by Niles Reddick
For the fashion remix show to raise money for the local foodbank, I dressed as a Matisse painting, wearing a paper toga full of colors like a psychedelic Easter egg. The Math teacher was a trash man, black plastic trash bags glued together (one wrong move and his paper white skin would’ve shown through like a firefly on a dark night), and one of the counselors dressed as Van Gough’s Starry Night, blue swirls combined with bursts of yellow suns and a crown of golden star spikes like the Statue of Liberty. Among the other teachers were a dragon costume, wings made from stretched and dried sausage casings and sticks, a deer made from recycled brown paper bags, a butterfly garden made from tin cans, and even a wood nymph with feathers.
Each of us were introduced, and our costumes, made by the Art classes, were explained in detail by the librarian emcee. We walked the runway of lights to a song our music students had selected to match our costumes or personalities. After my dance down the runway, pointing and gyrating like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever to “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies without pulling a muscle, cracking a joint, or falling, I watched the rest of the show and wondered why the students selected “Sugar, Sugar” for me, since it seemed more about infatuation, crush, and lust. I imagined the Matisse costume reminded them of jellybeans I kept in a large glass jar on my desk. I wanted to ask, but I knew they’d clam up, seal lips, and shrug shoulders just like they did when interrogated about putting a tack on a teacher’s chair prank, smoking in the restroom, or yelling the “f” word in the dining hall.
At the end of the show, the audience voted, and the teachers and counselor were called to the stage (I was exempt since I was the principal, but I fantasized I would’ve won had I not been exempt). Votes from the audience of students and parents had been tallied, and the winner and recipient of a Starbucks gift card was the Math teacher. I figured they were trying to score extra credit since he was a stickler for following a strict method of working a problem. I’d had multiple complaints from parents that I’d redirected to the academic officer. Our hands were tied because he had tenure and was an officer in the union. He had no intention of altering his old school methods in favor of newer methods or student success. He took points away from anyone who deviated, even if a student arrived at the correct answer. I figured he would forever be referred to as the trash man. The counselor exhibited a scowl because he won.
“You okay, Deana?”
“I had the best-looking costume.”
“Come on, Deana. It’s all in fun to help the foodbank.”
“He shouldn’t have won, and you know it. He’s an ass. Probably shouldn’t have even been in the show.”
“Now, Deana. This is about helping others.”
“Fuck you. If you wanted to help others, you’d get rid of that bastard.”
“Deana, you’re a counselor for goodness’ sake.”
“Oh, stop. You feel the same way, but you do nothing.”
“Lower your voice. Someone is going to hear you.”
“You’re going to have to get a reprimand. School policy.”
“What a double standard. He gets away with penalizing students for years, I use foul language, call you out on your weakness as a leader to do anything, and I get written up. That’s so damned fair.”
“See you Monday.”
When Deana was upset, there was no reasoning with her. I mused she probably went into counseling to help herself, but never quite got there. I also knew we were all just kids in aging bodies and recalled my grandmother going through chemo in her eighties and telling me she didn’t feel old in her mind and was amazed when she’d looked at her body: swollen feet, thinning hair, puffy eyes, blotched and sagging skin, yellowed teeth, and ridged nails. She’d felt like an imposter in her last years.
The only thing I felt good about was that we raised five hundred dollars for the foodbank and that some of our students and their families would be anonymous recipients. On Monday, I hoped Deana had calmed and reflected on what was truly important.
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