Although adolescence was still but a rumble on the railroad tracks, we all agreed that our teacher had one bitchin' body. We liked Miss Flemke's body. We just didn’t like Miss Flemke.
Miss Flemke once asked me to stay after school to talk. She felt that Alan, Doug, and Tim, the guys I hung out with, weren’t a good influence on me. “You should be better about handing in your homework. Those three never hand in homework. They’ll all probably be high school dropouts. Is that what you see in your future?”
I had to agree that she had a point. My three buddies didn’t seem destined for material success. But they were entertaining, and they were cool. I wanted to be cool too.
Miss Flemke seemed visibly disappointed when I kept hanging out with Alan, Doug, and Tim. Soon, when one of us got on her bad side, we all fell on her bad side. She started keeping us after school, with some regularity. My mom called to find out why I was kept late so often, and Miss Flemke told her, in unflinching detail.
Miss Flemke’s standing, in my eyes, deteriorated all the more.
Once, Alan, Doug, Tim and I spent an entire week staying after school. It really irritated us that Miss Flemke wasn’t even hanging around to release us. Instead, the male teacher in the next classroom, who appeared to be quite sweet on our dear teacher, would open the door, sneer at us, and bark, “YOU MAY GO HOME NOW.”
On the fourth day of our week of captivity, the janitor came in while we sat there biding time. When he left, I hatched a plan. “Hey guys, let’s give Flemke a good scare.” “How?” asked Alan.
Our classroom had a sort of stand-alone walk-in closet in the middle-back of the room. It had a roof over it, and a door that was usually locked, at least when we four reprobates were serving our time.
“I’ll put a chair on the top of the closet, with the backrest handing over the top of the door," I continued. "If she doesn’t see it, it’ll make lots of noise when it hits the floor.” “What if it hits her?” asked Doug. “Even better,” answered Alan. We all laughed. We were not be trifled with. We were some baaaaaddd dudes.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. An image of the chair falling from the top of the closet and onto our teacher’s head kept running through my mind. I told myself I was being silly, that even as short as Miss Flemke was, she’d surely see the chair. Hey, it was just a joke.
“That chair could break her neck,” said a small, scared inner voice.
Usually, when insomnia would strike, I’d turn on the bedside lamp and read. Instead, I got up and sat in the living room, trying to keep the image of a hospitalized Miss Flemke out of my head. I jumped a foot out of the chair when my mom said, “Honey, what’s the matter?” from behind me. “Nothing, Mom. Can’t sleep.” “Well, don’t stay up too late,” said Mom as she walked to the kitchen to get a glass of water. When she walked back through, she stopped at my chair. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
And yes, I did want to tell her. I wanted to tell her about that chair, hanging over the doorway of the closet. I wanted to plead with her to drive me to the school, so I might leave a warning note for Miss Flemke.
I said nothing.
The next morning, it took great effort to avoid betraying a sense of relief when I saw our teacher, alive, apparently well, and walking about without a neck brace. Alan, Doug, and Tim looked relieved, too. Still, Miss Flemke acted reserved through the day, and seemed to avoid looking at us. Then, at the end of the day came the announcement we expected. “Alan, Tim, Doug, and Hal, stay here after the class is dismissed.”
We knew that it wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to determine that one of us had put that chair on the closet, but we had sworn a solemn oath to each other that none of us would turn rat. Then, all three male teachers in our school walked through the door, looking very serious, and very angry.
I looked at our teacher. She was weeping. Then she left the classroom.
“She’s supposed to be mad,” I thought. Yes, mad was what we were looking for. Not . . . wounded. Not scared.
For the next two weeks, the male teachers tried to get us to spill who’d actually lifted the chair onto the closet. I expected them to zero in on me, since I was the tallest in the class, but instead, they seemed to focus on Alan. Alan had spent time in juvenile hall for shoplifting, and had been the only kid in our school to get caught smoking on the grounds. He was, understandably, the prime suspect. I felt both relieved and guilty that Alan had become the most likely suspect, while Alan seemed to revel in the attention.
One day, after several days of after-school interrogation, we walked to the corner together before heading our separate ways. Our ordeal was getting really tiresome. “Look guys, this has gone on long enough,” I blurted, not really knowing where the words were coming from. “I’ll tell them I did it, and get this over with.” “Hell no,” answered Alan. “We’ve stuck it out this far; f**k giving up now!” Tim and Doug agreed. I felt proud of my friends for sticking by me, and relieved. But, I felt all the more disappointed in myself, because I’d let a chance to make things right slip through my fingers.
That night, while in bed, I cried tears of shame. Still, I felt a renewed determination not to break. I wanted to keep the approval of my friends.
I don’t believe that Miss Flemke felt that Alan was the prime suspect. There was something about the way she’d look at me, a knowing look that seemed to say, “you’re not fooling me.” Yet, it wasn’t anger I saw in her eyes. It was more of a pained confusion, and sadness. It was much worse than anger.
The teachers gave up. We got one last stern talk--including how lucky we were that the police hadn't been involved--before the teachers gave up on sweating the truth out of us. In the aftermath, we became heroes among the badass loser clique at our school.
Alan, Doug, and Tim went to different high schools, so I didn’t see much of them after junior high. I never heard much about Doug, except that he’d dropped out of high school. Tim also dropped out, went into the Air Force, and was kicked out after a year.
Alan graduated from high school, but he was arrested for stealing a car the summer after graduation. He did jail time, and then was arrested for raping a young woman a few months after his release. The charges were dropped. He committed suicide at the age of twenty-one.
I'd like to tell you that, years later, I sought out Miss Flemke to confess my misdeed, and to offer a heart-felt apology. I did no such thing. Instead, I told myself that I’d just been a dumb kid, and the whole episode hadn’t been such a big deal.
I would believe myself, too, until I remembered that look in her eyes.