now. How could I even consider not being there for her?
Considering the long term consequences, I thought about it before finalizing anything. On the train ride home I continued to consider it. And while grading the day’s classwork over a glass of wine, I made a decision.
I cared about Ivy. I sincerely did. But all of this was too duplicitous for me. I hadn’t said that I had a husband. I’m not sure where all of this came from. It obviously had to do with what I said to Pre-Adderall and the middle manager, but it was just a misunderstanding.
There had to be a way out of this. I mean, it wasn’t like she had told the board that she had met him or anything. If she had said that, we would both be totally screwed. But she hadn’t, so this whole thing could still be cleared up with an explanation.
Comfortable with my decision, I finished up my homework, watched a little TV and went to bed. Heading in to work early the next day, I made a beeline to Ivy’s office. I was clear-minded and I had a mission. I would tell her the truth and we would laugh about it. Maybe we would even pick up where we left off. Perhaps we wouldn’t go back to P. F. Chang’s, but people have said good things about Red Lobster and their never-ending shrimp baskets.
“Hart? You’re here. Great! I was hoping you would stop by,” Ivy said enthusiastically as I entered her office.
“You were? Why?”
“Because I have great news and a confession. Please, have a seat,” she said directing me to a chair in front of her desk. “Last night I was inspired by your coming out to me. Thank you for that, by the way,” she said with her hand on her heart. “And I decided that it shouldn’t be up to either of us to convince the board of anything.
“People love you here. The teachers love you. The parents of your students love you. You are a great teacher who has more than earned the right to be supported.”
“So I reached out to a few of them, told them the situation and not only are they going to use all of their influence to support you, but they are creating a committee that will ensure that the school, not only had more racial diversity in its ranks, but had more sexual diversity as well.
“This is a big deal, Hart. As far as I know, no school has ever done this. At least not with sexual diversity. And the fact that they are so willing to do it here where, let’s be honest, “family values” is used as code words… well, it speaks volumes.
“And, I have to say, none of this would be possible without you and the courage you had to come out. One of them even said that they had always been very conservative on this topic. But because they knew you and your character, they had changed their mind on things.
“It’s you. It’s all because of you that this is possible. You’ve inspired me and you’ve inspired others. And now because of you, we’re about to change the culture of a hundred-year-old institution. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty amazing.
“But how could I expect less from you, because you’re amazing. You’re amazing, Hart,” she said before getting up, rounding her desk and wrapping her arms around me. When she let me go she wiped a tear from her eye.
“Sorry, I’m just so excited. But I’m sure you came in here to say something. What is it?”
“Ahhh… umm… I was going to tell you that he will be there.”
“He will? Thank god! I kind of already told everyone that he will be.”
“Yeah. And, to be honest, I might have already told the head of the board that I had met him.”
“Yeah, sorry. But since I did, maybe I should know his name?” she requested sheepishly.
“Right. His name is…”
I looked around the room searching for the quickest means of escape. There was a window behind her but we were on the 3rd floor and I didn’t know if tucking and rolling would help.
“His name is… Vandal.”
“Vandal? That’s an uncommon name. Wait, do you mean Vandal Scott?”
“You know Vandal?”
“You’re married to Vandal Scott! Oh my god! I mean, no, I don’t know him personally. But, I know who he is. He’s a well known philanthropist.
“So, you’re married to Vandal Scott. That makes so much sense,” she said with a smile. “You know, I would never have guessed that he was…”
“Gay?” I asked.
“I was going to say the marrying type. But, I guess that too,” she said with a blush.
“Yeah, lots of surprises today for everyone.”
“So, how did you two meet?”
“We grew up together,” I said glad to finally have something truthful I could say.
“You grew up with Vandal Scott?”
“Yeah. Does that surprise you?”
“I mean, a little.”
“I always imagined him being like the kids at this school. You know, vacationing in the Hamptons surrounded by the kids of the rich and famous.”
“He did. We both did.”
“Wait, so you are…”
“Oh. But, I guess, who needs your parents’ money when Vandal Scott is your husband, right?”
Yeah, I really didn’t think this all of the ways through.
“Right. Right. Anyway, I should probably go.”
“Okay. Oh, and you’re under no obligation, but if you wanted to chair the diversity committee, know that the seat’s yours.”
“Huh… well, I’ll have to think about it.”
“Seriously, no pressure. They just thought that it should be chaired by someone who is, you know, diverse,” Ivy said with a laugh.
“Of course. And I am very diverse,” I said before slipping out and kissing my career goodbye.
It was going to be hard packing up my life and moving to a place where no one knew me, but it was clearly something I would eventually have to do. Why did I say, Vandal? She was right. Vandal was a very uncommon name. Why didn’t I say John or something? At least that way I would have a few options.
