Two weeks later, I drove the hour from our new apartment to my new job, freshly shaved and dressed appropriately, I thought, in shirt and tie, expecting the same from students. As I pulled into the school parking lot, what I saw shocked even this hip Jazzer. Throngs of young students lay on blankets on every lawn, many dressed in torn jeans (like the ones I hadn’t dared to wear), tie-dyed t-shirts, and ‘hair down to their knees.’ And those were the boys! The girls? Way-too-tight jeans, way-too-ironed hair, and way-too-revealing bra-less tops. No one paid the slightest attention to me as I walked into the school. The bell rang to begin the day. The halls remained empty, students electing to stay out on their lawn blankets. I couldn’t blame them. It was a beautiful day outside. Plus, there was an atmosphere of ‘we really don’t want to be here’ from the teachers, too, as I stood out in the hall awaiting my home-room students to decide to make their entrance, as if to announce, ‘Now you know who’s boss here, Mr. Teacher!’
Eventually, point made and taken, the enemy shuffled in, slouching lazily in their wooden desks, while they continued to catch up on the summer past. Never the authoritarian sort, I quietly sat at my desk, observing the picture being painted in front of me. Soon enough, sensing I had no plan of military action, they tired of the game and turned forward to observe the picture being painted in front of them. The room now deadly quiet, I laughed out loud. They smiled uncomfortably in return. Unsure where or how to begin our dance macabre, I decided to wing it and speak from my heart.
“I’m here for you,” I said. “I want you to feel you can tell me anything, without getting a parental lecture in return.”
Big mistake! A young lady in the rear of the room shouted out, “I’m pregnant!”
‘Hmmmm, what do I say now,’ I wondered. “Congratulations!” was all I could think to say, so I did.
Everyone laughed, the bell rang signaling the official beginning of the first school day of 1971, and all except one filed out. The pregnant girl remained seated, awaiting my next move. I walked over and sat down at the desk next to hers.
“Are you really pregnant, or was that just something you said to get everyone’s attention?”
“I’m really pregnant!” she answered in defiance.
“Oh,” I responded, “then congratulations are truly in order. My wife and I recently had our first baby, too.”
“Yeah, well, this is a little different!” she punched back.
“How so?” I ventured hesitantly.
“I work at the pizza parlor, ‘ya know? Well, my boss has a room upstairs, and he knocked me up. Like it or not, his baby is in my belly.”
I was so taken aback by her response that I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I said the only thing I could. “Well, despite the circumstances, the birth of your child is still something to look forward to and be thankful for. I repeat my offer. I’m here, if you need to talk. I’ll help you any way I can.”
She looked at me for only a moment before announcing, “Thanks for the offer, but I’m quitting school today. My parents threw me out, so I gotta go to work at the pizza parlor. My boss says I can live there for a while.”
“The offer still stands.”
I never saw her again.
See Part One of this story here