Sad Day, Miss by Erin Castle

Miss.  I’m sorry but I need some air.

I didn’t notice Everett’s note at the time, but it is scribbled in the margins of the short story I had my eleventh graders reading when he stormed out of class.

The disruption played itself out like a scene from an absurdly dramatic, poorly acted movie.  I followed Everett out the door, calling his name.  But he flew across the hall, launched himself down the stairwell, and never looked back.  Because I couldn’t leave my class alone, I alerted the office and let him run.

 

Everett stops by my room in the passing period between lunch and physics. “I’m sorry I walked out of your class earlier,” he says. “I know it was disrespectful.”

Five or six inches shorter than this brawny football player, I gaze up at him. “You have to understand I’m not upset with you.  I’m worried about you.”

He nods.

“You don’t walk out on someone who’s trying to help you, either.”

He nods again, and his vulnerability surfaces as he hangs his head and begins to cry.  I have seen a few grown men cry without remorse, without asking for forgiveness.  My heart always skips a beat, and I can never help crying myself, but somehow Everett trumps them all.  At seventeen years old he is man, adolescent, and boy, and I am undone by this combination.

“My dad punched me again this morning.”

I start to speak but realize I have nothing to offer him.  I am the spotless childhood in which home is a sanctuary.

“That’s why my face is swollen.”

I hadn’t even noticed his swollen face until now.

“I hit him back.”

Words I don’t know how to say and words he probably doesn’t want to hear are beginning to assemble on the tip of my tongue, like people joining a cause they don’t truly understand.  But he speaks before I have a chance to open my mouth.

“Miss, one of us is gonna die, Miss,” he says.

Among the more important things I want to know about my students, I also make it my business to know what color eyes they have.  Normally I settle easily on blue, light blue, brown, dark brown, green, hazel, amber.  I’ve been trying to figure out Everett’s eyes for weeks.

“One of us is gonna die,” he repeats, “him or me.” He says this as though he is asking me to choose.

Suddenly I can read Everett like he’s an open book, love him like one I’ve read cover to cover a thousand times.  I find words and even if they aren’t the perfect words, at least I tell him to involve the police rather than taking matters into his own hands; at least he knows I care for him like I will one day care for my own children, that I think he is smart and capable and compassionate and significant.  And though I don’t tell him so, his eyes might be the warmest color I’ve ever seen.  Like spring green’s reflection in sunlit water.

 

I find the crumpled short story near Everett’s desk after school, as I am clearing my classroom of strewn paper, binders and library books, and chewed pencils missing erasers.

Miss.  I’m sorry but I need some air.

I stare at his gentle, italic print for what feels like hours.

 

I do not believe in premonitions, but in my dreams I hear a gunshot and Everett is gone.  I wake and decide the hard wind knocked a tree branch into the bedroom window.  I lie awake.

 

Everett’s best friend Majaadi finds me just before homeroom.

“Miss.  I don’t know how to say what I’ma say, but Everett specifically told me to tell you.”

I inhale deeply.

“Sad day, Miss,” Majaadi wraps his hands across the back of his neck and closes his eyes, as if he might lean back and drift off to sleep, the way he sometimes does in class.  As he releases his hands and lets his arms fall, he exhales, “he killed his dad.”

Oxygen clings to my lungs.

“Everett stab him after he come home drunk and start beatin’ on him and his little sister.”

I can’t breathe.

“Welcome to the ‘hood,” he smiles and glances down the hallway—places to go, people to see.  “You okay, Miss?”

Everett’s voice clogs my airways.  Miss, one of us is gonna die, Miss.

I nod to Majaadi, who is waiting for me, the new, bright white teacher, to get it together.

“A’ight.  I’ll see you in class.”

Majaadi disappears into the crowded hallway, and I follow Everett’s path to the nearest exit. I throw open the door and gulp the biting November cold front.

MissI’m sorry but I need some air.

 

Erin Castle received her M.A. in English from Texas Tech University. She is currently a high school English teacher at Harmony Science Academy-Lubbock, TX and an Associate Editor for T.T.U.’s Iron Horse Literary Review.



4 Responses to “Sad Day, Miss by Erin Castle”

  1. Dorothy Castle says:

    Erin, you have written a wonderful compassionate short story. Your sensitivity shines throughout it. I am so proud of you and your talents. May you continue to entertain us with your writing. Congratulations.

    Love you.

  2. Ashley Stovall says:

    Erin, that was beautiful and sad, and, I’m not gonna lie, it made me cry even before the end. You’re an amazing woman and writer.

  3. Hos Bichsel says:

    I love you so much friend! What a wonderful glimpse into the most vulnerable, beautiful and challenging relationship between educator and student… Life is both taught and learned within those walls.

  4. Nick Pratas says:

    This is impressive! You are talented and have a serious career for you in this kind of thing. Don’t let school work get in the way!

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