Well, before I started packing up my belongings, I had to at least try to contact Vandal. Was he even in the country? Who knew? But, there was only one way of finding out.
Back in my classroom, I took out my phone and searched for his number. When I found it, I stared at it. I sincerely didn’t want to do this. And it had nothing to do with him. Okay, that’s a lie. It had everything to do with him. Out of everything from my past life, he was the part that was hardest to let go of.
As I said, when you grew up without human connections and someone offered it to you, it was hard to walk away from. I had somehow found a way to walk away from him. It was for the best for both of us, I was sure. But, how would I feel talking to him again? And after so long, what would he think about me reaching out for a favor?
If the life I had created for myself wasn’t on the line, I definitely wouldn’t do it. But it was. I had no way out of this without humiliating Ivy in the process. I couldn’t do that to her. What was a little awkwardness on my part compared to that?
Keeping that in mind, I moved my thumb and pressed the button. The call quickly connected. Holding the phone against my ear it was ringing. My heart thumped as I wondered what would happen next. After the 2nd ring, there was a third. After the fourth and fifth, I was transferred to his voicemail. I didn’t know whether this was better or worse, but I was going to work with what I had.
“Vandal, hey this is Hart. Hart Harrington. It’s been a while. I heard you’re doing philanthropy now. Good for you. I always imagined you doing something like that,” I lied. “Anyway, could you call me back? I’m not sure how to say this, but there is kind of a big favor I need to ask of you. It’s ridiculous and you’re probably off somewhere doing something exciting. But if you can call me back, I would appreciate it.
“We need to catch up. It’s been too long. I hope to talk to you soon. Really soon. Okay. Bye. This is Hart, by the way. We were friends in high school. You probably remember that. Okay, I’m going to go now. Bye, but hopefully I’ll talk to you soon. Very soon. I mean, when you can. I’m rambling. Okay, bye,” I said quickly hanging up.
Well, I fucked that up. How to sound like a moron in 500 words or less. What was I thinking telling him that I needed a favor right off the bat? It had been seven years since we had last spoken. Seven years! I was definitely never going to hear from him again.
As the school bell rang and the day progressed, I realized that I had been right. Vandal had to have gotten my message by now. He had probably decided to ignore it. That would be about right, wouldn’t it? How many messages had he left for me that I hadn’t returned? Wasn’t this his chance to even the score?
I held out hope that I would hear from him for as long as I could. I ended the workday with it and it even made it past wine time. But as I laid in bed trying to figure out how I got myself into this mess, I lost hope and then eventually fell asleep.
It was still dark the next morning when my alarm went off. Opening my eyes I looked around trying to figure out what was going on. Quickly it hit me that it wasn’t my alarm, it was my ring tone. And, it wasn’t morning, it was still the middle of the night.
Doing my best to clear my head, I reached for my phone and checked who it was. It took a moment for the name to register in my brain. It was Vandal. He was calling me back at 3 AM. I almost let it go to voicemail when logic kicked in and I answered it.
“Hello?” I said groggily.
“Hart Harrington! What’s going on? It’s Vandal! How ya been?”
“Vandal. I’ve been… I’ve been good. What time is it where you are?” I asked not yet fully awake.
“I’ll say about noon. Is it late there? Sorry about that. I got your message and then immediately entered a dead zone. It took me a while to find another cell tower.”
“Oh, okay,” I said imagining him having lunch at a rooftop bar in Paris.
“So, what’s going on? You mentioned something about a favor?”
It was then that everything came back to me and I was again fully awake. With my memories came my embarrassment. How was I supposed to ask a guy I hadn’t spoken to in seven years to pretend to be my husband?
“So, this is going to sound a little nuts, and believe me, I know that it is.”
“But, I got myself into a situation.”
“Do you need money?”
“No, no. Nothing like that.”
“Because if you need money…”
“I appreciate it, but no. But, what I do need is… how do I say this? I need a husband.”
“You need a husband?” He asked sounding very confused.
“Yeah. But not a real one. Something crazy happened and someone misinterpreted something I said and then I was about to be fired. But then someone else stepped in and put their job on the line thinking they were defending me. And now, the only way I can get myself out of this is if I can get someone to pretend to be my husband.
“It will only have to be for one event.”
“Yeah. There’s a PTA meeting that they would have to attend on Tuesday. After that, I can tell them that we’re getting a divorce and everything will be good.”
“Okay. And, what does this have to do with me?” Vandal asked hesitantly.
“Well, I kind of told someone that you were my husband.”
“Me? Why me?”
“You were on my mind at the time and your name just slipped out.”
“You were thinking about me?”
“Yeah. Why? Should I not have been?”
