Mr. Ebon looked like he stepped out of one of those recruiting commercials that played during the breaks of football games: buzzed cut hair, sleek trim muscles, a solid gait you could set a metronome to. The only difference was his uniform consisted of a starched tie, crisp folds in his collared dress shirt, and pressed black dress pants. He did, however, sport polished black boots that shimmered with each step. He was a former Marine and still carried the air about him.
To say I had a crush on this man was to discredit the length and breath of my affections.
Everyone feared Mr. Ebon’s History classes, especially AP US. He was strict, unyielding, and calculating. He knew what to quiz you on for understanding, not just memorization. His required reading went well beyond just chapters in a textbook. Instead of churning out fact crammed teenagers, he sought to create fierce thinkers, sharp minds, leaders. Most people prayed for a C; I was bound and determined to be his first A+.
On the first day of my senior year, I walked into class early and sat front row center. As if I were not in the room, he continued his work, jotting down notes and occasionally glancing at his computer. He never looked at me. The classroom filled, all ten of his brave pupils in their seats. The period bell rang, he stood, stepped to the front of the class, and spoke.
“Ten. Good, I like even numbers.
“My name is Mr. Ebon and this is AP US History. If you’re here, that means you’ve heard the rumors about how difficult this class is and decided to take it anyway. For that, I will give a small sliver of respect. The rest you will have to earn through effort, hard work, and excellence.
“I’ve taught this class four times previously. In each instance, students have cried, begged, threatened me, thrown something, or gotten up and walked out, never to be heard from again. Which one will you be?”
The smart ones didn’t cower at his warning. I sat, straight backed, meeting his gaze, ready to live up to his challenge.
Twenty page term papers, 200 page books on military battles, founding fathers, and other important American leaders were fruits I bit into to each evening. Staying late, with no car and parents who’s job didn’t end til 6, I had more than enough time to immerse myself in his teachings.
On a crisp fall Friday evening, having finished the night’s homework, but still at least an hour before my ride would show, I decided to take a stroll throughout my ancient school.
Whetherly Academy was a co-educational private school. Students wore uniforms, parents paid tuition, and everyone carried an air of the elite they knew themselves to be. I, however, was a scholarship student. My squared shoulders and small knowing grin came from my core truth: I was smarter than any of them and would someday have what they had, but I would have earned it.
As I quietly roamed the halls, almost tip-toeing to avoid the creaking of the hardwood floors, I somehow made my way to the History wing.
Buildings have a life all their own when no one is around. The lights were off, allowing what little sunshine left to cast an eerie glaze across the floor. Classroom doors stood open, inviting, but nothing to offer inside. Desks with chairs in all manner of pushed in or pulled out whispered the lessons already taught for the day. But there was one door closed, so I decided to open it.
Peaking my head inside, there he sat, just like the first day of classes, working. Slowly retracting my head, a loud creak from the floorboards informed him of my presence.
“Good evening Ms. Ivory. Is there something I can do for you?” Mr. Ebon had not even looked up from his desk, yet he knew it was me. Or had he glanced my face when I did not notice?
“No, sir. Just killing time til my ride arrives.”
“And the twenty-five pages on Gettysburg I asked you to read?”
“Completed, along with some cursory notes before your lecture tomorrow.” This gave him pause; his hand stopping and his eyes finally met mine.
“I see. Well, if you have nothing better to do, why don’t you have a seat? I, too, have nothing but time to kill, what with the pathetic group of children known as my Freshman World History class who cannot write a five page summary well for all the sand in Sri Lanka.”
He beckoned me to the desk in front of his. After school, alone, with a man I adored, no one around to judge me except him, I decided to relax, a bit. I hopped up on the desk, sat with my legs crossed, and pulled out from my bag my latest knit project, a black and orange scarf for Halloween. I made sure to not look at him til I began a new stitch. When I did glance up, I think there was the slightest of smiles on his face.
“Helps pass the time. And since I never leave before seven each night, I have time.”
“My parents own a General Store; they don’t close til six. And it would take three buses for me to get home. So, I wait. Gives me time to finish homework and work on other things.”
“I write a little. I knit a little. Occasionally I’ll pull out my sketchbook and roam the halls for inspiration. Things to pass the time.”
“I’m on scholarship, Sir. How many rich kids you know want to be friends with some poor girl? Well, to them I’m poor. My family lives comfortably enough. We just don’t ride around in Benzes and sip cherry after dinner. Oh my, I’ve been blathering on and you have papers to grade.”
“Stop. I invited you to sit. Chatting is a part of sitting.”
“Ok. Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, why did you become a teacher? I know you’re ex-military. Why the change?”
“I took a piece of shrapnel during a munitions exercise. It made me unfit for duty in the field. They offered me a desk position, but if I couldn’t lead my men, I didn’t want to stay.”
“G.I. bill. I wanted to get a degree in something. Why not study what I thought would be my life, military history. I never thought things would play out as they have, but teaching is well enough. How about you? What do you wish to do with your years?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t even thought about a major yet.”
“Your college applications are in?”
“Soon. By December. I was giving myself a break because of my birthday.”
“Yes, today Sir. October tenth, ten ten. Easy for people to remember, though I have no one is this school to tell.”
“Well, happy birthday Ms. Ivory. As of today you’re now allowed to vote, be drafted, and drink a beer in some states.”
“Yeah, I’m legally an adult.”
“It’s just… I don’t see myself as an adult. I’m a student, a smart learned plucky student who knows all the answers and does what she is told, when she is told, whatever she is told, however it is to be done. I take comfort in knowing exactly what to do because you have told me to do it. I feel safe in this room, completely centered and true in this room. In this room… I am the shit.” My hand quickly covered my mouth as my cheeks turned red. “I am so sorry. That was inappropriate. I’ll go.” I quickly hopped off the desk, grabbed my bag, and turned to leave.
“Ms. Ivory.” The sternness in his voice stopped me.
“Turn around.” I slowly pivoted on the balls of my feet. He stood, his height towering over me.
“Come here.” I put down my things and walked slowly to face him by the side of his desk. He opened a drawer and pulled out a ruler I had not seen before, wooden and old. “Hold your hands at your sides, out and up, side-by-side, palms to the ceiling.”
I stood there in supplication to his whim. Swiftly, he lifted and came down with the ruler across the insides of my hands. It stung, but I only flinched slightly.
“Now, gather your things and go.” I turned and quickly grabbed my backpack and knitting.
“And Ms. Ivory.” I stopped dead in my tracks. “Please come by and chat with me again Monday evening.”
“Yes, Sir.” With hast I exited his classroom, silently closing his door and making my way down to the lobby to wait for my ride.
The weekend seemed to crawl by.
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