“No. It’s just that we haven’t spoken in a long time. It’s surprising that you were thinking of me. I had imagined that you had forgotten who I was.”
“Are you talking about me not calling you back?”
“That and everything else.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I honestly don’t know what to say.”
“I’m sure you can think of something,” Vandal said unyieldingly.
“You’re right. I owe you an explanation.”
“I think that would be fair.”
“Okay. Here goes. I lost contact with you and didn’t call you back because… umm… I was starting to have feelings for you.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Yeah. I don’t know if you remember this because you were usually stoned at the time, but a lot of stuff happened between us.”
“A lot of stuff?”
“Yeah, like naked stuff.”
“Oh. Yeah, I definitely remember.”
“Yeah. Of course.”
“Okay. And I know that sex isn’t a big deal to you, but it was to me. It still is. So, with all of that happening and my life being a bit of a mess at the time, I thought it would be easier on the both of us if I disappeared.”
“You thought it was better to disappear?”
“Yeah. I mean, wasn’t it easier that way? We didn’t have to have any awkward conversations. No one had to define anything. We could just start over, no questions asked, and we could redefine ourselves moving forward.”
“I do. You thought it would be easier.”
“And honestly, I didn’t know whether you remembered some of the things that happened between us. You were usually completely wasted. And if I remember correctly, the next day you would always act like nothing happened.
“I remember once, we woke up naked in the same bed. At the time I was sure that that was going to be the day when you acknowledged what was going on between us, but after not being able to hold in my pee any longer, I got up to relieve myself. When I got back, you were gone. I thought that that was you telling me that you wanted no part of it.”
“And it was after that that you disappeared,” Vandal confirmed.
“It was. I had been thinking about it for a while, but lying in bed after you left was when I decided I would leave my old life behind. That’s when I decided to leave.
“And, you know what? It was the right decision,” I continued. “I don’t regret it. Because I left, I was able to create a life I’m proud of. I’m a teacher.”
“You’re a teacher?”
“Yeah. I teach kindergarten. Do you believe that?”
“Actually, kinda. You were always that type.”
“What type is that?” I asked.
“I don’t know. The kindergarten teacher type. You always struck me as someone who would be good with kids.”
“That’s interesting. Then I guess you were right. But yeah, Vandal, my life is good. It’s simple but good.”
“Do you miss any of it?”
“Any of what?”
“Your old life.”
“But you were thinking of me when you were trying to come up with a husband?”
“Well, yeah, but not like that. It was just that I thought you might be available.”
“I’ll do it.”
“You’ll do it?”
“Yeah. I’ll pretend to be your husband. When is this thing that you need me at?”
“Thank you, Vandal! You don’t know how much this means to me. It’s a PTA meeting. You just have to show up, maybe shake a few hands and then go. I promise I’ll tell them we’re ending the marriage before the weekend.”
“Vandal, you seriously don’t know how much this means to me.”
“Not a problem. I just need to figure out how to get there.”
“Am I interrupting your spa plans?” I asked jokingly.
“Spa plans? No.”
“Where are you? I’m assuming Paris.”
“Paris? No. But close?”
“You mean the country north of South Africa?”
“Ah! You know it.”
“I mean not really. What are you doing there?”
“At this instant, I’m hanging from a cell tower in the middle of a game reserve.”
“You’re where?” I asked shocked.
“I’m hanging from a cell tower. And, there have been a couple of angry rhinos that have been circling me for a while so I’m probably going to have to go soon. But, don’t worry. Text me the address and time and I will be there.”
“I’m sorry, where are you?” I asked sure that I had misunderstood.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m glad you called, Hart. I look forward to seeing you soon.”
“I’m sorry, where did you say you were?” I asked right before the call disconnected.
Was he being serious? Was anything he said serious or was this just his way of getting back at me for abandoning him?
“I’m sorry, what did you say you were hanging from?” I asked a dead phone really needing to know.
Here’s a question that I never thought I would have to ask. Do rhinos eat humans? Everything eats everything out here. But am I in a life or death situation because I’m about to be eaten or because I’m about to be trampled to death?
“You’ve got to come down?” My driver yelled. “They are surrounding the jeep like there is a baby rhino nearby.”
That made sense. You don’t see many images of snarling rhinos. That didn’t make the situation any less dangerous. It made it worse. But, if worst comes to worst, at least they’ll be able to bury a corpse.
“I’m coming down,” I yelled while detaching my safety belt.
Out of all of the days in the past seven years when Hart could have called, he called while I was on my first safari. It was a photo safari with one of the world’s foremost nature photographers. He only does them once every couple of years and I had paid a fortune for it. But, as soon as I heard Hart’s message, I removed myself from the pile of elephant dung I had been hiding in and bribed the guide to get me to the nearest communication tower.